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Sunday Bloody Sunday (Part Two)

Just because my bed rest sentence was over didn’t mean my life was back to normal.  I thought it would be, but the truth was much muddier, leaving me in a state of limbo since the baby’s birth.  I didn’t belong in the hospital and I didn’t belong home.

On Wednesday morning, three days after the C-section, my nurse informed me that my insurance company had had enough and I was getting the boot.  I thought I would have another day to recover but Blue Cross was like, eff that.  The hospital staff reminded me a gazillion times to watch the Shaken Baby Video (and sign a piece of paper verifying that I did).  Then the discharge papers were filed.  This in itself wouldn’t be bad; I could go home!  The only problem was the baby wasn’t going anywhere – he’d have to stay in the NICU for another 3-7 days.  I’d be coming back 2-3 times a day to breastfeed him until he was released.  I was done being a patient but I was still tethered to the hospital [insert umbilical cord metaphor here, I’m too tired to think of one].

It’s interesting, getting discharged after all this time.  Once it happens, the gate slams shut in your face.   Or at least it felt that way.  After 6+ weeks of having nurses and housekeepers and doctors at my beck and call – sorry, I dropped my fork, could you wipe my ass for me? – when I was dismissed, they were done.  In a moment of tearful panic on my first day as a free woman, I went to the night nurses on the antepartum wing for advice and learned they can’t give me any.  They were sympathetic but tight-lipped, as if I had just walked in off the street.  So where now?

Enter my generous cousin who not only has a palatial apartment one mile from the hospital, she offered it to me until this NICU situation worked itself out.  I’ll be honest – as far as being in limbo goes, mine had some first-rate comforts.  The biggest help was the proximity; the apartment was a 4-minute cab ride to the hospital.  Less important, but nice all the same, was that I was a half block from a Shake Shack and across from the American Museum of Natural History.  Not a shabby way to spend my post-partum healing.  Ted and Glory stayed over last weekend so we could have one last hurrah as a triad before everything changes.  I was crazy blissed out being with my family again and so were they.

And the bliss keeps on coming: Yesterday, baby Linus and I came home.

I’m bad with endings, always have been.  Even though I was dying to get to Brooklyn for the first time since June 24, part of me was sad to leave the hospital and all of the people who shepherded the baby and me to this place of health.  Food Services aside, I’m grateful to so many.  My doctor who visited every single day, the housekeepers who kept the room meticulous, the NICU staff who called me “Mommy” as if it were my given birth name, my friends and family who provided me with much-needed sustenance and support, the Best Roommate Ever and her wonderful husband who kept me laughing and sane for the last 2-3 weeks.

Mostly I have the nurses.  Sure, there are some who don’t give a shit and seem like they’re ripped from a booth at the DMV.  But on the whole, they’ve been an incredible crew.  I’m especially indebted to the ones who were on call when I had the bleeds; their calmness and confidence kept me a) from completely losing it; and b) alive.

Each time I visited Linus this week, the nurses greeted me like an old friend.   I was hugged, kissed, asked how I was doing.  I’ve never felt so popular in my life!  But something was different – the shift in perspective.  For almost two months, I was physically lower than everyone as I lay on my bed in hospital gowns and pajamas.   Now I’m standing on my own two (pedicured!) feet, wearing – can it be? – a dress!  I’m independent and moving around with minimal pain.  I haven’t sat in a wheelchair in over a week and I don’t feel like I’m going to break at any moment.   Our relationship has changed as well.  The nurses with whom I’d love to go have a drink can actually have a drink with me.  Not that we’ve made any plans yet.

As Ted and I drove south on 11th Avenue yesterday, tiny Linus buckled in back, I looked up at my old window on the 14th floor.

Finally, we’re on the other side.  Of everything.


Sunday Bloody Sunday (Part One)

Before I get shit from my journalistic friends for burying the lede, I’ll get to the point up front:

I gave birth to an adorable baby boy on Sunday, July 31 at 8:30 AM.  He was 5 lbs. 1 oz and is doing great.  Huzzah!

Now the back story:

Last Sunday morning, as I was about to delve into my box of hospital-provided Cheerios, I saw that old chestnut, a pool of gushing blood leaking onto my bed sheets.  For those of you keeping count at home, this would be Bleed #7.  The Best Roommate Ever passed me a granola bar before I was ushered off to the Starvation Floor where my jaded self assumed I’d be monitored for 12 hours – ho hum, standard operating procedure.

