Friday, April 08, 2005

Bed Arrest: Day 1 (a little long, sorry)

"Fountain Pen Hospital"--that's another one of those stores in our neighborhood that ranks right up there with "Cleveland Fruits and Vegetables" in the mysteriousness department. Are there fountain pen doctors? Nurses? The questions are simply too delicious to answer.

I'm out for pudding at Ralph's Discount City and a few other things while my wife enjoys (or rather tolerates) her first day of "Bed Arrest." Though usually supremely active, she's sticking close to the House Rules, no doubt because we're all afraid of the consequences of bending and/or breaking them. So far, so far, as they say: her body is behaving itself in the boredom. In half a day, she's already been through all the cable channels, the NY Times, and her e-mail. She's painted every single one of her nails for the first time in about two years. Time finally settles into a better pace, now that she's into Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?--a book that has particular resonance given where her husband and in-laws are from. Our very little girl seems unmoved, which is the point.

Our son has already been out to scrutinize the boats and to blush at the Bagel Lady. When it's anything approaching nice outside we fall out the door between 7 and 7:30 a.m., usually making a stop on our way back in at a local bagel place for egg and cheese on whole wheat and the largest coffee they sell. We split the bagel, but I draw the line at the coffee. The cashier and the boy have a thing, and today he's all Yankees hat and corduroy jacket, which is to say spiffy. I can't quite tell who blushes first, though I'd put my money on her since there are ceiling fans.

Though you wouldn't know it now, he was born 8 weeks early. (That figure remains somewhat in dispute; it might be 8.5 weeks, but who's counting?) He weighed 1560 grams, which is 3 lbs 7 oz. in the few countries that don't do metric, not to mention very very small. He was long--17.5 inches, if memory serves--and fairly active for a creature that looked like it had just fallen out of a high nest. My mother put it best (and I mean this). Upon seeing him for the first time, she said, "He looks just like a regular baby." Notice the key words: 'just' and 'like'. And 'looks'. The pictures from that time never fail to prove her right.

Recently spending some time in Birthing Room 8 brought back surprisingly crisp memories of our son's arrival nearly two years ago. My wife's water had broken at 31 weeks while I was on a plane back from Memphis. I landed at Newark Airport to first frantic and then calm voicemails from my wife who reasonably suggested that I make my way to New York Hospital. She was in the waiting room when I arrived, having been there for about an hour already. Her pants were soaked through down to her shoes. (She gave the taxi driver a hefty tip to soften the surprise he would find later in the back of his cab.) After Triage Room 1 and a move to the birthing room, we were told that she'd be in the hospital until the boy comes, which could be anytime between now and whenever. Given that her water broke, however, it couldn't be that long, because without the fluid barrier surrounding him he was too susceptible to infection. We didn't even have a crib at this point, and my wife's baby shower was a week or so away.

There's much to tell about the week between her being admitted that Monday night and her giving birth the next Friday morning, but perhaps I'll come back to that some other time. What nags at me now is the birth itself. My wife had been on a constellation of drugs that week--mainly for pain and to stall labor--and she had received a particularly strong opiate not long before his actual arrival. The first time the nurse injected it into her IV it sent her almost immediately into the clouds--or at least into a state where she reported seeing, for some disturbing and unexplainable reason, George W. Bush floating past her. When the boy did decide to start coming, though, her fuzzy edges sharpened almost immediately, and a second shot of that stuff did, simply, nothing--she might as well have taken a sip of distilled water. The nurse alerted the resident and the doctor on call, they checked her, and the doctor said, "You're going to have a baby tonight." Well, um, okay. She pushed for nearly an hour, but our son was showing his extremely stubborn side for the first of many times and wouldn't do anything but crown. And just as they were wheeling in the tray of sharp things for her C-Section, he changed his mind and decided to evacuate. He came out all blue and slick. I used what was left of my adrenaline to cut the cord that was held out to me, and my wife tried to find the energy to come back from her deep, bodily self. The boy was whisked away to an adjoining alcove and the waiting warming lamp by no fewer than six or seven NICU doctors. They went to work. I couldn't even see him, despite my being on the tall side. The doctor who seemed to be in charge looked more than a little like Santa Claus, apart from the light blue (?) scrubs with little pictures of something, probably dogs (or reindeer?), on them. I took this to be a positive sign, but I was looking hard for such signs at the time. I heard "He's not breathing" and "Code Blue" uttered, and though I didn't know what the second one meant, I sure was familiar with the first. When babies threaten to come before 34 weeks, they administer steroid shots to the mother to speed up the development of the lungs, and so we were primed to worry about this. They rushed him out the door to the NICU and into our worst fears. And then it was just her and me. The nurse turned off the lights, and we both went way slack, our bodies like big bags of water set on the ground. So quiet: no monitors, no ambient thub of the baby's heart to forget about and to remember to hear now and then. Some time passed; neither of us remember how much. The delivering doctor came in to say that we could go down and see him very soon, and that we should call down when we were ready. He also said some stuff about lowering our current and future expectations of our boy because he was so early, but he obviously wasn't as good at delivering bad news as he was at delivering children, and what he had to say came out sideways and knotted. The upshot: our son hadn't started breathing on his own, had to be intubated, and who knows how long he went without oxygen, so who knows how he will turn out--if he turns out at all. We eventually called down to the NICU, but they said they weren't ready. This was the message for hours, after changing rooms, nibbling around breakfast, and fitful sleep. We wouldn't be able to see him until much later that day.

My wife sleeps. Our son wakes from his nap and heads back outside to the playground and the full-on spring. Before they leave, he confirms with his nanny exactly whose stroller they will be taking. Turns out that it's "My Stroller."

Grandma (my mother) arrives in two days for a week-long visit. When she sees the boy, she won't believe her ears. We do hope that she won't get to see the girl.

More later perhaps.

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