My hands are in a fist and I punch the wooden door like a battered boxer, forced into the corner of the ring. Swinging wildly, I drop hooks and uppercuts, across the top, across the belt of the door. The door that prevents me from witnessing my daughter's birth, from holding my partner's hand, from being at the epicenter of the most life altering moment of our young existence.
SLAM. SLAM. SLAM.
It sounds like flesh on wood and it is all I have going. Make a raucous. Throw a fit. Beat the door senseless until they are forced to inform me.
SOMEONE TALK TO ME, I yell. PLEASE! PLEASE TALK TO ME!
I pace like a mad man, back and forth across the carpeted hallway, under the florescent lights, from one wall to the other. A woman labors vigorously in an adjacent room, panting and grunting, determined and focused.
It was the 24th of March, 2011, when the accident happened. It was going on 5pm in the evening. The kids were outside playing together. I had just gotten Stella up from her nap and Kari was just coming home from running a work errand.
She held Stella for a moment to say hello. And then she tripped on the sidewalk, a few steps from our front door.
Her belly landed first.
Ten minutes later she's lying on a bed in labor and delivery.
A nurse frantically placed the fetal monitor on her belly, on this side of her belly, on that side, up and down and everywhere in between. Nothing.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, we trembled on repeat, almost under our breath, as if the fear was acting like a silencer to the scream inside.
Our Doctor rushed in. He wanted to see our baby, to see if there was a heartbeat. An ultrasound machine suddenly appeared, within the blur, within seconds.
And I thought I saw it too. A flutter on the screen. A movement. Hope.
I see something. Let's take her now, he said in a hurry. He was halfway out the door before he finished his thought.
There is a small window in the wooden door that I pound. From the window, I can see a room drenched in white, a surgical preparation room, with instruments and tables and machines. In the corner of the room, I can see the door that leads to where Kari is. Nurses and doctors come and go frantically from her room, two of them at a time, three at a time, coming and going, masks on their faces, blood on their plastic gloves.
SLAM. SLAM. SLAM.
A few more nurses come racing down the hallway, slipping gloves on their hands as they approach.
I think I hear crying! one of them says to me excitedly, as she opens the door and brushes past me.
Minutes go by without a word. I peer through the window in vain, trying to lock eyes with anyone who will look my way. I can feel the pressure building as the minutes pass by without news.
I call my parents. Something happened, I tell them.
SLAM. SLAM. SLAM.
Suddenly an older nurse cracks the door open.
Did she make it? Is she alive? The words spill out of me.
We are doing the best we can, she says. We are doing the best we can.
There were four rooms and a hallway that I can remember. There was the room where Margot was born. There was the room where I first held her. There was the room where we waited for the blood to save Kari. There was the room in ICU where her blood started to clot. And there was that hallway, where I punched and waited and yelled.
Four rooms and a hallway. They are branded on my brain like it was yesterday, seared at the surface, hovering emphatically over the totality of my memories. They tease the innocence of my childhood, scoff at the freedom of my youth, stare down the adventures of my twenties. Driving a rusted motorcycle up a mountain in Nepal, with Kari's arms around my waist, racing the setting sun, suddenly doesn't count for as much.
From the window through which I stare, I can see the frantic pace of the nurses slow down. Everyone seems to be moving in slow motion. One nurse throws her plastic gloves into a container. Another nurse sobs uncontrollably as she exits the room Kari is in.
SLAM. SLAM. SLAM.
My punches become weak, faint even, as I feel the impending doom coming over me like a fog. My mind collapses into my heart, and together they crumble into a heap. I fall to the hallway floor.
An older NICU nurse opens the door and appears solemnly before me.
I'm so sorry, she says, but your daughter didn't make it.
Two nurses led my second daughter and I into a dark, empty room and shut the door behind us. We were in there alone, her and I, father and daughter, bonding over our broken hearts, sharing moments too holy for words.
And then they said that Kari was struggling, that she couldn't stop bleeding, that they were doing an X-ray to make sure a sharp instrument wasn't stitched up inside of her.
And then they came in twenty minutes later and said they were still working on her and I could tell by their shaken voices that something wasn't right.
Are we talking about life and death here, I asked in a dumbfounded huff, between the sobs, while holding my little one against my chest.
We are doing the best we can, she said. We are doing the best we can.
One year later, and these seven words hang in my heart like an anchor.
We are doing the best we can.