The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Archive for the ‘Weekly Wacko’ Category

Thoughts From a 4am Rocking Chair Session

  • A child’s cry is magical – what else sends someone into a panic and flurry of activity so well? I can picture some sales person or ad executive having a child and thinking, “how can I recreate this for my upcoming ford f150 campaign? If only people could hear the ad, freak out and run to their nearest dealership in an emotional panic!”
  • I like to pretend I’m an overworked waiter at a restaurant and the chef has gone nuts and only makes one dish – milk. Then I have to talk up the milk, it’s organic, it’s fresh, the milk supplier is treated well, etc. My son may grow up crazy, but he’ll be creative and crazy?
  • The sight of tiny snaps will cause my tremors of fear even when I’m old
  • Maybe some kids don’t want to listen to music from their parents generation because their parents sang terrible versions of it, off key, lacking rhythm, and with words changed to sing about poop and pleading with their child to not cry. Then, years later, mom or dad says, ‘hey I loved this song when I was your age’ and the child instinctively clenches and begins to scream.
  • Is my son’s urine in a league for evil?
    • It does escape whenever it has the chance. Diaper gone … MOVE MOVE MOVE.
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The Kiddo – Part III – Chez NICU

It was the night before our little guy might get to come home, and it was my turn to sleep at the NICU. The night needed to go well, nothing to reset his count to go home, or we would be there another five days. Our son had already checked a number of boxes at this point, three weeks in, and the last one we needed was to go five days without an ‘event.’

An ‘event’ is any of a number of things, but the common theme is that his heart rate or breathing deviate from an allowable range for a certain amount of time. His heart rate was constantly monitored and needed to be between 80 and 200, babies have hummingbird like hearts apparently, and if his heart rate dropped below 80 for a few seconds that was ok. If it dropped for an extended period, that would count as an event. If his heart rate dropped and his color turned blueish, indicating a lack of oxygen, then that would much more quickly count as an event.

Our son, and all preterm babies, do not have the ability to regulate their own heart rate and breathing like a full term baby does. Our nurses had informed us, over and over, that we should expect that if he makes progress with eating, he would likely take a step back with breathing. This proved to be true, because our son was on and off oxygen during his stay there.

***

When my wife woke up, a few long hours after her c-section, we headed straight to our son’s room. Room 19. We got to his room and our primary nurse … well, our son’s primary nurse (who we got to see a number of times over the next few weeks) was telling us about how he was doing and going over some suggestions. She stressed that this our child and we can do what we want, BUT … they recommend this.

We learned the great news about my wife getting to hold him, and while she was sharing details on how he was doing and my wife seeing him for the first time, and seeing him there with all these tiny cords coming off him … The tears started flowing.

I’ll tell you, I don’t normally cry terribly often, so I think I’ve met my quota for the next couple years. Sleep deprivation, other people I love undergoing so much stress, and fatherhood – apparently those can make you cry a lot.

My crying felt very funny, because the tears just streamed down without me making a sound, so my wife looked over at me and smiled. I think she was a little surprised, amused, and touched.

It was her turn for the tears when she got to hold the little critter. Those two with their competing cords were quite the sight. My wife, still on an IV, still getting regular doses of drugs, recovering from surgery and all that, and the kiddo, with a number of monitors. A jumble of cords and love and tears.

***

I had gone home, showered, packed some clothes for the next day (our hopeful departure day), and then headed back to the hospital for what I hoped would be my last night there. My wife and I had not been the marathon parents that some others were – sleeping there every single night. Heck no. I don’t know how some people do that. My wife and I knew that the more time we were there the better, but we also knew that staying at the hospital 24/7 was an absolute drain. The whole experience has given me a few first parental lessons, one of which is that it’s all about choosing the least wrong answer. 

Can I stay at the hospital? Yes. Is it better for him? Yes. Is it worse for me to a point that the lack of sleep will sap any energy I have after work, so that the time I spend with him is less good for him? Yes. Lack of sleep vs time with him – what’s the least wrong answer? And, every new parent lacks sleep … is sleeping at the NICU really that much worse than it would be at home?

When I got back to the hospital the night shift nurse had arrived, all of them worked 7 – 7 shifts. It was one I was not overly fond of, which was rare. The thing that drove me nuts with this nurse was that she was fond of dropping a goodbye guilt bomb. A few of the nurses did this, though I’m confident it was unintentional.

‘Leaving?’

‘Yeah I need to eat some dinner.’ (This conversation happening at 9:30 pm, which is a late late dinner in my book.)

‘Coming back later?’

‘No, I need to get some sleep.’ (As I’m laying him back in his crib.)

‘Oh ok, that’s good for you to do … I bet he’ll start crying as soon as you leave, they just know whenever their parents leave.’

Even typing that I have to take a calming breath. Why? Why, nurses, why?

One other small dose of bad news – I forgot to pack shorts to sleep in! Gah. Sleeping in jeans it is.

***

His cords, oh his cords.

There was one cord that wrapped around his tiny little foot which measured his oxygen.

There was one cord that stuck to his chest with a little sticky thing which measured his heart rate.

There was one cord that stuck to his chest which measured his respiratory rate.

There was another cord that stuck to his chest, and come to think of it, I have no idea what it was for.

There was the tube that went through his nose and into his belly. There were tiny numbers on it, and you could see 20 right around his nostrils. That meant it went 20 cm down into his belly. Blech.

An IV that went through his belly button, to give him some special stuff. This was nuts. Every evening they’d analyze how every baby was doing, and then a big hospital in Denver would make each child’s own particular IV bag recipe and ship it up. Technology!

And last, but not least, was the cannula for his oxygen.

***

Having been there for a while I felt good and confident when it came time for his ‘cares.’ 

Every three hours our son had his ‘cares.’ Every child there has these. And if you were so inclined, you could learn how to do these things and do them yourself.

The cares involved the following:

  • Move the pulsox, for reading his oxygen level, from one foot to the other
  • Take his temperature under his armpit (he always hated this, which the nurses said is true for just about all babies)
  • Change his diaper
    • Later this involved applying a cream for a diaper rash
  • Prep his food
    • Twice a day he gets a vitamin which smells awful and has iron in it, which is important for him … we mix that in with 15 or so ml of food
    • With every meal he gets his milk ‘fortified’ which is a powder we add that adds calories
      • A typical serving of 70 ml of breast milk is 20 calories, with the fortifying we are doing he is getting 24 calories
      • An unfortunate side effect of that stuff is it makes his poop more liquid, which increases the odds of diaper rash (see above)

Because we were so close to our departure date, I did all of this, including the food prep. Up until the last few days, the nurse on duty had always done his food prep, but the ability to prep his food and give him vitamins twice a day were checkboxes we needed to have met in order to take him home.

For his 9ish pm feeding I got to work. He was no longer on an ‘every 3 hour’ cares schedule but instead doing ‘on demand feeding’ (another checkbox where he needed to show he ate a sufficient amount by his own demand).

The nurse moved him from the crib into my arms, and I thought happily how much more easily I navigated moving his tiny body around now compared to just a few weeks ago. His size was no longer terrifying but adorable, and I could lift him up with some ease higher on my chest when he inevitably sank down due to his squirmy style. The only reason I asked a nurse to move him into my arms instead of me doing myself is because the cords were a bear to navigate.

I fixed a burp cloth around his face, turned him on his side to feed him side-lying style (this slows the flow of food and makes eating easier), and pop goes the bottle into his mouth.

***

During his approximately three week tenure at the NICU he had made a ton of progress with food. The first week plus he ate via gavage, the lovely tube shoved down his nose.

The first few days his meal size increased at every feeding. They wanted him to gain weight, and when he reached a certain weight the IV would be removed. The additional support from the IV would no longer be needed. I remember that milestone, walking over to the room around 9 pm and watching the nurse deftly remove that. Every subtraction of a medical piece of equipment from the room felt like a graduation.

But with the increased food came spitting up. No big deal, right? All babies spit up. Except … he was eating through a tube in his nose, which meant no air bubbles, so spitting up in his case was not because of the traditional reason. To counter this, the nurses suggested we try to hold him during and after eating, plop him on your chest and let gravity help the food go down and stay down.

At first he was fed over the course of thirty minutes, and then you would hold him for thirty minutes. The nurses, neonatal nurse practitioner and doctor decided to increase the time for feeding from thirty minutes to forty-five, and then a full hour.

