December 18th 2008. One year ago today. A bit nerve wracking but a pretty routine Thursday. It was free meal day at work. Once a year the hospital where I work feeds all of its employees a free turkey dinner with all the fixins’ as a thank you and holiday celebration. Eggnog poured while you wait in line, along with cheese platters and passed h’ors duevers. Pie and cake served by the top brass of the hospital and an overall goodtime and holiday cheer. A day that for most employees has that ‘last day of school’ kind of feel. Most employees, but not mine. I run the cafeteria. This is our super bowl. The day that we are told in January that we are not allowed to take a vacation around. The planning starts weeks and weeks earlier. I thought at the time that it was real stress. I used to think that food was something worth worrying about.
I don’t have to work until 11:30am, which was very helpful to us throughout the pregnancy because we would have at least 3 doctors appointments a week. Scheduling them in the morning afforded me the luxury of being there to support Karin and see every ultrasound in person without using any sick time or go unpaid. On this morning I thought I might be cutting it close but the fact that Liam wasn’t growing at a rate they were happy with, there was no way I would be missing this one. Work would have to wait. The cafeteria would get on fine without me for a few minutes. Or for what I thought would be a few minutes. Level II ultrasounds aren’t always necessary. For most pregnancies they aren’t even used but with our history this was our fifth during Liam’s pregnancy alone. After the first two though they were used just to get the most accurate measure of his length. Liam grew in spurts like most kids but lately his spurts had gotten smaller and smaller.
The Prenatal Diagnostic Center or PDC at Women & Infants Hospital has always been a stressful place for Karin and I. Good news was rarely heard while next to the big old GE ultrasound unit the size of a SmartCar. We had been through this drill before in our 5 year journey to bring home a baby. The room remained dark while Dr. Carr performed the procedure and Karin and I squeezed each other’s hands while we waited for his results. As sweetly as he could, he put his hand on ours and gave us the news.
“He’s growing alright.” He said in his compassionate and positive way. “and all the parts I need to see are there but he’s not growing nearly as much as he should be. Now there are things that we do in this situation to make sure that things go smoothly. Bed rest. We’ll put you on bed rest so that we can make sure that all of your body’s energy can be dedicated to providing for that beautiful little guy. And this way we can better monitor his growth and if we need to – we may need to take him out a little early to care for him in the hospital. He will show us what he needs and we’ll be able to give him that but it means that your bed rest will need to be in the hospital.” The words we painful. Like a hard freezing rain stinging my cheeks as they hit me. I think we both saw it coming but our hope kept us from really entertaining the thought. Dr. Carr held Karin’s other hand in his and asked if she had any questions.
“So I can go home and get some clothes and things together and go to the hospital tomorrow?” She asked as she fought back tears.
“I’m sorry, you’ll be admitted now.” Dr. Carr said with a frown and patted her hand lightly. “We’ll call ahead so we can get a room set up for you. We’ll make sure you don’t have to wait in the emergency room at all.” You’ll have fetal monitor tests three times a day and we’ll get ultrasounds every few days to check on his growth. I’m sorry Mrs. Olson but this is the best option to make sure we do what’s best for the baby.”
We knew that. He left us alone in the dark room and we collected our thoughts. We cried and we held each other and we told each other that everything was going to be Ok. We had been here before. A few years previous we had been admitted to Women & Infants to have our first son Ben. He had passed away after 26 weeks gestation. This whole situation felt all too familiar. Familiar but different. Instinct? ESP? Call it a gut feeling but I refused to believe that we would have a repeat of that. I knew this time would be different and Karin and I held each other and agreed that God would not do this to us again. What kind of a God would he be if he did?
Being admitted to the hospital seems like a blur to me now. I already knew every employee of the hospital; I had been feeding them lunch everyday for about 4 years. Cashing their checks at the credit union in the basement for a few years prior to that so I knew all of these people well. A blessing and a curse. Stephanie in admitting made sure that we got a nice big corner room with a decent view and a private bathroom. She was helpful and professional, and we were quickly whisked upstairs to unpack and settle in. Nurses bustled in and out of the room to take vitals and fill out paperwork. A whirlwind of activity surrounded us as Karin and I moved in slow motion reeling from the events of the past two hours and trying to comprehend how we would survive the possibility of Karin staying in the hospital for three and a half more months until Liam’s due date. I made a list of things we would need from home. I remember my hands shaking as I wrote it and we both broke down as we called our parents to break the news.
My parents came to the hospital to sit while I raced home for supplies. Karin’s parents made arrangements to get up to RI from NJ as quickly as they possible could. My year long education in family, love and support was about to begin. Lessons in being loved and supported while at the same time loving and supporting.
I was able to bring everything that I could for the night and Karin and I played cards and watched Law & Order re-runs on cable to try and settle our nerves. My co-workers called and sent up any food items that Karin and I could have desired. If we so much as thought about getting hungry the diet office would send up someone with a snack. Karin got settled into bed and as the evening drew on we had our first non-stress test on the fetal monitor and endured 20 minutes of stress and pain. In essence the test involves listening to his heart beat for 20 minutes as small impulses in the test monitor its activity under stimulus. Liam liked to swim around in there and every move would make it difficult for the instruments recording his heartrate to pick him up. Each time the heartbeat would stop recording, our hearts would skip with him. All breaths held until the rhythmic thump returned. We would play that game three times a day for the duration of Karin’s stay.
The night nurses in the long term/ high risk floor have a pretty good system for ensuring quiet on the floor. Ambiens all around! I kid about the nurses but we found that most patients we spoke with would also be given some sort of sleep aid by their doctors. The stress of the visit alone would keep anyone awake and sleep was important for both Karin and Baby. Karin and I argued back and forth over whether or not I would spend the night and she won so I was pushed out the door to go home and spend time with our cats. Sleep was important to me too (so said Karin) and I reluctantly returned home.
One year ago. The start of it all. Life would never be the same and its hard for me to remember what life was like before that day. Today at work it was all I could think about. As we approach Liam’s birthday I’ll be re-posting entries from my Carepage written nearly everyday for the first few months Liam’s life. I’ll give some thoughts on looking back on those days knowing what I know now. They won’t all be this long or in depth but this is how it all got started. I am looking forward to this project with excitement and more than a little fear. I haven’t looked at those pieces or the copious notes I took at the time and I’m not entirely sure that I am ready to process it all. But the more I look back on where we started, the more I am filled with pride about my family and where we are today. This has by far been the most stressful, difficult, and trying year of my life. This has also been the most fulfilling, loving, and wonderful year of my life.
And it all started, one year ago, today.