I got to the hospital, parked, clumsily gathered all the things I was bringing in (the bag of toys and my bookbag, plus a jacket it wasn't quite cold enough to wear, yet somehow this made a clumsy bundle), turned back, tried to re-park so I wouldn't be quite so obnoxiously close to the car on the right of me, got out, found I wasn't really much better off and decided, with that irrational and repeatedly and easily disproved by looking at any watch, bank dot-matrix display, or listening to traffic reports on the radio belief it was an hour later than it actually was decided to go ahead with where I had been parked.
I also took a photograph of where I was parked, which shows how profligate I've gotten with digital pictures. (Actually I don't photograph so many as you might think.) Ultimately I didn't need that, but following the maze to get from the parking lot through to the children's ward probably would justify taking photographs of key points, or maybe tying a string to the outside world, which is a trick I learned from Richie Rich, which shows my standard of classical education.
As I got ever-closer to the correct room, I ran into my mother, heading out. I didn't know she was even coming up, but realized my father was probably calling everyone who could come to come. She was surprised to see me, and asked if I needed a ride home. I ... appreciated the offer but I also couldn't see how it made any sense. My guess was that my mother was a bit stressed out, which is one of her rarest states of being. I haven't seen her earn more graduate degrees more times than I've seen her stressed out, but it's close.
The room had one of those plastic doorframes to make it look like you're entering a comical house on a late 70s children's show, the kind with bright red roof and a window that should have a smiling cartoon sun out every window. You can probably imagine that well enough. It was also a two-patient room and the first person in was someone I didn't know and I felt awkward about interrupting her peace. I stumbled into the beginnings of awkward small talk when my father rescued me by calling me over to the far side of the curtain, where my sister-in-law was trying to keep her daughter from crawling off the ends of the bed.
My niece was also playing with some of the toys she'd been brought, among them a little wooden train set so obviously someone else was thinking of non-digital toy experiences. She was also playing with my father, who's settled into his role as grandfather very happily now that he's remembered those things you forget from being a toddler's parent, such as how to hold a squirmy two-year-old without getting exhausted. You hand the two-year-old to someone else when you start feeling exhausted. She was also working very hard to get the bandages off her hands, so that a steady stream of distractions were extremely necessary. On top of that she was getting something intravenously, so that there was the possibility of the tube getting clogged, which would make a sensor whine. Mostly this just reflected my niece sitting on the tube to block it, but at one point over the evening it wouldn't de-clog, and a nurse had to come in and re-do the whole tube and bandage setup.
The first thing my sister-in-law asked as I arrived was, ``do you know when visiting hours are?'' This played right into my fears about spending more time in the mall than every rational analysis I made of it could justify. Could they possibly be over already? But the point she wanted to make was about our family in total: I just came up without any idea when visiting hours were, on the assumption that once I got in we'd stay in till a nurse or my sister-in-law actually threw us out. It turns out my mother had no idea what visiting hours were either. (She used to be a nurse, albeit at the other big hospital in town, so visiting hours were utterly irrelevant to her.) Apparently nobody in my family knows what visiting hours are. Well, we got in, didn't we? That's all that really mattered, as I saw it. My father agreed. She thought this a bizarre attitude towards time. Visiting hours end at 8 pm, which apparently is the universal standard for all visiting hours at all hospitals everywhere in the world, according to my sister-in-law. I dunno.
My sister-in-law was amused and only slightly confused by the Clone Wars soft balls, and the miniature volleyball turned out to be very well-sized to bounce off of my niece and roll to a stop, then to be pushed back away. So she's clearly got the family talent for games of catch, and that was with her hands in gauze mittens and one arm tethered to the IV drip. She also liked having Clone Wars balls roll over the wooden train set, so she might have a useful future in Mass Transit Bowling.
The xylophone was the big hit, though, and she took eagerly to the chance to hold the drumsticks in both hands and hit the bars. She was hitting harder than would produce the most optimal tone, but for her first hours with a percussion instrument I don't think she did too badly. The xylophone it turns out came with cards instructing how to play several songs, including ``Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'' and ``Turkey In The Straw'', so I offered my sister-in-law the chance to conveniently lose any of the songs she really couldn't stand before her daughter learned how to play them. She didn't mind any of the songs and it's probably a little while before her daughter gets the hang of reading even simplified imitations of sheet music. Still, I did offer.
While the goal of giving my sister-in-law the chance to spend some time not watching over her daughter wasn't quite met --- she refused even the offer to have my father and I watch while she got something to eat, on the grounds that she'd had something sent up four hours ago and got to eat it as recently as an hour before --- it was successful as a chance to get together, to hug her at a time that she needed hugging, and to deliver into the hands of a two-year-old I see only a few hours at a time a way to make quite a racket. I learned that last trick from my aunt, the one who had a child long after all her college friends and sibling did, so her son received every noisy or tiny-pieced toy in the world.
Somewhere around a quarter to nine a nurse came in to tidy up things in general and my father suggested that perhaps we should be going. Good thought; I had a 6 am flight to take, and I still had a phone to open up and, I dearly hoped, get working without problems. On the way home, I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts to buy a half-dozen for the drive up in the morning.
Trivia: New England's textile mills grew rapidly enough in the first half of the 19th century that profits averaged 24 percent annually for twenty consecutive years (until 1845). Source: Big Cotton, Stephen Yafa.
Currently Reading: Asimov's Choice: Black Holes and Bug-Eyed Monsters, Editor George H Scithers. You know, this is a really enjoyable book. Maybe science fiction of the 70s wasn't a dread wasteland of inflation-ravaged resource-starved post-New-Wave doom after all.