Wow, was I wrong.  The nurses put me into a private labor room, a huge step up from the previous week’s gurney.  The early sun streamed through the windows and Jerry Orbach as Det. Lenny Briscoe greeted me from the TV.  He wasn’t the only one, though.  A team of doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, and medical students trickled into my room and peeked between my legs.  They started putting in the usual IV lines.  Wait, no, they were putting in a LOT of IV lines.  One of these was botched by a resident who giggled,“Oh shit!” as she punctured my vein twice and watched my forearm fill with fluid – I looked like a lopsided Popeye.  Please go back to medical school.

Grossed out by becoming a pin cushion (and not a very pretty one at that), I started to feel woozy and light-headed.  At the same time, I heard an alarming sound from the vitals machine.  My blood pressure was dropping.  Fast.  Another IV went in.  A chief resident I recognized from my very first trip to the hospital appeared at my side.

“We’re going to deliver you,” she said.

“What, today?” I asked.

“No, now.”

Huh, I thought.  Well, this is different.

I was quickly wheeled into the bright and bristlingly cold operating room.  Dozens of tools were arrayed on a table and none looked as shiny as they do on television.  I thought about making a joke about scalpel buffers – actually, I did make that joke but no one laughed.

So, the C-section.  Truthfully, it wasn’t so bad.  The epidural, which was terrifying to me in theory, turned out to be no big deal.  Same with the actual surgery and subsequent blood transfusion.  I felt tugging and digging and hands pushing inside my body (um, hi!) but no pain.  The doctors were kind enough to humor my stupid jokes – we all knew it was the only thing keeping me from freaking the F out.

About fifteen minutes in I heard the cry of my baby.   All I could see was the blue scrim in front of me and the inside of my oxygen mask, now blurred by tears.  The doctors congratulated me with the same enthusiasm my local bodega lady tells me to have a nice day.  I was happy, relaxed, and singing my hippie Krishna Das song about Hanuman while a devoted nurse coddled the baby until I was all sewn up.  Let me just say: Everyone in that operating room was first class.  Calm, competent, graceful, and highly skilled, they made me feel I was in safe hands the entire way through.  Modern medicine, I mean seriously: woot woot.

And that pesky placenta?  It is OUT of my body, hallelujah.  I know I shouldn’t be so bitter; capricious as the organ was, it did keep this beautiful baby alive and healthy for almost 9 months

Oh, the baby!  He is truly lovely (and teeny).  In the recovery room a wonderful nurse named Jaime snagged me some extra time with him so we could get skin to skin (not as raunchy as it sounds) for longer than hospital rules would allow in this situation.  She also managed to stall his admission to the NICU until Ted and Glory got to meet him.

If I weren’t so paranoid about my kids’ (plural!) privacy, I’d post the photo of Glory looking at her baby brother for the first time.  It’s hard to describe her wide, dark eyes and serene smile but I’ve never seen her look so happy.  Too bad she hasn’t the faintest idea of how her life is about to be completely upended.

Next up…the angels who have totally saved my ass.

30 Days

Well, I’ve officially passed the thirty day mark in the hospital.

In some ways, it feels like it’s definitely been a month.  In others, not as much.  For my beloved, hard-working, champion-of-a-father husband, who’s taking on a world of domestic and workplace responsibilities right now, it probably feels like ten years. (He, by the way, could use some more food – if you feel like cooking up a casserole for him, go for it!)

Since day 5 of my admission, when we realized I was going to be here for the long haul, my inspired friend, Liz, has been sending me pep-talky emails counting up the days I’ve been here.  Every day I get a cheerful new message with a photo of the corresponding number.  For every week that ticks by, I get a picture her adorable new kitten, Ray.  As anyone who’s ever seen Lolcats knows, there is nothing better than bonus kittehs.

Can I tell you, I love these emails.  You really want this woman as your friend.