With the hour-long feeding, between his cares, feeding, holding him, and putting him back, you’d take an hour and a half plus of every three hours helping him.

On his 9th day there he took his first bottle. This was a big milestone because the ability to eat on his own was obviously pretty vital for getting him home. The bottle feedings increased as time went on. At first, one or two a day was a lot, the effort it took might tire him out to the point that he would sleep through his next feeding.

He rarely cried at first, he just slept. And slept. And if he wanted to sleep through a diaper change and eat through his tube, you have at it kiddo. I remember saying, and I am already starting to eat these words, that I looked forward to the day when I would hear a loud, healthy cry from him. In the NICU, if you heard a loud cry, my theory was that kid was heading home soon.

It probably seems counter intuitive, but sometimes the best thing we could do for him was let him be. If picking him up and holding him would disturb his rest at all, and he was conked out, then it was ideal to leave him sleeping. I drove over before work one morning, around 6 am, only to learn that for that particular care time he was sleeping soundly. Having woken up for work an hour earlier just to hold him, and then be told that, it was not my favorite start to a day.

***

With the 9ish pm feeding done, I did my well-earned skin-to-skin and then plopped the kiddo down to sleep for the night (well, the next two hours). His gavage tube was gone, that was taken out when ad lib feeding was decided, he was all bottle or breast at this point. 

I headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth, set up the little bed in his room, and turned on the TV. One of the Batman movies was on! Look out world!

After a bit of TV I decided to go lights out.

He woke me up about an hour and a half later, Mr. Grumbles doing his thing. I went to look for the nurse but she must have been in another kiddo’s room, so I ended up running into Josh, the joke-cracking nurse from my son’s birth night. I did an impression of the grumbles like doing an impression of a car making certain sounds for a mechanic, and I asked Josh if he could take a look and let me know if he thought it was hunger or just noises … Josh popped his head in, looked for a few seconds and said, ‘based on his eyes, I’d say he has 30 minutes til he wants to eat.’

Josh was spot on. Josh has mythical status for me, people.

Thirty minutes of semi-sleep later, it was cares time, and bing bang bong we were onto the food. The nurse asked if I wanted the lights on, and I said it was ok to keep the room dark. In my mind, this would help keep him sleepy. Silly me, the boy has no concept of when he should be sleepy.

I had learned a few tricks from the staff to help the kiddo finish his bottle. And finishing his bottle was an objective, because in these last 12 hours of our stay (fingers crossed) he needed to eat a sufficient amount or our departure would be delayed. To extend his desire to eat I would burp him, unwrap him from his swaddle, have him hang out on the pillow on my lap, and while this wasn’t something someone told me to do, I would also ramble to him incessantly (surprise, surprise, given the length of this blog post).

I had also learned some of my son’s habits. He often would wolf down the majority of the food, and then doze on and off while nipping at the last little bit. After the 9 pm feeding he had spit up a little on me, so this time I let him dictate the pace more, which meant more of his napping/eating. 

This turned out to be a mistake. 

A beeping noise filled the room, which was not unusual. The beeping indicated that one of the vitals being monitored was outside of an acceptable range, and I think there was a subtle difference in tones to indicate what was wrong, but I was always too alarmed to notice at the time. This wasn’t terribly unusual, though. A number of times his heart rate had dropped below 80 while eating, which was completely normal. Generally it would go off for a few seconds, and then his heart rate would resume. It was something I always hated and made me feel like I was doing something wrong, but I had come to accept it.

The beeping continued, I began to worry about the idea of this being considered an event, but I still assumed he’d bounce back right away. I started on the next bag of tricks – get him upset to get his heart rate and breathing going. I started trying to sit him up when the beeping took on a more worrisome tone.

I hit the call button to have a nurse come help, the new tone had taken me from ok to very worried. What had I done? Why was something so off? We’re so close to leaving!

My nurse for the night must have been busy because another nurse came in. She told me to take the bottle out of his mouth, and the beeping stopped almost immediately. Then, my nurse came in. She and the other nurse had a quick conversation about this. My nurse was a big fan of my sons, and I surmised that she didn’t think much of this … the other nurse said, ‘but I had to intervene.’ She clearly thought this was a bad event, and I had made a big mistake by not taking the bottle out myself. With the dark room I wasn’t able to watch the color of his lips to see if they turned blue, and that likely would’ve been my cue to remove the bottle. 

The amount of time it has taken to read this does not do a good job of conveying how quickly all of this happened. I would think, from the first beep to the intervention, it was 10-15 seconds.

I can’t describe very well how upset or angry I was with myself, or how devastated I felt. It really felt like I had harmed my son in some powerful way, and along with that I had likely delayed departure which would pain my wife. The nurses reminded me that during a feeding, the heart rate can drop, that’s totally normal, the important thing is to watch and respond … But I hadn’t responded, I had just frozen. I liked to think of myself as being good at reacting quickly in situations, but instead I just froze. 

My wife had insisted that I call if anything went wrong that night, I paced for a while, asked the nurse if that counted as an event and she told me they would make that decision in the morning. I called my wife, she told me not to blame myself, and then I went to sleep angry and crying.

***

Our NICU stay was great, in the grand scheme of things. Our son would occasionally take a step back, like being put back on oxygen occasionally, but in general it seemed like almost every day he was taking a step forward.

They had told us before he was born, and then the first few weeks, to expect to go home on his due date. And if we went home earlier, all the better. About a week before he was scheduled to go home, my wife heard a surprising announcement at rounds.

Rounds happened every day, usually from around 11 am to 1 pm, and they involved the doctor, the neonatal nurse practitioner, your child’s nurse, and usually two or three other people who were … I don’t know what.

The doctor mentioned the idea of discharge. This was the first time someone had said that. My wife called me excitedly at work and passed on the great news.

***

The nurse came in for the 2 or 3 am feeding and asked, suggested that I skip this one and keep sleeping. I took her up on the idea.

I was too scared to think of feeding him again at that moment anyway. I stayed laying down, blankets over me, listening to someone else take care of my son because I felt incapable. It wasn’t my best night of sleep.

***

The NICU stay also had lots of outside work distractions – my wife’s folks visiting, my mom and sister visiting, and we made pals with another couple with a kiddo there. In fact, we’ve hung out in a post NICU world a couple times. It’s fun being around people without beeping and such a sterile environment. Like, I don’t know, regular people!

It was while my mom and sister were visiting that we learned the shocking news about his earlier than anticipated departure date. This involved a number of extra steps to prove that we were ready.

We had already taken the infant CPR class, but we also needed him to pass the ‘room air challenge’ which is where he is off oxygen for 40 minutes in the room. During that time, his oxygen can’t dip below a certain rate. The idea with this test is that, at home, he could remove the cannula and we might not notice for up to 40 minutes before we would be able to fix it.

In addition, he passed the ‘car seat challenge,’ which is where he sits in his car seat for 90 minutes while being monitored. The purpose of that test was to show that he could handle a drive home.

***

I fed the little guy for the 5 or 6 am feeding, and while I was nervous, it worked out ok. Light had started to appear outside, and we had lots of lights on inside the room this time. He ate, I didn’t push him to keep eating once he started looking like he was dozing, and back he went to sleep. In fact, he likely went to sleep mildly hungry because I was so quick to pull the bottle away.

I slept a bit more before my wife arrived.

Our nurse that day was our primary, the same nurse we had the very first day. She asked me, ‘are you feeling gun shy about going home?’ Yes. Yes yes yes. I told her what happened, and then she told us we could still go home that day, if we wanted. 

Because the event had occurred during a feeding, it wasn’t going to officially count as an event. To me, that felt wrong. What if we were home and I didn’t notice? I didn’t think to take out his bottle, what if I made that mistake again, or any of a number of other mistakes? I know all parents make mistakes, but the mistake I had made felt like a life-threatening one.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to spend the day there instead of checking out that morning. Then, that afternoon, we would reassess.

During rounds we talked to the doctor about what happened and she echoed that we could go home. She paid us a nice compliment, saying that we were clearly good parents, were there frequently, spent a lot of time with our son, and frankly, she wouldn’t let everyone go home after that. But, she said, they have reason to keep him if we wanted another night for our own mental health.

That afternoon, I went home, slept, showered, and decided that I needed to stay with him at the NICU again. I needed to have a night go smoothly, to not mess up, to have nothing go wrong, and I’d feel ok bringing him home and being able to feed him at any hour of the day.

