Twenty years and six days ago, I was born within the grayish-white walls of Dallas’s Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital at 6 pounds, 11 ounces, 20.25 inches long.
My family’s old photo albums show the clock frozen forever at 5:53 p.m. My dad is in a faded Underdog T-shirt. In every picture, my mom has a pillow propped behind her neck and back.
My mom’s labor nurse, Becky, has short, curly red hair. My mom said that her hugs could cure anything, even the nerves of first-time parents rocking their Rachel Leah Siegel to sleep.
On the morning of Oct. 4, 1994, my mom had checked into her labor and delivery room. She said the room was larger than normal with a comfy hospital bed, pullout sofa, cable TV, and stereo system. The air was cool, the lights dim, and a wood-panel facade hid all the medical equipment. Cold cloths and ice chips were aplenty.
My mom said she felt like she was at a five-star hotel.
Becky listened to my mom’s fears. She lovingly dotted her cheeks with a cold cloth when the tears snuck out.
At 5:54, my parents were handed a baby girl swaddled in pink. They drove me home in a green Saab convertible.
This place where I took my first breaths — Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital — has made some unusual appearances in the national news ever since Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national visiting family in the Dallas area, arrived at its emergency room with symptoms consistent with Ebola on Sept. 25. Initially sent home after seeking treatment, Duncan was finally admitted on Sept. 28 after falling critically ill. He died in isolation at the hospital at 7:51 Wednesday morning.
Weeks before his arrival to the United States, Duncan had taken a young neighbor dying of Ebola from her village in Liberia to the area hospital. When the hospital turned the girl away due to a patient overflow, Duncan drove her back home where she would die hours later, at around 3 a.m. She was 19 and seven months pregnant.
Upon his arrival at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Duncan exhibited no Ebola symptoms and went to see family living northeast of downtown Dallas, not too far from where my brother goes to school. On a New York Times map tracking Duncan’s visits, I can point to the intersection where my family lives today.
I like to think that our lives follow timelines that stretch from when we are born to when we die. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was where mine began, and where Duncan’s sadly ended.
There are so many layers to this story that seem other-wordly, primarily the fact that the first person to die of Ebola outside of West Africa would die in my hometown, at the hospital where I was born nearly 20 years before to the day.
Our timelines are intersecting here, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, and I wonder …
Did the nurse on duty listen to his fears?
Was his bed comfortable? Was the air cool? Was the medical equipment exposed?
As Duncan waited to die in isolation, were there newborn Rachels being swaddled in pink?
I wonder how the hospital rooms we are born in shape our future timelines. What would have happened to me if I hadn’t been born under the fluorescent light of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, but instead in a Liberian hospital ward overrun with the sick and the dying?
I hope those fluorescent lights were kind to Duncan.
Most of all, I think about how seamlessly my parents talk about the way I came into this world. There were no emergency surgeries, no drastic measures, no decisions of life or death. My grandparents were there to meet their first granddaughter, and my mom was healthy enough to stop for a burger on our first drive home. To me, Texas Health Presbyterian was simply where I passed “Go.”
I hope that at least some of that peace was with Duncan when he died. I would imagine that in the background there were beeping respirators and racing doctors as he took his last breaths. He likely contracted Ebola carrying someone to a hospital ward, and now he was dying in one.
I asked my mom for some of her memories from the day I was born. She told me stories about how Becky was firm, controlling, loving and encouraging all at once.
“I can’t imagine dying without someone supportive around you,” she said.