My sister was going to have heart surgery, so my mom and I brought takeout from our favorite Thai place to the hospital.
Our dad had called earlier to tell us what room they were in, so we arrived loaded down with chopsticks and delicious-smelling Styrofoam boxes.
“Did you remember the pad see uw?” was the first thing my sister said, while I was busy noticing the IV hooked up to her arm.
“Of course,” my mom replied, bustling about, balancing the open boxes on the bed and tearing off the lids for makeshift plates. She passed them around and my sister dug in, but I was still staring at the needle.
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“Aren’t you going to eat?” she asked.
I shook myself. “Yeah,” I said, spooning some noodles, but I was thinking about the rails on the side of her bed, and the fact that my 9-year-old sister had been in more hospital rooms than I had.
She had a heart murmur, and the procedure wasn’t particularly invasive. But they were still going to operate on the organ that kept her alive. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t been so worried before.
“This is so much better than hospital food,” she said between bites of fried rice.
I studied the green curry on my plate. There were pieces of chicken and onion swimming around inside of it. My dad cracked a joke about my sister’s appetite, but I was more focused on her allergies. The catheter the doctors were putting inside her contained nickel. Her skin reacted to nickel. What would happen if her heart reacted to nickel?
My mom was asking about the bathroom, and I caught a glimpse through the half-open door of a chair in the shower. Those kinds of showers aren’t for people like my sister, I thought. My sister was healthy, athletic. She swam four times a week. Why was she in a room with a shower like that?
I like Thai food, but that day, it tasted bland in my mouth. During dinner, my mom wanted details about the hospital (my dad was staying overnight) and my sister continued to complain about the failings of its cuisine. I sat quietly and tried not to drop anything onto the pristine bedsheets.
When we left, we took the empty boxes with us. I kissed my sister on the cheek. “Dad, can we watch ‘Spider-Man’ tonight?” was the last thing I heard before I closed the door.
I slept that night, but not well. My dad always works late, and it felt strange, not hearing the distant click of his computer keys lulling me to bed.
I woke up too early the next morning. The questions tumbled around in my head, a blur of worry, until around two o’clock, when the phone rang.
I listened anxiously to my mom’s half of the conversation. The surgery had gone smoothly and my sister was fine. My fears dissolved when we arrived at the hospital room. The IV had disappeared.
We debated eating dinner at a restaurant, but my parents suggested we just go home. At first, my sister and I complained. We wanted greasy food. But when my mom pointed out that my sister should probably eat healthy for a couple of days, I backed down, knowing my stubborn sibling would go along with what I said.
It’s funny that the first thing my family did after leaving the hospital was argue. But even though it was over something as petty as where to go for dinner, it felt good. It reminded me we were back together again.
We ate at home together. I don’t remember what we had, but I remember warm light. I remember my mom scolding my sister for stuffing herself, because she was “starving from the awful hospital food!” I remember laughing between bites and talking with my mouth full because I had too much to say.
I remember thinking, This is so much better than Thai food.