Thursday, November 4, 2010


At the end of this post I hope that you, the reader, will be able to answer three questions:  1) What’s the best part about Chapel Hill? 2) How many different kinds of hospital food could I eat (should I eat) at UNC Hospital? 3) If I’m staying with my wife in a hospital room, what kind of furniture should I be on the lookout for?  If you can understand why these questions are important to a husband and father-to-be, then we should go have a beer and compare notes.  I also want to express that of all the “chapters” in our immediate ante- and post-partum book, this was the worst one for me.  You’ll notice that I describe some things in great detail, and some things get glazed over with barely a mention.  I can’t say why it’s like this, except to say that I had “tunnel vision” in a time of what was really, intense emotional and mental pressure.  Of course, some of it was my own doing, but read on.  Actually let's go ahead and state that the answer to Question 1 is NOT their damn basketball team.

As I mentioned last time, our calm little world was jolted awake by the strike of preeclampsia (again, the eclampsia part of that word from the Greek meaning, “to shine forth”).  Over the course of the next 24 hours, Ashley was sent to Rex Hospital for monitoring, then admitted for monitoring.  This was my first real experience with hospital admissions.  I had seen my grandfather go in and out of Baptist Hospital several times over the last ten years of his time on Earth, but this was the first time in which I actually had to drag out all of the insurance cards, actually sign paperwork waiving malpractice rights, and hear doctors tell us that something serious was going on and there was no guarantee that everything would be OK.  On my only other visit to Rex, I had just gone to the ER to have my chin stitched back on after a particularly gruesome flag football incident (yes, you read that right).  This was also my first brush with sleeping in a chair that was not located in a) an airport or b) my fraternity house.  (Side note: I once knew a guy who spent an entire semester sleeping in a papasan chair.)

But just as I got comfortable in my uncomfortable chair, the doctors from our regular OBGYN practice came to the conclusion that our baby was coming sooner rather than later, and the first prognosis was that we had about a day until delivery would be induced.  This was a shock, and we immediately started questioning every bit of the information on which our doctor based his decision.  Was the baby still getting proper nutrition?  How high was Ashley’s blood pressure?  What was the protein count?  How was the placenta?  There was suddenly an even bigger pit in my stomach as I somehow tried to reconcile everything in my heart and in my mind.  I was still in denial about what was happening and I didn’t want to let go of my expectations of assisting my wife through a full-term natural childbirth.  In that light, I tried frantically to get our doula on stand-by, and called one of our pastors to come pray with us.  We also made one of the more important phone calls I’ve ever made in my life.  Sick with worry, and unsure about who could really help us, I called the Melameds to see what they thought about delivering in a high risk pregnancy.  (Backstory: the Melameds delivered triplets at UNC Hospital a year earlier under the care of Dr. Robert Strauss and his team of Maternal-Fetal care specialists.)  They immediately recommended UNC and placed a call to Dr. Strauss as a personal favor to see if we could get a spot in the antepartum ward over there.   We did this without telling the doctors at Rex that we wanted nothing more than to get out of there and over to Chapel Hill (first time that ever came out of my mouth).  I won’t yet get into the frustrations of the modern health care system, but we actually had to argue with Rex as to why we should go to a hospital where there were the best chances of keeping Ashley healthy and our baby inside as long as possible!  It seemed like they were more interested in keeping us there as a business investment than in treating us – even after acknowledging that they really weren’t equipped to properly care for a baby born at 27 weeks gestational age.  It was only when we announced that we had discussed our condition with UNC Hospital did they really give in and arrange the transfer.  So as Ashley was loaded up into the critical care ambulance - which, by the way, is staffed by the same highly trained nurses that fly the Air Care helicopter - I went home to collect some basic items and take a breather.

In this little bit of down time that wasn’t, I think I really started feeling like a father.  Somewhere between calling Moms and Dads and grandparents and aunts and cousins and friends and such,  arranging for someone to take the dogs, figure out when to eat, and all that other stuff, I all of a sudden realized that my only driving force in life was to keep my family safe and make sure that as one and a half humans went into the hospital, two were going to come out safely.  It was a defining moment in which I promised to God and myself that I was no longer living just for me.  Looking back, this is a great philosophical jump from normal quotidian life – where things happen gradually and slowly, and where large discrete jumps in energy level are rare.  Other exciting times in my life, like sports victories, the graduating college, finishing triathlons, completely pale in comparison to that day.  This was real life.  So real, in fact, that after not sleeping for two days, and not eating…