At our primary nurses’s suggestion my wife and I went out to dinner together, our last ‘just us’ meal for a while, and it was a great idea. Refreshed, somewhat, I headed back to the hospital. And this time, phew, I remembered to pack sleep shorts.

***

I will echo a sentiment from an earlier post – which is that the whole experience at the hospital was great. We interacted with a lot of people, under intense stress, and I liked nearly everyone, and disliked only one or two people. For me, those are incredible statistics.

But, one thing that drove me nuts was occasional inconsistent messaging from nurses. These guys knew a ton, and among that knowledge base they had opinions … and yet, everything was presented as a concrete fact.

The second day our son was there, he was grilling under lights for jaundice, and based on something I had been told by one nurse I thought the best thing for him was to stay away. Low volume, low stimulation were best for him – that was a fact. Preemie babies can’t handle the traditional get passed around touched and patted and all that kind of experience. He was never in an enclosed cage which prevented touching, but you weren’t supposed to stroke him, instead lay a firm but gentle hand on him and keep it there. Informational material the hospital had also stressed the idea of low volume. You wanted to keep that kid sleeping, because that’s what he would be doing in the womb. Sleep, eat, let the brain grow.

On day three, I went by his room and a specialist came and talked to me. Something she said made me think I was staying away too much, and she responded with a compliment, telling me she thought I had a very calming voice (why, thank you) and that our son was used to my wife and I talking so we should feel free to hang out in there as much as we want. The more, the better. And as far as touching him goes, even if it’s a little upsetting, skin-to-skin helps him learn to regulate his heart rate and breathing by listening to his mom or pop.

Some nurses were more conservative and wanted our kiddo to be more hands off, others were more aggressive and thought every meal he should be held. It was confusing, but understandable … There is science in the NICU, but there’s also artistry in trying to determine what each unique child needs.

***

For his first feeding after my wife and I had dinner, around 9 pm, I settled in and began to feed him. I had given myself a small pep talk, reminding myself that for days and days I had fed him many times and nothing had gone wrong. No beeping, no worries, just a happy little hungry monster. The thing last night was an anomaly, and I learned my lesson to never go on auto-pilot when it came to him. 

Suddenly, a beeping noise. My first thought was overwhelming sadness and ‘not again.’ This time I wasn’t feeding him, he was on my shoulder and I had just started burping him. I moved him around and began burping him more aggressively – make him upset and his heart rate and oxygen will be fine.

The beeping continued.

I started rubbing his feet hard, one of the nurses had said this could be a good way to get him to cry. Instead the beeping got louder.

I hit the nurse call button.

I was shaking, and terrified, and switching between aggressive foot rubbing and burping. If anything he looked red, what could be wrong? I was angry at myself, how could I be messing up every time I feed him? Why can’t I get any of this right any more?

The nurse for the night must have been busy, because another nurse ran in (the one who removed his IV). Shortly after her arrival my nurse arrived and the two conferred, looked at all of the information, and agreed that the machine had read things wrong.

Apparently the pulsox was reading things wrong, and then my aggressive foot rubbing only served to make the machine think things were awful. 

The nurses left and I continued to shake a little, taking a few deep breaths and holding back … you guessed it, tears.

I typed out and deleted a couple of texts to my wife that were just profanity, before letting her know what happened. 

That experience, and the experience from the night before, were two of the most terrifying moments of my life. And one of them was a fluke! I’m not going to take the time to make a list of the worst moments in my life, but I can tell you with confidence that this was number one on the list, with the night prior being number two. What fun, eh?

***

The whole experience was extremely educational. Not only for childcare basics, but for some good reminders about life.

Parenthood may be about making the least wrong decision.

Parenthood may be a constant reminder that the best laid plans can go awry.

Parenthood will require an unwavering level of paying attention, which I know I’ll slip up on because it’s human nature, but hopefully I’ll be on more than off.

Parenthood is a scary mother f-er.

***

Tomorrow I go back to work, paternity leave has flown by. The little guy is off oxygen (he came home on ‘a whiff’ and boy was lugging that tank around annoying). He is a social butterfly in the middle of the night, but that’s ok, he still manages to be adorable far more than he is a terror.

The Kiddo – Part II – Game Day

Saturday

Thursday my wife had woken up and vomited, which we were worried might mean an infection … but after some investigation and talking with nurses and doctors, we figured it might be a side-effect of one or some of the many medications she was on. Sure enough, a nurse we liked looked it up and several medications said a common side effect was dizziness.

Friday night we went to bed and all I hoped was Saturday she would wake up feeling slightly more human.

I had begun to think, as great as it is for the little guy to continue to cook … at what cost? It felt like every day under this duress and discomfort was taking a few months off her life.

And whadya know, I got my wish … Sort of.

She did wake up feeling better. Score one point. She also woke up and informed me that she had started feeling pretty regular contractions starting at 2 am. Ah. Minus five points. When a nurse came by for the morning check-in, we showed her the log my wife had started when contractions were happening.

I was still hoping that these would subside, some contractions are no big deal. Regular contractions, especially those that gain strength, those are a different story. We wanted to make it to Friday! It’s only Saturday!

But my wife’s body knew better – it finally felt marginally normal, which meant it had the strength for the big show.

***

The contractions continued, and as my wife had told me during one of the childbirth classes, contractions equal DO NOT TOUCH. She wanted to try and go deep within her mind and find some inner calm while the body did its thing. Fair enough.

As they gained in strength, we again talked to the nurses and they decided to move us. Back to the birthing center we went.

My wife’s mom arrived and the three of us formed an odd party.

My wife, on the labor bed, going into her mind with a clear grimace painted on her face once every X times per hour. My wife’s mom, sitting on a chair, watching shows on her iPad, and talking to her husband to determine if he should go ahead and fly out. Myself, reading a book, glancing up to see my wife in growing pain and discomfort, then glancing back down to finish the paragraph. Sounds cold and whatever the antonym for reassuring is, doesn’t it? But hey, the wife wants what she wants.

***

I grabbed lunch.

My wife’s mom ran an errand for us.

My wife laid in bed, retreating into herself, then coming back and chit chatting with us.

All the while, a Law & Order marathon played on the TV.

BUM. BUM.

***

The doc working that day was busy, surgery after surgery. Finally, she found some time in early or mid-afternoon to stop by and check on the Mrs.

One complication with my wife having broken her water a week-plus prior is that the doc doing the good old ‘let me stick my hand up there to check out the sitch’ check was a little more cautiously viewed. Because the water had broken, one barrier to infection was down, which meant that anytime a foreign item was introduced (i.e. the doc’s aggressive hand) it could increase the risk of an infection. But, with the way the contractions were going, it was time to get a read on the cervix.

cervicaldilationThis chart is a common sight – the size scale. I don’t know how many bagels I ate while staying at the hospital during this time. I often missed the window where people were making good stuff, so I would settle for a bagel. Odd to look at that chart and think that’s what we were shooting for. By we I mean her.

The doc never-so-lovingly shoved her hand in and let us know, ‘who wants Oreos!?’ (Nah, she said you’re 4cm.)

My wife had been in pain during the contractions, but the pain during the cervix check was excruciating. This rattled her much more than anything else had, and it made her question her ability to do this without drugs.

***

The afternoon continued. Contractions. Reading. Watching. Bad guys hearing puns while detectives and lawyers accused one wrong person after another until finally finding the REAL bad guy.

Due to the pain of the cervical check, my wife decided to enlist some help – laughing gas.

This was the lowest level of drug support you could get. You would hold it up to your face and take breaths from the mask when you wanted (e.g. during contractions) and then lower it and breathe room air. After a few breaths of room air the laughing gas would no longer be in your system. Easy peasy.

My wife was in the bathroom when the doc came back, and I grimaced expectantly. My wife came out of the bathroom and quickly plugged into the gas. It had been doing its job wonderfully at ‘taking the edge off’ with the contractions, but would it pass this test?

Nope. Nope nope nope. The pain was still very present. And, unfortunately, she was only 4.5cm and a solid hour or two had passed. Not the progress we wanted.

***

The contractions were showing up on the monitor, but the doc began to wonder aloud to us about the idea of an internal monitor. Guh. This would be some sort of medical instrument that gets shoved up in there to more accurately measure the strength of the contractions.