Fab five fingers for Day 5! Also could be received as a light up high five. Or perhaps handy to help tell that vampire nurse to talk to the hand. Day Six, in ‘da bag, yeah! 1 Week!!! On July 1 in the year of double 1s.  Who’s number 1?!?
8 day count up shout out from the shores CT! It’s day 9 calling! Happy 4th of July and day T-E-N!
A day 11 shout out from the East River! Day Eleven is Heaven! (Here there was a lengthy poem about the 12 Days of Bed Rest) Today is day 13 of our Count Up but very lucky calendar day. We’ve got double 7s which rhymes with 11.  And if you add 7 + 7 you get 14; add that 1+4 and you get 5 add that five to the 1+1 and you get another 7!  Triple 7s on day 13.  It’s picture free but math heavy.
2 weeks! You win 1 cat and 1 kitten photo! Woot Woot! Otherwise known as two weeks and one super day! Happy sweet success of 16 Days! You and baby are rock’n it!
Day 17!  Count Up is a highway and I want ride it all night long… Legal for so many things now!  Magic number. Go CountUp! 18! Only one way to go – Count Up!  Day 19! You’ve almost graduated from the terrific teens!!!!
Today you have something numerically in common with Andrew Jackson and calcium (20 is its atomic number) and a Venti sized Starbucks drink(20 oz). Three Weeks! CountUp!!! Two 2s! Double 2! 11 + 11! 22!!!  Koo Koo Ka Choo!
This page was left intentionally blank Ever wonder why those pages exist? Alright well I’m not perfect. Twenty Four 24 hour days is 576 hours of CountUp, 34,560 minutes of CountUp or 2,073,600 seconds of CountUp!  Dang that’s big! Wowza – twenty five days! This sounds impressive and long. Like a quarter of 100 days or half of 50.  25!
Fresh from the legal pad in the office…T-W-E-N-T-Y S-I-X!  That’s double lucky 13s!!! T-W-E-N-T-Y S-E-V-E-N!  Woot woot! Name this author or novel or both and win special bonus accolades!!! My electric company brain went into over drive when I saw all these 28s!
F-O-U-R week, 28 days, 1 month bonus kitteeeeeeeh!!! How is day 29?  Ray wants to know. Implanted in Brooklyn sidewalk, comes to you, 30! CountUp!

The Starvation Floor

Newsflash:  Thanks to my upwardly mobile placenta, I now have marginal – instead of complete – placenta previa.  The ultrasound analyst said that I may still bleed, but that I was stable enough (3 weeks without incident!) to be discharged – not to Brooklyn, mind you, but somewhere close to the hospital.  He recommended the Hudson Hotel.

Upon hearing the news, my placenta cackled and took a drag off its hand-rolled cigarette.

“Sorry, did that guy just say she could be discharged?” it asked my uterus.

“I think so!” said my uterus, always the cheerful one.

“Yeah, well” – here it took another drag – “I got a discharge for you, suckaz!”

So at 4 AM the following night, I went to the bathroom and my heart sank.  There on the toilet paper was the haunting and familiar bright red stain.  I gathered up my valuables and traded my tank top for a hospital gown.  I unearthed a package of slipper socks, grabbed the phone charger, and took a big gulp of water – I knew it would be my last for hours.  The nurse’s aid wheeled me to the elevator and down we went to the 12th floor.

There’s nothing like a trip to the 12th floor to make my current digs feel absolutely luxurious.  12 is where labor and delivery is located.  It’s crowded, busy, and weirdly dark – a departure from the serenity of the antepartum wing.  It’s also known (between my favorite roommate and me) as The Starvation Floor.  This is because visits to 12 always involve the doctor-held opinion that anyone there could need a C-section at any given moment so better not to feed the patients.  (As one anesthesiologist put it, we’d rather have you go hungry for a few hours than have you aspirate food into your lungs and die.  Well said, sir.)

The other sucky thing about the 12thfloor is that I feel like Neo getting jacked into the Matrix.  Within minutes of arriving, each of my appendages is attached to something.  My right hand gets an IV that funnels fluids; my left arm has a blood pressure cuff wrapped around it; my legs are encased in hydraulic leg warmers to ward off blood clots; and around my belly is a tight stretchy band (think Spanx) that holds two large, gel-bathed discs against my stomach – one monitors the baby’s heartbeat, the other monitors my uterus for contractions.  Being tethered to all of these machines makes it hard to move.  Harder still when I’ve been given a gurney to lie on instead of a proper bed.  Oh, and I’ve lost my bathroom privileges – it’s a bed pan all the way.

The beautiful view from my gurney

I lie there like a multi-tentacled whale with only ice chips for company for twelve hours.  Yes, twelve hours.  Occasionally someone pushes aside the curtain and takes some blood.  I feel like a lab rat.  It’s incredibly frustrating.

Part of my frustration comes from the doctors who feel they always have to describe the worst case scenario.  No one is better at this than anesthesiologists.  A jovial crew, anesthesiologists make people cry because they hand you a stack of papers and ask you to sign a waiver that says yes, I’ll accept blood, yes, I know I might get paralyzed and amputated and catch Ebola and die.

Thank goodness for Ramona, the night nurse on call.  Ramona is a Trinidadian version of Amma, the hugging saint.  She gently holds my feet and strokes my cheek.  When she saw me massaging my hip, she took over and did the kneading herself.  She calls her patients “sweetie” and she means it.  She smells nice too.

