THEN LIFE HAPPENED
THEN LIFE HAPPENED
Life was busy for Hae Rin. As if working on her research and part-time jobs weren't enough she now had a new issue at hand, an unborn child waiting to pop out any minute. The past months had been a turmoil of emotions and her work was getting nowhere. Serious relationships! She didn't have the time or the luxury for that. And Kim, he wasn't the right choice either. The rainy night, the drunken aggression. If only things had ended there. Why did she have to carry the memories of that very night within her? God is unfair, she thought for the hundredth time that day.
Lying on the hospital bed a few days later, everything was driving her crazy. The piercing pain, the wails that poured in through the walls, the blinding lights, the percolating spell of alcohol and disinfectants, the whispers of the hospital staff, and the constant beeping machinery. She could hear a distant siren of the ambulance, maybe the very ambulance that had brought her in two days earlier, when she had collapsed in her lab. Weeping, lamenting her fate, she laid semi-conscious, with broken ribs, an empty womb, and all the time in the world.
THE WAKE-UP CALL
Kimbal's short nap was broken by the blaring sirens outside and the ringing of his Mobile phone, both so simultaneous that there was no way he could ignore those. There was urgency in the voice on the other side. It was Martha from Hae Rin's Lab and she wailed and as she talked and the only words that he could decipher were, "Hae Rin…University hospital…. baby." Was it that day already? Is it the due date? The phone was disconnected before he could frame the right question. He changed into his tracks, the relatively sensible ones that he owned.
As he dashed towards the hospital, he remembered the day Hae Rin informed him about the pregnancy. He was out with his friends drinking when she had called. He was annoyed that she even thought that he could be summoned at any time. But then when the words had hit him, he had freaked out, mumbled that he needed time to think it through, and sprinted out of Hae Rin's single-room apartment. He needed time to prepare, to be capable enough. He needed time to earn, be a good partner and a reliable parent.
THE SILENT YEARNING
"Martha, please stop dozing off will you", that was Hae Rin's opening line almost every other day. She needed to work harder on her communication skills. Martha was the Clinical Research Program Coordinator and Hae Rin was a 4th-year doctoral student, somehow a bond had developed. There was something about Hae Rin that soothed Martha. She would forget her past, her pain when she saw the bright smile on the face of the petite girl, who often carried the weight of the world on her shoulders.
In the past four years, Martha had watched Hae Rin struggle through her financial crisis as she worked harder than anyone in the lab. She knew that her only living relative was an aunt, who would rather care for street dogs than look out for her own niece, and had supported Hae Rin time and again. Slowly and gradually they had confided in each other, shared their darkest secrets. Martha had been with Hae Rin during her medical checks and was the one who helped her make the decision to keep the baby. Martha had a purpose now, Hae Rin's pregnancy filled the void that her infertility had created. The time that had once been too cruel seemed pleasant now.
THE BYSTANDER'S SHOCK
Grant worked as a Lab Assistant in Hae Rin's Lab. All that he knew, he had learned over the years from different scholars who came and had gone. He was still learning. Hae Rin was a patient tutor when it came to explaining things. Grant had taken a liking for the soft-spoken girl and was quite taken aback when he found that she was pregnant and was planning on keeping the baby. He had tried to explain the hardships of being a single mother and the kind of harassment she would have to face. She was adamant and wouldn't hear a word. Gradually he had stopped talking to her, though it pained him to watch her struggle.
This day was eventful. They had a couple of demos, a few elaborate experiments too that kept the whole lab on their feet. Reluctantly, he had coerced Hae Rin to take some time to rest instead of running around. The girl looked exhausted, what was she thinking about working in this condition. But, who could beat sense into that girl? And then there she was a few hours later, lying in a pool of reddish distilled water. Grant was shell shocked. For him time stood still as Hae Rin crashed into the distillation machine and dropped down splaying water and shards of glass all around.
THE STRANGE ENCOUNTER
Joe had asked for the day off, but they couldn't find a replacement driver. That's what the administration had informed, so reluctantly he was waiting for the shift to end. The day had been uneventful so far. One hour more and he could head home, shower, grab a beer, and spend the evening with his girl. That's when the radio buzzed. Emergency dispatch call to the university laboratory. Joe called Phil the EMT on duty and he had to find the lousy paramedic Lizzy too. He hated her guts.
Luckily Lizzy had been informed and reached the exit quite quickly for her standards. Phil too had managed to make it on time and so in minutes, they were on the road. Apparently, a pregnant doctoral student had collapsed in the lab and the injuries were severe. Joe knew that time was of the essence, so he drove as fast as he could. Joe, Phil, and Lizzy ran towards the lab, a scared woman pointed towards the frail woman lying on the floor. Phil ran to do the patient assessment, Lizzy right behind, and as they turned the woman, Joe was shocked to the core. It was the Hae Rin, the nicest person he had ever met. Seeing her lying on the floor, a tangled mass, bulging belly, and a pool of blood, Joe just stood there, at the door transfixed.