(Dear son, be glad you’re not a lady.)

The doc did one more check, this time with my wife gulping down the laughing gas like a runner pausing at the top of a hill, and still bad results – not much more dilation, still incredible pain.

The doc made a call at this point – there is indeed a uterine infection. We are now on a timeline for this baby coming out, and if it doesn’t happen within that time frame, he’s coming out by c-section. The risk of him getting infected by the uterine infection made this an easy call for our doc. Pitocin was called for to speed things up.

My wife, with some frustration, called for more backup. An epidural. The cervical check pains were too much.

***

The anesthesiologist seemed nice, but when you’ve just shoved a needle into my wife’s back, and you’re controling a numbing agent going into her body, and then you’re at your little machine and you say, ‘oh crap!’ … you know … that just doesn’t do much for me.

But, thankfully, it appeared that nothing was actually wrong, because the epidural was doing its thing. The numbness was taking over.

Contractions, pitocin, epidural, uterine infection, all the ingredients for a great party.

Our main nurse brought in a blanket for me and I laid down. At this point, it was maybe 10 pm.

***

I woke up to a lot of medical jargon being said (this was a recurring theme during the stay there). It’s very confusing. One of the doctors we talked to, who was great, said that whenever a doc comes and spews out a bunch of information, you’re likely to retain 30% of that. Therefore, it’s great to have two people in the room, and hopefully each retains a different 30%, and then you’ve got 60%, and that’s not bad. She said this with a hint of humor.

The doctor came in for another cervical check (still hurt), and then decided to insert the internal contraction monitoring device. But wait … it just … (dear God the look of pain on my wife’s face) won’t … (so much pain) … insert.

Oh, and look at all that blood on the doc’s gloved hands. Is that right? Should there be blood?

The doc made another announcement – abruption! Wait, the exclamation point is misleading. How do you denote ‘not good.’ Like, not good on top of the other not goods? Anyway, it was not good.

***

Once a doctor calls out for a c-section that needs to happen pronto, it REALLY HAPPENS PRONTO. I think it was 1:58 am or so that she called it, and we heard our little pal crying at 2:10 am.

Those 12 minutes included going from that room to the OR, putting me in a bunny suit, cutting my wife’s belly open, taking her guts out, taking a baby out, and saying, ‘hey dad, want a picture?’ (Woof. What a sight.)

***

From there things happened at a confusing pace.

I was asked if I wanted to come over to see the kiddo, so I said sure. I left my wife’s face (they had a curtain that started at her neck, which blocked our view of the gut-opening) and went to a corner of the OR where there was a team of 5-6 people surrounding my son. He was crying, which was glorious to hear and brought a few tears to my wife’s smiling face, but the presence of so many people was alarming.

He continued to cry out a few times, which always prompted one of the NICU people, the only male (Josh, who I later met under more normal circumstances) cracked jokes and would say, ‘oh! tell me! tell me!’ They sucked a bunch of fluid out of his lungs and then, at some point, I guess decided he was looking a little blue because they put a tiny oxygen mask over his mouth.

From there we wheeled out of the room, stopping briefly to let my wife glimpse her son from the operating table, and then we were walking to the NICU. The charge nurse was with us and saying … some stuff. God knows what. I think she told me a few times he was doing great, but if he was doing so great, why do we have so many people and we can’t hold him? Great for 33 weeks, I suppose.

Once in the NICU, they took him straight to his room, which we came to know well over the coming weeks. Josh continued to crack jokes, which was the only sign that everything was not awful. Someone who was apparently more in charge walked me out of the room and repeated that everything was great, and then she said that I would need to put on some surgical clothes if I wanted to stick around because they’d be doing ‘blah, blah, blah …’ (medical confusion). The charge nurse asked if I wanted a glass of ice water, which I assumed meant I looked pretty pale and shaky. The woman talking to me seemed to indicate it might make sense for me to check on my recovering wife instead of staring at people putting in a gavage tube and whatever else they did.

***

The Mrs. was sitting in a post-op room, looking much less pregnant, and wiped out. She was shivering, which they said is common and can be from the surgery and from the anesthesia.

She would need to stay in that room for an hour to make sure the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed. I excused myself to let my wife’s folks know how she was doing, and also to get a snack because I began to feel a bit woozy. I guess all of the excitement and nerves had  gotten to me. I grabbed two cookies (got my cookies after all), a thing of milk, and I walked to find a chair with no one around, really hoping I wouldn’t pass out because I figured if I passed out in a hospital I’d wake up with an IV in me and that is a bit of a nightmare situation for me (I’m no good with needles). I ate a cookie, cried a bit, ate another cookie, and sat worrying about my wife and son.

***

My wife and I were told, when she left the post-op room, that we’d able to swing by the NICU to see the kiddo, but unfortunately he was still undergoing … whatever it was they were doing. Sure, he’s doing great, but why’s that taking so long?

Back in our room, my wife’s folks were waiting, and my wife and I tried to doze off. We would go see the kiddo when he was ready for us.

This plan was derailed by some violent shivering/shaking my wife was doing. She asked a nurse who responded, honestly, that it normally wears off by now. Huh. Helpful. Later we realized it was probably the infection that amplified the shakes. Speaking of later realizations – that’s also what made the cervical checks so agonizing.

What fun, eh?

With my wife looking like a wreck, and the kiddo’s whatever it was taking longer than expected, my wife’s folks decided to leave for a while … I think after I said they should leave. It’s a bit of a blur. The night/day was called. 24 hours after contractions started, and after many hours of labor, an emergency c-section and a lot of pain later, we needed rest, and all we could do was hope our son was ok.

 

The Kiddo – Part I – Watership Down

First of all, I’ve never read Watership Down, and I ought to.

Second of all, it’s been a while, blogosphere! Hi, friend! I had wanted to sit down and write a few times since all of the craziness of the last month kicked off, but I was pretty busy AND it felt wrong to be reflective about an ongoing though. Maybe it was superstition, I don’t know, but I didn’t want to pause to think when there were still so many things going on that could be scary. This is still the case, but the frenetic pace has slowed – as I write this, my kiddo is in front of me in his bassinet on the coffee table and my wife is upstairs catching a much-needed nap.

***

Thursday

‘Brad, Brad, Brad, Brad.’

My wife was downstairs saying my name with a note of alarm. Her brother and his wife were driving up to visit us, and I assumed it was some mild nuisance of a this-house-better-be-impeccable variety.

I was packing in our bedroom, preparing for our drive to Santa Fe the next day. We were going to catch the opera (it’s outdoors there, and my grandparents used to love doing that) and enjoy the foods, art, and tourist shops of downtown Santa Fe for a weekend.

I came to the top of the staircase and looked down, my wife said, ‘I think my water just broke.’

She was on the phone calling her doctor, I rushed back to our room to grab a hoody (we had done an ER trip a month before and it was cold in that hospital), shoes, wallet, keys, and a hoody for her.

Thankfully, we live 10 minutes from the hospital, and yet, I couldn’t help but think proudly as I calmly rushed us to the ER, I bet I would be good if I was a cop in a car chase.

I dropped off the Mrs. at the entrance and zoomed to a parking spot. Someone came down quickly, within minutes, and we began walking to an elevator to go to the birthing center area. The night prior we had taken a tour of the hospital as part of our childbirth class. The Mrs. had ironically asked a question, ‘does anyone ever not make it through the whole class? Because they deliver early?’ I had spent the tour thinking about the fact that they deliver fresh cookies every day at 4 pm to the birthing center. How can I get my wife to time her labor so that I can leave the room right after he’s born to have a few cookies?

A nurse quickly came to see us, a test was performed and yep, her water had broken. The midwife came in and she had the nurse do a second test, a different one, to verify, and yep, water still broken.

She was just shy of 32 weeks pregnant.

***

We were at that hospital from about 8 pm til around midnight. It was terrifying, emotional, and that odd mix of fast and painfully slow. They gave my wife a steroid shot, one of two that she would hopefully receive. The purpose of the shot is to speed up the development of the baby’s lungs. Preterm babies can have respiratory issues, and especially those born in Colorado with the higher elevation. Later, one doc informed us, a 36-weeker born in Houston (sea level) could go home right away, whereas a 36-weeker in Colorado is more likely going to need a visit to the NICU. Ideally, a woman can stay pregnant long enough to get one steroid shot, a second steroid shot 24 hours later, and then hold off on labor for 48 hours to let the steroids take full effect.