Ramona asks if I want to be washed.  “You’ll feel better,” she says, and I know it’s true.  So I let her fill a spritz bottle with warm water and clean all the blood away.  She changes my sheets and piddle pad and remakes the gurney.  I feel as brand new as I can in this situation.  These moments of sweet physical contact touch something deep inside; I instantly feel less like an observed specimen and more like a human being.

By 10 AM the bleeding had stopped and at 4 PM, I was brought back to my room.  Hungry and achy, I climbed into my bed and immediately ate the banana on my food tray.  I looked at Glory’s drawings that are propped up against the window next to a potted orchid.  The sky was bright.

This isn’t home but it felt like it for the first time.  Even my welcome back dinner was comforting.

But not really.

A feast for the senses

It could be worse

I know I complain a lot.  But I’m not gonna lie (har har), bed rest has its upsides.  Especially in this weather.  I don’t actually know what it feels like outside because I haven’t smelled fresh air in weeks, but I hear about the oppressive heat from the sweaty people who come in and out of my room all day long.  Earlier in this gestational adventure I was nervous about being 9 months pregnant in the middle of a stinky hot NYC summer but look!  I managed to avoid that situation with this very elaborate “placenta previa” ruse.  I’m so clever.

I get emails from friends who say they’re jealous I get to lie around in air conditioning 24/7 without having to worry about feeding/clothing/bathing/chasing a toddler around.  There is some truth to that.

And so I bring you the good things about hospitalized bed rest:

  1. The aforementioned air conditioning.  Though I’d much rather be a free bird, if I have to be stuck somewhere during a heat wave, better to be stuck in a cool, climate-controlled environment.
  2. I don’t have to cook.  OK, the food is horrid, we know, but at least I don’t have to cook it myself, right?  Maybe?
  3. Free time.  I haven’t had this much mental space to read and write in years.  I finally got a chance to read Watership Down and I’ll never look at rabbits in the same way again.
  4. Bathroom privacy.  There aren’t any 2 year olds accompanying me to the toilet every time I pee, asking if they can see my vagina (that privilege now belongs to the doctors).
  5. Total media domination.  I can watch back-to-back Friday Night Lights episodes all night long.  Hell, I can watch whatever I want because I’m the only one in charge of the remote.  Bwaa-haa-haa!
  6. People bring me treats.  Oh, the angels of bed rest (another post will be dedicated entirely to you), who supply me with truffle butter and peaches and plants and trashy magazines to keep my spirits up when the food tray is particularly nauseating.  How I love you.
  7. Hospital volunteers.  These are the people who exist so I don’t go bat shit and hang myself with the call button cord.  Several times a week, I’m visited by Fred and his bookmobile; Lydia and her bag of knitting supplies; Emily and her music-therapy guitar; and the weirdo pastoral care interns who aren’t as reassuring as you might think.
  8. Free unlimited mesh undies (size XXL). Ladies, seriously, you gotta try these.  Talk about breathability!

    Move over, Victoria's Secret!

  9. Clean Linens.  Every morning  my bed sheets are changed, and I get a fresh supply of scratchy towels and threadbare “gowns.”
  10. I’m doted on (and interrupted) 24 hours a day.  The incredible nursing staff is devoted to making sure that I’m well-rested and stress-free.  They take care of everything, including getting me water, cleaning the room twice a day, and asking what I need all the time.  It’s like a spa.  That feels like a prison.

I was about to write that I don’t have to change any diapers either but the truth is, I really miss the tedious parts of parenthood.  And just about everything else in my lovely, little, humble life.

Today I have an ultrasound which may determine my future in this place.  I’m starting to realize there’s a direct correlation between my placenta’s distance from the cervix and the geographical distance I’m allowed to be from the hospital.  I’ve done the algorithm: If the placenta is right over the cervix, I stay in the hospital.  If it’s 2 centimeters away (which, in obstetrics land, is really far), I might be able to finish this pregnancy in another borough, like, oh, MINE.  But if it’s somewhere in between, I’ll most likely need to hover between 10019 and 11215.  Which doesn’t look very far on a map but in New York, as with uteri, distance is deceptive.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Feeding Time

My daughter and I go to the zoo a lot.  At least we used to, before bed rest came along.  One of her favorite things to do there is watch the thrice-daily sea lion feedings.  A former zoo docent who used to give the sea lion talk myself, I get a kick out of it too.  (Go ahead, ask me about sagittal crests and how long sea lions can stay under water, I remember.)

