My daughter was born at 12:30 PM on the third. At about 10 AM on the fifth, she stopped breathing. She was resuscitated successfully and rushed to a NICU in Tacoma, up the road from us, and arrangements were made so that I would stay in Tacoma until she was released. I was told that there was a DVD player in her room and one in the room I’d be staying in, and so I packed movies.
Of course I did. For one thing, I have serious issues with silence, and the thought of being alone all day with only the machines keeping her alive making noise was horrifying to me. So. We came home that Sunday night, and I packed for the week. And without hesitation, I went to the shelves where we keep our DVDs to make my selections. I didn’t bring my favourite movie, Roman Holiday, because it makes me cry every time and I felt that was probably not such a great idea. But I brought Ikiru and A Serious Man, Sleeping Beauty and Lantern Hill, LA Story and two seasons of Due South. I knew I would be coming home for my own doctor’s appointments Friday and knew I could choose more then.
So there I sat, in my daughter’s room, watching her sleep and listening to the machines. And watching movies.
I think possibly some people find the idea of sitting in the NICU and watching movies to be horrifying. How could I possibly concentrate? (These people would probably be even less happy to discover that I was also reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton.) But what else could I do? There was nothing I could do to help her. Hovering over her would not help her. I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice enough to keep reading to her after I broke down while reading The Runaway Bunny. So. Movies.
For one thing, with movies, I wasn’t alone. At least I had Harris K. Telemacher and Kanji Watanabe and Larry Gopnik in there with me. And, sure, those are three men who have their own problems of varying significance, but that still meant I wasn’t trapped inside my head with mine. And I had the fantasy that Benton Fraser would come into my room and speak comforting words, maybe tell me an Inuit saying or two. There were excellent reasons no human of my previous acquaintance could be in that room with me, but the fictional ones were better than no one.
Roger Ebert, as we know, called movies an empathy machine. Aside from my certainty that this would become the name of my Bowie tribute band, this became an idea that I connected with as I sat in that small, still room. The first night I spent in the hospital’s family housing, I turned on the TV and discovered that the person who’d had the room before I did had left it on Turner Classic Movies. Which meant someone else had used old movies to soothe them while they dealt with a medical emergency. Of course, TCM was playing The Deer Hunter, so soothing was not happening. But American Movie Classics was playing The Shawshank Redemption, and so I got Stephen King’s great ending, his tribute to hope. And what person in my situation would not benefit from a reminder of the positive nature of hope?
After all, the Princess Aurora wakes again. Jane Stuart reconnects with her parents. Harris finds what he wishes were true. Watanabe-san builds a park and has his beautiful, still moment in the snow—and I convinced the nurse that she needed to watch the whole movie. And, okay, Larry is screwed, I grant you. But isn’t that at least in part because he gives into despair? He makes a poor choice, and, in Coen fashion, is condemned for it. Whereas I could remember that, perhaps, the message on the goy’s teeth was for the goy, about the goy, and could remember to reach out.
Empathy machine. The most successful character in anything I brought was Benton Fraser, because he is the one who connects. Arguably, he is the most connected person in the world he inhabits, really, for all he seems on a different plane than everyone else. He sees each person as who they are, not who they are expected to be. I think he would have understood why I was doing what I was doing, why I chose the associations I chose. Or, if he didn’t, he would have accepted that it made sense to me.
I came home Thursday night, because I had a doctor’s appointment Friday morning. One of the things I did was pack more movies—Meet the Robinsons and Frozen, some Eddie Izzard, my book of Mystery Science Theater 3000 discs. Others. But I ended up not watching most of them, because she was released from the hospital Saturday evening. It is early Sunday afternoon as I write this, and she is asleep beside me. She is healthy. She is starting to wake up a bit again, and she is learning to be interested in the world. And one of the ways we will teach her about it is by using Roger Ebert’s empathy machine.