They also put an IV in my wife and began a heavy dose of magnesium, which dampens the body’s ability to have contractions and helps the baby’s brain. A two-fer, if you will. This stuff hit hard and fast, my wife described it as taking a shot of bourbon while sitting in a dry sauna. She had that warmth go down her throat (even though it was an IV) and felt hot. Her eyes immediately got a bit distant and you could tell she was under the impact of a powerful drug.

After all of the initial hullabaloo and checking, the pace slowed a bit as we waited for an ambulance to transfer the Mrs. The hospital where we had envisioned having our son could only support babies 34 weeks and up, and we were not looking like we would hit that mark.

***

When the ambulance arrived I swung by home to pack clothes, say hi to my brother-in-law and his wife, pet the dog, and scoot.

At the new hospital my wife arrived around the same time I did (shhh, nobody sped …).

While on her ambulance ride to this hospital, my wife was having contractions once every four or five minutes. If you don’t know, that’s worrisome. We wanted, really, really wanted, for her to stay pregnant.

Thankfully, after she arrived, the contractions slowed and eventually stopped. We buckled in for a long night’s non-rest at the hospital, with a nurse coming to check her vitals and usually help her to the bathroom every two hours. She had the magnesium, antibiotics (the ‘water’ is one of three barriers to infection for a baby, with that gone the antibiotics came in), and an IV of fluids all being pumped in. In addition, her belly had bands on it to monitor her heart rate, the baby’s heart rate, and any contractions. Every two hours they took her temperature, her blood pressure, and asked her to rate her pain. (What on earth is that rate your pain thing?)

A doc came to visit us, I think, and the NICU charge nurse, it was a happening place.

Ideally, she would stay pregnant until 34 weeks, when the risk of infection outweighs the gains of continuing to let the little guy develop, and then they would induce. In the meantime, during those two weeks, she would be on bed rest at the hospital, and if she showed signs of infection, they would induce or carry out an emergency c-section.

Stress, you old so and so, I didn’t know you were in town to see me?! You fu – nevermind, my mom reads this.

The goal: relax! Just relax! But if anything seems wrong, dear God hold tight.

On the plus side, the staff in the ‘birthing center ICU’ as we came to call it, and the whole hospital, were amazing. The amount of negative experiences or exchanges, given how stressful the whole ordeal was, is impressive. One of these sweet people went out and got a labor bed for me, which I slept on that night (and many nights to come).

***

Meanwhile, miles and miles away, my wife’s mom was in action. She had been in a play when the Mrs. called her during our ride to the ER, but when she found out what was happening she began to look into tickets.

This was all right before the big eclipse (doesn’t that feel like forever ago?) and Denver appeared to be a popular destination because they were not having luck finding tickets. But then, aha!, there’s one!

But wait … they booked a flight to Denver from … Dallas!? And they live in Houston. And the flight is leaving not too long from now so … ROAD TRIP!

Stress, huh? It plays tricks on the ability to process information.

***

Friday

Lauren’s bro and his wife swing by to chit chat. It’s lovely, it’s enjoyable, and it’s slightly education for the bro’s wife who is pregnant with twins. Twins are much more likely to arrive early, and at one point during our NICU stay there were four sets of twins.

After they take off it’s only a short while before her folks arrive. Reinforcements!

A little hello, a little how’s it goings, a few tears between the wife and her mama, and then we settle in for some good old fashioned hospital hang out time.

I headed home to shower, see the dog, pack new clothes, and I also took a shower and cried like a baby. I had been go-go-go, handling any little request from my wife, and oozing stress (did you know googling ‘long term health effects 33 week baby’ can result in sheer terror?). The crying was like a sudden thunderstorm, it surprised me, but it was a little refreshing. Don’t let anyone fool you, boys and girls, crying can be cathartic.

I changed, grabbed my bag, and headed back to the hospital. By this point it was mid-afternoon and we were approaching 24 hours since the first steroid shot. This was a big and happy milestone.

Every hour felt important and a smidge dire. One of the doctors or nurses told us that every 8 hours he is in the womb is one day less for our NICU stay.

Every 8 hours was divided into 2 hour chunks, because every 2 hours a nurse would come to check vitals. One might assume that every four hours was also a nice chunk, because in the afternoons I would go hunt for fresh baked cookies (they delivered them to the birthing center at this hospital, too!).

***

Sunday

Somehow, we made it to Sunday, when we were told my wife would be transferring to the antepartum/postpartum area, and not only that, we would be moving to a room with two windows! Look out world!

Sunday night, at around 9 pm (who am I kidding, I know exactly when, 9:21 pm), represented 48 hours since the second steroid shot. The kiddo had already benefited greatly from mom sitting tight and him keepin’ on.

Also in the postpartum area, we were down to three vitals checks a day, and no longer constant monitoring of her! Look out world! Instead, in this new setup, a nurse would come in during the morning, early afternoon, and evening to check on her vitals and the kiddo’s heart rate. Thirty minutes of monitoring and then they’d be off … unless, of course, the kiddo’s heart rate drops below the tolerable threshold in which case they’d need to stick around.

Oh, and did you know, when your water breaks, and the little guy moves in the womb, he can sometimes grab the umbilical cord which will cause his heart rate to drop and a nurse to say, ‘well … we were about to take you off [the monitor], but then we saw this little dip …’

Oh yes, our child is a champion of timing.

Also, fun fact, amniotic fluid (the ‘water’) is regenerated by a pregnant woman, and part of the recipe for amniotic fluid is baby urine!

The nurses also came by every X hours for a new dose of medicine. Solid sleep was not a part of the hospital stay.

***

That Work Week

Lauren’s step-dad left Monday, but her mom said I’m here til he’s here (he meaning the baby). From day one of the hospital til the next chapter, The Kiddo – Part II – TBD, we were in the hospital 10 days.

I went to work during the course of that week with the hope and expectation that my wife and her mom would be bored, restless, and watching Project Runway in the hospital. Instead, it turned out to be much more lively. Some highlights of that week are as follows:

  • With her water broken, my wife would sometimes experience pretty intense pain when the baby would move around (no water = no shield for his movements crashing around in there)
  • Bed rest can cause vertigo, or possibly the intense dizziness that yielded my wife throwing up was caused from side-effects of medicine … know what’s scary? When your wife wakes up and pukes and can’t get to the bathroom that’s less than 10 feet away without wheelchair assistance
  • Baby heart rate drops leading to extra ultrasounds and a short but scary trip back to the birthing center ICU
  • A raising white blood cell count, which potentially indicated a brewing infection … This was watched closely, and every time someone would pop by to draw blood I would excuse myself (I’m not so good with needles, thankfully, my pin cushion wife is much better than me about that)

***

Random Thoughts

  1. I was walking into work one morning when I saw a rabbit. This is really common here. We have a bunch of rabbits that live in our backyard, and all around the neighborhood. Because of this, we started calling the kiddo ‘the littlest bunny.’ Seeing a rabbit on the way into work I wanted to make it mean something – a rabbit! Ok, that’s a good sign … right? Or maybe it means he’s coming now!? Then it struck me, it must have been so easy for ancient peoples to concoct gods or various meanings for all kinds of things. I felt so powerless in this whole situation, and even though there was plenty of science and educated people talking to us about what was going on, I wanted to assign meaning to all kinds of arbitrary things.
  2. My wife was on a lot of powerful drugs, lacking sleep, and feeling stressed. As a result, she was in a sort of perpetual beaten down state. In this state, she had a funny habit of everything getting the same level of urgency. ‘Brad,’ said with a sort of sad and concerned voice, which would immediately awaken me or draw me out of whatever distraction I had thrown myself into (generally stupid apps), ‘I can’t find my chap stick.’ Ridiculous to have it awaken fear in me every time I heard my name said with that voice, right? BUT. With the SAME EXACT TONE, ‘Brad? … I feel too dizzy to get up, can you help me?’ I mean, come on.
  3. I had been reading, very slowly, one of those what to expect books, and you can sure read a lot of pages in a hurry when your kiddo is taking the bullet train to the station.

***

I doubt I encapsulated all my thoughts or feelings with much articulation. But I wanted to get this down for myself. I’m sure I’ll look back on this and feel like I left out big chapters in this story, but up next I’ll talk about the day he said ‘READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!’