…I got hit by the norovirus.  And I’m not talking about a sniffle.  The night that Ashley went to UNC, I drove back to the house to sleep since her mom was staying in the hospital with her.  I got up the next morning, got dressed for the day, expecting to go to the hospital and then pop into my office to fill my bosses in on the situation.  I got to Ashley’s bedside, where she was holding steady with a blood pressure that would have sent a lesser woman into seizure.  I kissed her good-bye for a few hours, stepped out into the hall to chat with one of her nurses, took two steps toward the elevator, collapsed, and started vomiting.  This, of course, made me an instant celebrity with the Ante-partum care nursing staff – who just love a sick husband in there with all of their high-risk mothers.  Ashley’s mom drove me home as I worried upon worry that I had given Ashley the norovirus, which would almost certainly mean that she would have to deliver our baby sooner rather than later.  And at just 27 weeks, we didn’t like those odds.

I spent the next two days feeling like Satan himself had pummeled me with a baseball bat, and his little impish cohorts were stabbing pitchforks into my head.  I worried constantly about all of the “what-ifs” of this stage of pregnancy.  We had read that so much of the organ development happened in these weeks – what if the eyes weren’t ready?  What if those steroid shots hadn’t kicked in yet?  The situation wasn’t up to me, and I was mad about that lack of control.  I don’t know if the physical sickness was psychosomatic, but it was a cathartic experience once it was relayed to me that Ashley wasn’t getting sick.  My body displayed what my mind had felt, and it was a literal and figurative expelling of the bile that left me cleansed.

The ten days in the hospital we spent watching TV and chatting with the nurses, receiving friends and family for visits, and mostly, researching premature babies.  We talked a lot about what our baby would look like (no idea of the gender, remember – even if we had wanted to know, that rascal positioned in the womb in a way that even a 3-D ultrasound yielded nothing to the doctors).  We talked about food and what we would have for our first meal back in the real world.  After all, I was only eating one meal a day, which for five straight days was a sushi roll from the hospital café (not too bad, actually).  I brought my sleeping bag and slept in yet another version of the a reclining chair.  I hated the constant blood pressure readings and fetal monitoring adjustments (by the way, those machines are junk – I think they’re only still in use as a placeholder on your billing statement), mostly because it made Ashley nervous every thirty minutes.  But I got used to the nurses and we developed a very good report with our doctors.  When you’re at a top-notch teaching hospital, you can tell the difference in quality of the doctors and nurses.  We were very blessed to have these resources available.  So to the Beth, Colleen, Ashley (nurse, not wife), Irene, and even you, Dennis (the lone male up there), and all the other staff, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You listened as we worried; encouraged us when we couldn’t hold our heads up, and gave us blankets when we needed warmth.  I hope you all know what a difference you made for a young, scared family when they needed it most.  You do divine work.  Also, I don’t think I ever got around to thanking you for cleaning up my vomit.  Doctors, we’ll get to you in the next chapter.  (Note:  I got choked up when writing this paragraph.  I didn’t realize that the emotions were still so fresh.  I still can’t really put into words the worry that enveloped me, or how much I appreciate the nurses.)

A few very important things happened over those ten hospital days that made me think a lot about what was going to happen in the next days and weeks and years, and what my job was going to be.  First, I worried so much that I lost eleven pounds (literally) – but I stopped being mad and started thinking again.  We leaned on each other for support.  We laughed when we could.  We were worried, but we made sure we talked honestly about what we were expecting.  We also set short-term, achievable goals that helped pass the time.  When one day became two, two became three, three became a week, each increment was a victory, and a huge boost to morale.  We knew what we were up against (statistically) and what decisions we would have to make.  It became real, and I stopped denying the inevitable.  You have to play the hand you’re dealt, and where we were going to end up was a lot more important than how we would get there.  I knew that Ashley and I were strong, and that we would do all that we could to keep that baby inside the womb for as long as possible.  Secondly, it became abundantly clear that no one ever loves you like your mother.  Both of our mothers dropped everything they were doing that week to come up and stay with us.  My mom took care of me in bed like I was seven years old again.  I think she even made chicken soup.  And Ashley’s mom sat right there in that hospital room until I could get back there to give her a break.  So Moms, we thank you for all that you do, and we know you’re always behind us.  Looking to the present day, it also explains a lot about Ashley and Beatrice Kate’s relationship, and I’m thankful for that moment of divine clarity.  No matter how much I love our daughter, there is just some connection that they have that I’ll never understand.  Bea will always be a tiny baby that needs her mommy, even when she’s too big to know it.  And I think that’s just fine.

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