THE MAD RUSH
Lizzy knew the drill, she quickly checked the pulse, they had to shift Hae Rin to a gurney. Hae Rin was bleeding, probably internally too, and looking at the way she had fallen, Lizzy suspected rib injuries too. Her breathing was weak, she needed intubation. Phil had already taken out the equipment, but Joe was staring blankly at Hae Rin. This wasn't the first time he was out on such an emergency. "Joe, snap out of it will ya", Phil's sound pulled Joe out of his trance.
"Will she be alright?", Joe asked Lizzy as tears ran down his face. Lizzy was taken aback by the emotional outburst, but she knew she had lived to save and that each minute counted. Quickly she instructed Phil and Joe to shift Hae Rin to the gurney as she monitored the pulse and breathing. Intubation was needed, and she managed to do that in midst of Joe's constant questioning, the overall hysteria in the lab, and the incoherent mumbling sounds that an older lady, named Martha as she came to know later created. They could transfer Hae Rin to the vehicle once the breathing was alright. Lizzy had attended a few pregnancy cases and so she checked for the immediate signs that the baby was safe. With all that done they quickly moved Hae Rin into the ambulance. Grant, the lab assistant, accompanied them, while Martha followed in the car along with two of Hae Rin's lab partners.
Martha had heard about Hae Rin while she was just leaving for home. The news got her running crazily through the corridors her blood froze when she saw Hae Rin lying on the floor. Her instincts told her to check for a pulse and breathing as the rest of the lab hovered around, some yelling, some sprinkling water, and calling the hospital. This was a nightmare she wasn't prepared for, and the baby, she really couldn't tell.
The minutes spent waiting were painstaking and once the emergency team had arrived the frenzy just quadrupled. Martha had tried asking the lady in-charge about the situation, but none of them would answer, and then there was the emergency staff who was weeping inconsolably. That was a baffling reaction and deepened Martha's fear.
Martha had called Kimbal immediately. Luckily, she had kept his contact details out of habit rather than interest. In her opinion, Kimbal could never give Hae Rin a stable life, something that Martha always wished her protege would get unlike herself. But, this wasn't the time to hold prejudices and Hae Rin probably needed all the prayers and support she could arrange for.
The emergency team was now busy rolling the gurney towards the ambulance. Grant, Martha, and two of Hae Rin's colleagues followed it closely. A few head nods later, Grant climbed into the ambulance with the paramedics and the rest scurried towards Martha's car. Martha closely followed the emergency vehicle and passed the keys to one of the co-passengers as soon as they arrived and dashed in towards the emergency room.
The hospital staff had already begun their work. Joe had called in ahead, to ensure that everything was ready. He even insisted on accompanying the team into the emergency room and stood in a corner keeping an eye on Hae Rin all along. The team of doctors who examined knew that saving both would be a miracle, but they had to try their best. The operation room was booked, the assistants, nurses all scrubbed in. The guardians and friends, which now included Joe and Kimbal too, who had rushed in a few minutes after Hae Rin had been admitted, were explained the condition.
And then began the excruciating hours of dilemma.
After the initial minutes of calm, all eyes now rested on Joe. Who was he? How did he know Hae Rin? Kimbal was baffled the attention was directed towards someone else and was equally puzzled by the presence of a total stranger in their midst.
"Well, I…ehm." Joe knew he had to answer, but confrontation usually scared him and made him stutter. He took a deep breath and said, "I am Hae Rin's brother if that's the way to put it. Actually her aunt is my stepmother, so, that's that."
Oh Really! The exclamation was almost unanimous. It was a revelation indeed, even for Martha who thought she knew everything she had to know about Hae Rin.
AND THEN LIFE HAPPENED
In the meantime, the doctors were at work. Hae Rin was losing blood, so they had to stop the bleeding first and then proceed with the caesarian. A few hours after, the infant was handed over to the pediatric ward, shifted to the NICU, while an unconscious Hae Rin was shifted to the recovery ward. The child was born premature and the complications called for Kangaroo Care.
When Hae Rin woke up 3 days later, she was greeted by the cacophony of the machines. The emptiness in her womb tore her, and she let out a painful shriek. Joe who was right outside rushed in a panic. Seeing Hae Rin awake he rushed out to call the attending. After an hour of checkups, often interrupted by Hae Rin's queries, she was pushed on a wheelchair to the NICU unit. Kimbal paced impatiently in the corridors, and through the glass, Hae Rin saw Martha clutching a tiny infant close to her chest.
Two-year-old Jia ran tirelessly on the moved yard. "Jia, come back inside", Hae Rin yelled from inside. Martha walked out casually, grabbed her by the waist, and carried her inside. Martha's country home that she had received as alimony from her marriage was now home to Hae Rin and Jia too. Martha was now a mother and a grandmother doting over them both. Post-retirement, Hae Rin and Jia had become her world. For the first time in her life, she was truly content.
Hae Rin was now pursuing her post-doctoral studies. Kimbal had finally settled in a job and dropped in from time to time. Joe had decided to apply for medical school and was trying his best. He dropped by every now and then to play with little Jia and spent hours caring for the yard too when time permitted. Hae Rin finally had the family she always longed for. And as for Jia, she had all the love she could ever ask for. For Hae Rin, the bonds that life had created were stronger than blood, and now life just happened each day slowly and peacefully.