Race Recap

This past weekend I did my second trail race, and it was not terribly fun. I’m glad I did it, and it was educational, but boy was it painful.

Here are a few moments/thoughts from the run:

  • On Trails vs Roads

Until moving to Colorado I only did road runs. These are very different, and I feel like I still haven’t fully appreciated how different. With roads I could get away with some bad habits: if I started too fast, some days I got away with it because I was just in a groove and I could end up faster than anticipated the whole time (see: every time I have PR’d), AND I could get away with not eating or drinking enough to replenish myself because I wasn’t out there that long …

For trails, neither of those work out well. My last training run that was good was 15 miles, and the last few miles of that my stomach felt very off. But, it was short enough and I had enough to eat and drink during the run that I got away with it. 15+ led to uncomfortable woes.

At the run on Saturday, a 25 miler, I hit my usual woes at mile 11 or 12, but this time I was in the middle of a 2 or 3 mile uphill climb. I should have sat down at the aid station at mile 6 and eaten more, and ditto the aid station at mile 10. But instead, I left 10 feeling good only to quickly go to: NOT GOOD status.

Thankfully the run boasted beautiful views, challenge galore, and friendly fellow runners. A woman asked me how I was doing, so I told her, and she and I walked together for a while and she informed me I wasn’t eating enough. She gave me a packet of goo (sounds weird, huh?) which was 100 calories of goodness. The trouble was, I think I had jumped on the eating enough bandwagon pretty late in the game and it was a struggle every time I tried to eat.

Lesson learned? Eat more, eat more sooner, eat more.

  • On Emotions

I ran a half marathon one time which was tough because it was very cold, raining, and I had been injured so I hadn’t trained up very well. The weekend prior I had flown to Arizona because my grandfather had passed away.

I crossed the finish line and immediately had to fight back tears. I was very confused by this, but then the fact that I was about to start crying and I was so cold my lips were blue and I was surrounded by strangers made me laugh at the absurd situation – it was odd. But, I realized later, the running probably took a lot out of me so I was more emotional.

Videos of dogs and soldiers make me want to cry, sappy things like that, but ordinarily it’s pretty rare that things will inspire tears. At the run, around mile 12 when I was feeling quite bad, I wondered if I would need to drop from the race … I thought about having 13 miles to go and it made me want to cry. I thought, “THE HELL? Who is this emotional demon who has invaded my body!?”

At around mile 23.5 I had already seen the finish in the distance. It was all downhill from where I was … not like, getting worse … but as in literally going down a hill. Anywho, I heard the crowd go nuts over someone finishing and again those pesky weakened body state inspired emotions popped up and I thought to myself, “wow, they’re cheering for some random person like every person is the winner.” And boom, the desire to cry was there.

(P.S. There was another group of true insano-s running FIFTY miles. They started 2.5 hours earlier than us 25 mile plebes, and it could be that the crowd WAS actually cheering for the first place 50 mile female finisher. That is one fast person.)

  • On Aid Station Snacks

Here are some things I had while jogging: pretzel bites, m&ms, some salted caramel goo (thank you again kind stranger), granola bar, lots of water with powdered stuff in it, grapes, and coke.

Ordinarily the menu of a coder (minus the workout goo) … but looking at that now, yeah, I definitely didn’t have enough calories. I was out there a bit over 7 hours, which meant I should’ve had lets say 1400 calories, I maybe got half that.

Mistakes were made.

  • On Friendly People

You know what was awesome throughout? How friendly everyone was, almost everyone there is not competing, they’re just wanting to finish. But even the fastest people were probably friendly too, I just never saw them.

The 50 milers went 25 one way, then 25 going the other way so us 25ers saw them rush past us. With almost every one of them I exchanged a pleasant, “good job” or “looking good” or when tired it was shortened to just “job.” The first place guy I just stared at because HOW ARE YOU GOING THIS FAST?

I ended up jogging/walking for a good while around the same people. One girl, graduating today (Sunday), who walked by a sign indicating we had 3.5 miles or so to go and she looked back at me and said the saddest ‘yay’ I’ve ever heard. It was hysterical.

Another girl I talked with after the run, she was friendly, smart, and I noticed she does not believe in shaving arm pits.

One guy, with about one mile to go, was going back and forth with me (passing each other) then we stopped and walked and he said, “we’ll finish together.” I said ok, cool. But then a half mile or so later he said, “ok, I need to stop, I don’t feel good.” He finished a few minutes after me, and we chit chatted after the run.

The volunteers at the aid stations were all friendly, weird, encouraging, helpful, and with an energy that my then tired brain could not comprehend. Plus, the snacks they had made were (presumably) amazing … snacks that, again, I should’ve eaten.

January Haiku

Did you know I’m doing a haiku a day this year? You didn’t? Are you, like, not even paying attention to me? That … No, it’s fine. We can talk later.

Oh, hi reader, sorry about that. I have a Twitter account, just like the president of the United States! And, just like the president, sometimes I tweet nonsense, sometimes I tweet complaining about people.

Here are my January haiku tweets. (And here is my Twitter account.)

 

January 1
Wife’s cold is awful
Ah that classic tourist spot:
A Czech hospital

January 2
Sick wife, three BIG bags
Please train ride be nice and calm …
Oh, hello bomb threat

January 3
Flying friendly skies
Really, it’s Air Canada
AHHH! They’re speaking FRENCH!

January 4
Back to work today
Hey! I feel ok! … Uh oh,
Jet lag sneak attack

January 5
Wife’s cough is a beast
World tour of docs continues
Drugs, work your magic!

January 6
Thank God it’s Friday
Weekend of football and sleep
Which sounds heavenly

January 7
My wife and I share
Snacks, blankets, feelings and colds
We’re adorbs that way

January 8 (they played the Pats)
The Texans advanced!
Who do they get to play next!
…Oh. Well. Good season.

January 9
MONDAY!? And still sick!?
Looks like a day for me-light
Like me, but less so

January 10
Clemson v Bama!
What a game! … I read today.
(Bedtime called early.)

January 11
I’m done with this task!
But wait, what if I tried this …
Three Days Later: aghhhhhhhh!

January 12
A day without news
If I don’t look, he’s not there
This sand is so warm

January 13
“Hmm, should I cancel?”
“Um, sir? May I transfer you?”
Comcast round 2: start …

January 14
Postcard writing fest
At a little coffee shop
For @theellenshow

January 15
Wife brought the dog home
A great kennel (her folks house)
Bit far though (Houston)

January 16
Ranger assistant
Phone interview yesterday
*Pushes glasses up*

January 17
It’s Planned Parenthood
Not called unPlanned Parenthood
You bunch of jackals

January 18
Went jogging last night
First jog in forty-five days
Oh, hi pain, missed you

January 19
Garmin watch ordered!
Because data is my friend
And I love running

January 20
Shout, scream, vent and groan
Then exhale all the anger
And bring calm kindness

January 21
Toastmasters event
Morning with speech loving geeks
Yeah that’s right, I’m cool

January 22 (a lame playoffs day)
Griping about news
But hopeful for good football
… Is this Trump’s fault too?

January 23
I expect to see
U.S. declares war on Mars
With each news update

January 24
It’s two years today
Since waxing poetic vows
With dear friends and fam

January 25
Two day training done
My brain is full and I’m now
Much more corporate

January 26
SNARK IN THE WATER!
Having dinner with a pal
When the snark arrived

January 27
Made a joke today
Where I referenced shutter speed
Nerd status maintained

January 28
Ramping up my jogs
But today I have a prize:
Huge cinnamon roll!

January 29
Wife and mom agree:
Politics driving me mad
But … Trump! … It’s just … TRUMP

January 30
Dear America,
<Sound like a goat being maimed>
So, that’s how I feel …

January 31
Working on scale tests
Little change here, small tweak there
And then wait … and wait …

OK Travelers, Prague – Part 4

January 1

We got a later start to the day and the lady was feeling worse. Not so good. I headed downstairs for a small breakfast and brought up a little food for the Mrs. We had a little talk about what to do.
The next day we had a train scheduled to leave around 1, our hotel checkout time was noon, and then we’d be on the train for six hours to go back to Munich. The day after that was our long flight to Toronto, and from there back home.
Thinking of all this, and how miserable she felt, my wife thought it was to see a doctor and get some real drugs rather than continue her random collection of medicines she’d picked up at pharmacies.
I asked at the front desk about the idea of a doctor doing a house call and coming to the hotel to see my wife, but the guy strongly suggested a hospital visit instead. My wife was worried about a long wait, and I think she wanted to be able to continue to lie still and avoid movement as much as possible, but she consented to a hospital visit. I think she knew that this miserable feeling wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.
A taxi was called for us and we drove to the recommended hospital. This included driving past a US embassy where we had to stop and the driver answered a question or two. Again, heightened tensions over worry about terror attacks had driven an extra level of precaution and police presence in every place we visited.
img_0777

Ah, hospital sterility/sadness/unpleasant – a truly global language.

