Spinning on a Fish Hook by Lina Lau


child on swing on swing set

When my husband has a pounding headache for three days, right behind his eyes, he lies in bed in the dark. I trip over full cans of paint in the hallway – Weathered Moss and White Wool – placeholders for arguments about painting the bedroom, putting up shelves, assembling the crib. No matter how they start, our fights end the same way: I spoil our two-year-old daughter, Maya. He’s on his phone too much. They are circular, spiraling, growing. I bring him Advil. Another fight: he thinks he can muscle through any pain. But he takes the pills and the number for the walk-in clinic.

When his headache escalates to dizziness days later, like he’s spinning on a fish hook, I call 911. He doesn’t want me to come to the hospital, says at eight months pregnant with a toddler at home, I can’t afford to get sick. He’s too dizzy to talk much, so this time we don’t argue.

A CT scan shows swelling in his cerebellum. When he’s taken for an MRI, I go home; it’s after midnight and I need to be there for Maya in the morning. I know nothing about the brain surgery until I wake to a text: Operating Room at 7am.

The doctors say it’s a brain abscess, a growing infection.

Fresh out of surgery, blood-stained gauze wraps around his head, and thin limp tubes hang out of him like cooked spaghetti. Machines click and beep and whir. His room is light grey; I wonder how close the tone is to the unopened can of White Wool at home. I take his hand and am surprised at his warmth.

His closed eyelids tighten and twitch. His left arm jerks up, but is tethered by an IV. The breathing tube, he wants it out. The doctors say if my husband’s brain swells any more it will press on his brain stem, causing breathing failure. The tube is needed. I squeeze his hand in case he can hear and understand, but I want to pull it out for him.

Maya asks about Daddy. I tell her Daddy is at work, and her brows wrinkle the same way his do. When he is away for work, they have daily video calls and pretend to fist bump, a ritual he created with her. They kiss each other goodbye and I wipe her lip marks from my phone. But this time we don’t call him. I whisper doctor and hospital when talking to others, turning my back to her. She understands these words from when she stuck a cashew up her nose. So I tell her Daddy has an ouchie on his head, and I’m not sure if I should say anything else, or anything more, or that I don’t know when he’ll be home. She asks to play ‘chase’, her favourite game with him. I wobble after her, but I move slowly and can’t toss her on the couch and tickle her the way he does. She sobs. She misses Daddy, but I can’t pull her close around my growing belly so I just stroke her hair and whisper “I know.”

A week before the headache, my husband put Maya in the swing at the park. She kicked and cried “No, no, nooo!” He pushed anyway. She yelled “Daddy, stop!” I didn’t snap at him; Maya didn’t need to see another argument. He pretended to bite her feet every time she swung close. Her cries turned to giggles, and then she never wanted to get off. She was just scared, he told me later. She needed to know to keep going.

The first time I cry, I’m alone in my car, right before his second brain surgery. The infection is aggressive and spreading.

At the hospital, I watch him sleep. He doesn’t snore like at home where the unpredictable crescendo of his snorts forces me to the couch. In the morning he gets mad because I didn’t wake him or roll him over. I remember times waking up beside him, wrapping my fingers through his, just to feel close.

When my husband is released from the ICU and transferred to the 5th floor, he has MRIs every two days to monitor the infection. When he has the energy, we talk about Maya. We run through lists of baby names; he doesn’t like any of mine. I smile stiffly and ask how he’s feeling. Better, he says. But when the physiotherapist comes to help him sit up, he says he’s still spinning.

The next day at the park, Maya runs to the swings. I try to coax her away, maybe to the climber or the slide? She shakes her head. I clutch my belly. Even though I want to, I don’t know if I can lift her up to push.

Lina_LauLina Lau is an emerging nonfiction writer who lives with her brain-injury-recovered husband and two daughters. According to the ‘About The Author’ section from her first book, written at age six, ‘Lina likes to skip, work, do cut and paste, help her teacher and read a book.’ She still enjoys reading (less so about the cut and paste), as well as writing. Her work can be seen in Skirt Quarterly; she has written guest posts for The New Quarterly, Invisible Publishing, author Chelene Knight’s Life in CanLit blog, and author rob mclennan’s ‘my (small press) writing day’ blog.



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