Are they here yet??

When it gets close to feeding time, the sea lions get riled up and start splashing all over the place.  They swim from their rocks to the edge of the pool, straining their strong necks to see if the zookeepers are on their way.  Back and forth they glide, agitated by hunger and excitement.  And then – their acute hearing picks up the sounds they’ve been waiting for: the jingle of the zookeepers’ keys, the shutting of supply closet door, the heavy thump of thigh-high boots on concrete.  The pinnipeds eye their khaki-clad keepers with intense interest and, dare I say it, love.  They swim in seamless figure-8’s, their liquid eyes never wavering from the buckets – fixed to their keepers’ belts like pistols – holding their briny reward.

As the keepers move towards the pool, the animals go crazy, swimming and porpoising until the humans open the enclosure and take their place on the rocks.  The sea lions wait with un-sea lion like patience for the first herring to be tossed.  They jump off their perch and swallow the fish whole.   The crowd goes wild.

It’s a lot like my life on bed rest.

I’ve already commented on how the food here sucks.  And yet getting my tray of slop is one of the few things I have to look forward to.  It goes like this: I’m sitting in bed trying to find legal ways of downloading free episodes of Friday Night Lights.  A sound from far away wakes me from my Google reverie – the distinctive rumble of plastic wheels on the freshly buffed linoleum floors.   (They buff these floors, I’m not kidding, every other day.)

My body perks up.  My heart rate accelerates and I start to salivate.  I strain my neck to see if it’s the food cart or the garbage can – the two make disappointingly similar sounds.  I check the clock; it’s hovering around 5 PM so the timing is right.  And then I can see it – the food cart!  A nurse takes out a tray…is it for me, I wonder??  Look at that!  She enters the room!  She puts it on my bedside table!  She doesn’t smile!  I clap my flippers together and bark at her with glee.  I smile at my fat-ass sea lion trunk that, unlike actual sea lions, has seen zero exercise in a month and say, “It’s feedin’ time!  Yee-haw!”

Then I look at what the nurse has given me and I’m instantly transported back to my semi-depressive state: Overly creamy egg salad on white bread with Miracle Whip.  With white Melba toast and “whipped spread” on the side.  At this point, raw unwashed herring sounds like a treat.

Who’s up for a 4 AM ride to Hunts Point Fish Market for snacks?

The Men of the Antepartum Wing

My current roommate’s husband is not ugly.   Whenever he goes to get his wife something from the outside world, he asks if I need anything.  Sometimes it’s coffee.  Once it was a travel size bottle of Purell (the 2-meter walk to the wall mounted sanitizer is just too far for my bed-ridden self).  Sometimes it’s nothing.  I told him it’s nice to have a fresh-faced man get me things.  And then I thought, I bet a lot of gals up here would appreciate a nice lookin’ guy to ogle as they try to feel something besides shame in their hospital-issued gowns with openings in all the wrong places.  Especially when their own husbands are at work or sleeping with someone who isn’t on “pelvic rest.”

Then the proverbial light bulb went off.  The Men of the Antepartum Wing: a glossy calendar featuring all of the hot dudes that come in and out of the 14th floor.  Just think of the joy it would bring the lonely, bed-bound ladies!  But where exactly are these hotties?  Being on any maternity wing means that you’re essentially at an Our Bodies Ourselves convention.  Occasionally you see a male obstetrician walking by but it’s mostly girls! girls! girls! around here.

There are some stand-outs if you look hard enough.  There’s the fine, silent, 6+-foot-tall medical student with flawlessly smooth skin and a charming smile, a guy who actually looks good in a mustache.  There’s Terrence, the Captain Kirk of this whole operation, who sits at the nurse’s desk and fields call-button requests.  I’ve heard his voice many times after pressing my little red button (“How many I help you, Miss Jacobs?”) but we never met.  Then yesterday he himself brought me a water refill because the nurses were too busy.  And woah, Terrence, with those silky hands and dreads down to your knees…I should be hanging out by the phones more often!  Jesus!

Caution! It's Mr. June!

One of the nurses told me there’s a swarthy Greek/Israeli specimen wandering around but I have yet to see him.  Apparently he’s so cute that all of the patients refuse his exams; they’re mortified that someone that attractive would analyze the contents of their maxi pads.  Poor guy is going to finish his residency with no hands-on experience.  On the bright side, I bet he’d make a great Mr. September.  I hear it’s lovely in the Mediterranean at that time of year.

Know a hot doctor at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt?  Send him to me!  For research purposes, of course…