At the hospital a few nuns were hanging around outside, so I knew we were in for trouble. Just kidding. It amused me to see them. I had been telling the Mrs. all trip I wanted a picture of me playing rock-paper-scissors with a nun, and now was finally my golden opportunity but at the moment we had bigger fish to fry (though I still regret not getting this picture).
Inside the hospital there were two other patients sitting in the waiting area, a nurse behind a little glass cage of sorts to get you checked in, and a framed picture of the pope. Other than that, it was pretty bare.
We had asked the guy at the front desk at our hotel, “will the doctor speak English?” and he said, “yes, of course!” Apparently we should have asked a more specific question because while the doctor spoke English, no one else did.
Walking up to check in my wife said something and the woman stared at us, then we said, “do you speak English?” and we got a slow shake of the head indicating no. Ah. Well.
Thankfully, hospital procedure is enough alike that we were able to guess our way through the next few steps. My wife filled out paperwork and got checked in. In a fairly short amount of time a nurse came out and retrieved us. This nurse, possibly a sister, spoke enough English that my wife could communicate the life of her cold. Day one, do charades to communicate sore throat (or whatever it was), day two, cough and sore throat, day three, picked up this drug and cough was worse, day four … etc.
The nurse asked height and weight and the three of us exchanged glances back and forth, I was thinking how little chance I had of correctly converting feet and inches to meters, and thankfully the nurse just gave up and indicated (with charades) that we’ll skip that.
fullsizerender1

Do you see what I see? A word I understand! Ambulance!

Then, in a dose of adorableness, the nurse indicated drawing blood and asked my wife if this was scary to her or might make her faint (again, all through acting it out). My wife gave her a thumbs up, but I took this opportunity to leave the room (I am less able to handle needle stuff).
Now we waited a longer time. I went down to a lower level and a sweet old man pointed in the direction of the bathroom for me. I love simple moments of nonverbal communication that cross cultures. That awkward, unsure step when you’re walking around someplace new, something that communicates ‘where is the bathroom?’ and a little smile and a point is all it takes to offer a helping hand to a stranger.
The doctor called for us and, phew, he spoke English. He felt like he didn’t speak it well, and he certainly wasn’t 100% with it (some of his medical descriptions were a little confusing) but he was able to tell us what we needed to know and we left the hospital with a prescription and a hope that my wife would be on the track to finally getting better.
One amazing exchange we had was when he asked where we were from. We said the United States, Colorado. And he shook his head and continued to type notes on his computer about my wife, and then, “like … Denver?” again we shook our heads yes and smiled, more notes, more notes, “like … the Denver Nuggets?” this really surprised me but again we said yes in an amused and happy way. The Denver Nuggets? Of all the sports teams? Who would’ve thought. More typing, more typing, “like … South Park?”
Fantastic. It turns out the good doctor is a big fan of South Park. How great is that? To be in a Catholic hospital in the Czech Republic and talking about South Park. Life is funny.
That day, the 1st of 2017, was also a Sunday, and this turned out to be a problem. The doctor told us that a law was recently enacted that did not allow as many places to be open on Sundays. This included pharmacies. We asked where we might go to get the prescription filled and he looked at us, seeing our dilemma. He conferred with a nurse, looked things up on Google maps, and handed us an address. The hospital had wifi so we got an Uber (I’m not sure where we would have had to walk to in order to find a cab, but I felt confident my wife was too weak and sick to handle that).
We left our doctor pal and the sisters and got to the address given to us, a bigger hospital. The Uber driver agreed to wait outside for us and we went in to find the location of the pharmacy within the hospital. We went to the receptionists desk, again behind a glass screen, and asked about the pharmacy. The woman, who did not speak English, understood enough of what we were asking and shook her head no. This was not the news we were hoping to hear, so we tried asking for directions about where an open pharmacy might be. The woman understood enough of this and began to write down instructions for us … they were confusing. At this moment, our guardian angel arrived in the form of a woman who appeared to have stepped out of the year 1930.
She was an older woman, wearing a full length fur coat, big glamorous sunglasses, and she spoke to us with a somewhat posh English accent. My wife and I later surmised that she was Czech, but had been educated in England. This woman stepped in without hesitation and said, “how may I help?” to my wife and I, the receptionist piped up and began saying things as my wife and I were explaining and the BOSS shushed her, heard our explanation, and then get the address for us written out clearly.
I am sure we didn’t express enough thanks, and instead rushed out too soon to get back in the Uber and head to the next pharmacy. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of this woman.
The next pharmacy was, phew, open. My wife got her prescription filled, and back we went in the same Uber to our hotel. Our hospital ordeal over, she was able to crawl back into bed.
At this time it was maybe 1 or 2 pm, so I got my wife some food and then went wandering for myself.
My wife practically forced me to leave and go enjoy the opera, but first I needed food.
I decided on a brewery/bar/restaurant that was nearby and sticking with Prague standards it was cheap and incredibly delicious. I don’t know what magic bar food chefs have there, but we need it here. The food was I don’t know what with potato dumplings and it was mighty tasty, friends.
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The opera began at 5 or 5:30, so after a bit more checking on the wife and chit chatting I headed out. I was all dolled up like a real person and I was feeling a bit silly about attending an opera by myself. I’m no opera buff, what am I doing there? The entry and lobby type area were not nearly as beautiful as the Vienna opera house, but inside the theatre area it was impressive. My seat was high up and, unfortunately, not as fancy as we had in Vienna. This proved especially unfortunate because the seats at this theatre seemed to have been built for people that are 5’6,” which I am decidedly not. Three or so hours of my knees jammed into the back of the chair in front of me was not the most pleasant, and yet … I still managed to catch a nap.
Let me explain! Walking to the opera it is chilly and cold, and then you get settled inside and oh it’s so, so toasty and ah what lovely singing and I was reading text (because the opera, The Bartered Bride, was in Czech so I had to read the English subtitles) … so it’s basically a collection of things designed to make you drift off to sleep. Reading, soothing music, warmth? Come on.
I resisted it like I was in school but it didn’t work out – I eventually caved and caught one, two, ten minutes of napping? Only the people beside me know. What I found funny was picturing how they tried to categorize me. Here’s this guy, a young guy, at the opera by himself – ok, clearly he’s an opera nut. But wait, he falls asleep halfway through the first act and was clearly fighting sleep the whole time? So … not an opera fan? Just a lover of an expensive and posh nap?
The opera was nice, but I enjoyed the one in Vienna more. It could be the performers, though I’m more inclined to put it on the music within The Bartered Bride, and I think I was not as enthused being there by myself.
When the show finished I hustled back to the hotel, hoping to find that beyond logic the drugs would’ve already worked magic and my wife would be noticeably better. This was not the case, but we embraced sleep and hoped for that the next day.
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***
January 2
This morning I found two or three little shops that I wish I had found earlier. I crossed my fingers and bought my wife a few gifts (which I have since given her for her birthday and Valentine’s day). I crossed my fingers because one of the gifts was jewelry, and I don’t normally like to risk money on something I don’t feel very sure of.
I also bought myself an awesome tie which I will likely wear for the first time in a year or two (I hardly ever have a reason to look that nice, and I’d feel weird wearing a tie for no reason).
After all my running around doing last minute shopping my wife and I finalized the packing of our bags and hopped in a taxi to head to the train station to catch our train to Munich.
We arrived and carted our massive bags into a thin hallway with compartments on one side. We found ours and there were four people already sitting inside. With a bit of struggling and some luggage rearrangement we got our bags up as well and we took seats. Our compartment companions were Germans, perhaps in their 40s and 50s, who had come to Prague for New Year’s and to enjoy the very cheap beer and cost of living there.
Our train departed and the Germans took out a bottle of cheap champagne and even poured a glass for me. I was delighted and we all toasted each other. The trip was looking good.
About an hour into the trip, that whole looking good notion subsided.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is a problem on the track ahead, we will get to the next station and everyone will need to get off the train and catch a bus to the next station. It will all be very organized. Do not be afraid.”
This announcement was made in English, and only in English (the prior announcements were made in Czech, German, and English). Hmm.
I told the Germans to go ahead and depart before us because our big bags would slow us down, they thanked us and quickly hurried off. After getting our bags down we walked outside. Our train was stopped and the train station was two floors – the upstairs area was where you boarded and left a train, downstairs was where you drove up or buses gathered. A large crowd of people, most of the people from our train, had already gathered downstairs, waiting outside for buses.
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There happened to be one bus outside, and a mass had formed around that. I have no idea if the bus driver was there for us or just a random bus, but boy that driver must have been surprised by the mass of people.
We hustled out to the waiting area as fast as we could (an unnecessary hustle it turns out). Everyone was standing around, waiting, hearing no guidance or instruction … the ‘very organized’ line from our conductor turns out to have been a bit of an exaggeration. A German girl nearby me said something to her friend about ten or fifteen minutes so I asked in English if she had heard it would be ten or fifteen minutes til the buses arrived. She told me (thankfully she spoke English), that one person had asked a train employee how long and he said ten or fifteen minutes, then another person asked the same train employee how long and he said, “I have no idea.”
Around ten or fifteen minutes go by and the bus that had been sitting there the whole time opened up its doors and people swarmed inside.
Another ten to twenty minutes go by (and we’re standing outside, breathing that crisp, cool air … except for all the dang smokers). One bus, and then shortly after that another bus pull up. We feel like we’ve got a chance of hopping in one of those but no dice – they fill up quickly.
Off the three buses go, and a big group of us (50 or so) remain standing. Twenty to thirty minutes pass by.
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It was not terribly pleasant. The only instruction we had received was the train conductor’s message, so the buses that came around we just assumed and hoped were the right ones. There was an absolute lack of control and a sort of crowd mentality of follow the person in front of you.
Another bus arrives and we throw our bags inside the lower compartment area then get on. My wife and I were two of the three last people to find seats on this bus so we were not able to sit by each other. She sat in a seat, and I sat in the very back of the bus, wedged in amongst two groups of German 20-somethings. One a group of mostly guys (one guy had a girlfriend), the other a group of girls. The guys postured, made comments, cracked jokes, and one or two of the girls made eyes at them but mostly rolled their eyes at them. It was a nice side show for me.
One thing that was very sad to me was the woman wedged next to me. She and her husband had shoved their bags in the bus, and the husband had been kicked off the bus for lack of seats. She wanted to go with her husband but he said, “no, stay on the bus, this bus has our bags.” He walked slowly off the bus, I imagine crossing every finger and toe on his body hoping another bus would show up.
The bus took off and I felt ok. We were on our way to another train station, possibly fifteen to twenty kilometers away so we’ll be back on track in no time. Sure, we wasted an hour or so standing outside in the cold, but that’s ok.
Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Our bus drove for about an hour. This was particularly unsettling to my wife who had decided we would have no idea if this was the right bus, if the bus driver was a nut and just driving us wherever, and what we would do when we arrived seeing as how we had received zero instructions thus far.
I had my German soap opera to distract me so I wasn’t too worried, but I did notice that it was turning dark outside and gee, could this bus possibly be driving us all the way to Munich? Is that an option?
The bus finally did get to the station it was destined for and everyone scrambled off, GO GO GO, we grabbed our bags and headed into this station. This was a smaller station than the last one and inside it was crammed with people.
On the platform there were no trains, but a sign showed that a train would be arriving in two hours that would go to Munich HBF, our destination. Ah, great, a two hour wait here.
We went inside to see if there might be more information about what happens next and here we had our biggest stroke of luck for the day. A guy and girl were talking to each other in English.
“I don’t speak any German,” he said.
“I don’t speak any Czech, but I speak German. Do you speak Czech?” she replied.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Ok, if you can speak to the person here, then I’ll take over when we cross the German border.”
I spoke up, “I have nothing of value to add, but can you share what you learn with me?”
The day before we were saved by a glamorous Czech woman, today our saviors were a 20-something Czech guy and a perhaps 30s German girl.
The Czech guy came back and explained. Apparently, there had been a train at this station that had just left. The three buses arrived and said that only three buses of people needed this train to Munich … so our train was gone. We could wait for the one coming in two hours, OR we could catch a train to Schwandorf and from Schwandorf catch a train that was scheduled to depart for Munich 10 minutes after our train arrived. It’d be a tight fit, but we could do it.
We went outside to wait for our train to Schwandorf and … we waited. And waited. This train, it turns out, was delayed by about 25-30 minutes. That appeared to put a hole in the Schwandorf -> Munich plan, but it would still get us closer so our pals decided this was still the best option.
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Eventually a train is seen in the distance and everyone rushes along the platform. The train stopped not by the station but about 50 feet away (I don’t know why – perhaps the conductor was confused and frightened by such an unusually large crowd for his route). We get on and thankfully the Mrs. manages to find us two seats. I really don’t know how she did because the train was JAM PACKED with all of us Prague -> Munich lost causes.
Our buddies happened to be seated right beside us so when our train arrived (the journey was perhaps an hour?) we followed them. Having missed the one train the German girl told us that a train leaving from Schwandorf to Regensburg was our best choice because there would be more frequent trains that would depart Regensburg for Munich.
At 7:30 (a time when, had things gone to plan, we would’ve already been in our hotel in Munich) we boarded the train to Regensburg. My wife and I grabbed seats and sat silently, wondering and hoping for a quick end to this unexpected journey. The German girl came and found us and told us what the next step would be. We were touched by the fact that she was not only kind, but she had gone out of her way to come and find us and offer more kindness.
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At Regensburg, we had a 40 minute delay before the train to Munich so we stood around and talked with each other. My wife and I got some food, as did the Czech fella, and then we headed to our platform. And wouldn’t you know it? Our train was delayed. We waited an extra thirty minutes on our platform for that train, but it did indeed arrive.
On the journey to, phew, finally, Munich, we all sat together in a four seater section with a table between us.
The Czech fella was studying architecture and currently working a sort of internship at a German firm in Munich. He had previously worked in Italy and so was fluent in Italian, and was studying German. Oh, and he spoke Czech and English. The German girl lived in England (I think) and worked for a non-government help agency (to send aid in crisis situations when a government cannot sufficiently take care of things). They were both incredibly kind, sweet people, and I couldn’t have enjoyed that last bit of the train ride more since I got to talk with them and learn more about them.
If it hadn’t been for the uncertainty and fear, and the Mrs. being a bit dead, you know, that wicked cold and dragging heavy baggage and standing out in the cold and this and that, it really would have been an incredible day and enjoying in a way. It’s not often you get on a train to go from Prague to Munich, end up waiting outside for an hour at some city in the Czech Republic, ride an hour in silence on a bus bound for God knows where, hop on a train, hop on another train, and then your fourth and final train of the day. That maybe sounds sarcastic, but really, since it worked out ok, it was its own unique kind of enjoyable. And I think that is in large part to our German and Czech pals, who did us the incredible kindness of making us feel less scared and unsure of what comes next.
While on our final train trip, riding from Regensburg to Munich, a ticket taker came by. The German girl spoke for all of us and explained why we had the wrong tickets, and the woman nodded and walked on by. Later, she came back. She spoke to the German girl and, while doing so, put a comforting hand on my wife’s shoulder, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. The German girl and ticket taker talked back and forth and then the ticket taker left.
Apparently, our original train did not have a potential problem on the tracks, but a bomb threat. Our train needed to evacuate as soon as possible, and so the scheme to drop us at the next station was devised.
My wife and I took the expensive route home and took a taxi to the hotel by the airport rather than a train. We were ok spending the extra money to avoid any future possible adventures. But wouldn’t you know it … nah, just kidding, the taxi was fine.
There you have it, friends. The last of the travelogues.
Europe, next time I see you, hopefully it’ll be spring, or summer, or fall. And hopefully I’ll get to have conversations with as many pleasant and intelligent people. And hopefully I won’t experience any bomb threats, unless they’re hollow ones, and I’ve got good people to ride it out with.
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