The text was simple enough: “Call me when u can”.
I’d not have seen it for a couple more hours had I not been pulled over at the side of the road. I was four hours into what was likely to be a five-plus-hour ride for the simple reason that I’d been unable to recruit anyone to turn around before Point Mugu. We had dropped a rider somewhere on the way back and leaving people for dead is something that violates my sense of the social contract among cyclists.
Put another way, in my mind that’s seriously not cool.
It didn’t help that I might have been part of the problem. I’d taken some long pulls at the front and wasn’t entirely aware of what was happening behind me. So once I was aware, I told my buddies to stop at the next gas station and I was going to pull over and wait for our rider. After about five minutes, I pulled out my phone to text my buddies to let them know I was still waiting. That’s when I saw the text from my wife.
I rarely see a text from her when I’m riding. She sends them occasionally, but they are always the same thing: “When will you be home?” She’s okay with not receiving a response most days, or at least I think she’s okay with not getting a response. Usually, I’m riding with breaks that range between few and none, so it’s not uncommon for me to see her text as I’m telling her about the ride—after I’ve arrived home.
That she wanted me to call, that she wanted me to call before I got home, that she wasn’t willing to text me whatever she had to say, well it all added up. It felt more like subtraction, like I was going to be losing ground, but I knew well enough what the call would cover. The call was going to concern Matthew. A day-and-a-half before doctors had discontinued his Octreotide (that I can say/type that word without a hiccup is kinda disturbing). The most likely reason for the call is that doctors had found more fluid in his chest. The call was going to tell me something that wasn’t surprising, but was a long way from good news.
Our rider was nowhere in view, so I dialed. As expected, my wife told me there was fluid in the Deuce’s chest. He was back on the Octreotide and they’d turned the suction back on to hopefully draw out the fluid around his right lung. I told her I’d do what I could to get home as quickly as possible and then on to the hospital. And with that our wayward sheep rolled up and we rolled toward our rendezvous. If nothing else, I thought the extra mile or two of company before reaching the gas station would be good for his spirits. My plan had been to tell him encouraging stuff about how strong he was and how sorry I was that we’d rolled away from him.
I managed to apologize, but after that I fell silent. I think I may have issued a forceful and lengthy exhale, the signal that something’s rotten in Denmark.
“What’s up?” Maybe he was concerned that there was no escort back home. I said something about “son” and “setback” and mentioned how my role was to keep my wife calm. I didn’t mention how I was two hours from dealing with any of this, that until I reached the hospital all I’d be able to do was obsess, and I mean that in every sense. The only thing I was going to do was obsess.
On the way to the hospital, traffic slowed on the freeway; I was doing roughly 40 when a few motorcycles came by me in the carpool lane doing at least twice my speed. The phrase, ‘As if I was standing still,’ rang in my ears until I saw the Roman candle of white plastic and rolling bike and body. At a break in the carpool lane a sedan swerved into the carpool lane just as the motorcyclist and another rider passed a car. The playback in my head suggests the rider who went down bounced off the car then clipped the back wheel of the other motorcycle before high-siding.
I called 911 and they transferred me to California Highway Patrol to whom I reported what I’d seen in bullet-point form. Location, direction of travel, vehicles involved, injury, high rate of speed. They asked me my name and I hung up. At that point, I was ready just to turn around and go home.
Wait, it gets better.
Shortly after I got to the hospital, a couple arrived in our pod—Matthew had been moved to G—to see the baby next to Matthew. Naturally, the nurse, who has never seen them before, asks to see their ID bracelets. They’re not wearing them.
Allow me a brief digression here: When Matthew was born, he, my wife and I were all issued bracelets with a number stamped in them at the point of manufacture. The number matched on all three bracelets. The nursing staff put something even greater than the fear of God into me: the fear that if I removed my band, I’d never be able to see my son for as long as he stayed in the hospital. So when edema caused my wife to balloon like a tube inflated without a tire around it and her hand started turning purple beyond the wrist band, they cut hers off, but not before everyone agonized about what should be done next. Should they issue a new set of wrist bands? Should she just keep hers? Would the hospital administrators get upset? We put the band in her purse and waited for someone to flip out.
So both the mother and the baby daddy aren’t wearing their wrist bands. The nurse says ‘fine’ and asks to see ID. ‘Do you have driver’s licenses?’ She doesn’t have hers. He doesn’t have one. At all. ‘Do you have any ID, a wallet with anything?’ No. ‘How’d you get here?’
“Oh, we drove; I got my car down in the lot.”
As this is taking place baby daddy has his back to the nurses and is staring into space. He gets mad points for being completely unperturbed by this (in the retelling my mother-in-law wondered if he was stoned, a thought that—inexplicably—hadn’t occurred to me). Perhaps he didn’t know that at this point the nurse should have just tossed them out. She didn’t do that. Instead, she gets out the mother’s records and asks her for her address and the last four of her Social—something she manages to deliver. Him? Nothing. He could have been anyone, but they let him stay. The rest of the nursing staff is walking around with the raised eyebrows of, “Can you believe this?”
To her credit, the nurse was just trying to avoid sending a child’s parents home. She broke the rules for as decent a motivation as one might have. Dispensing with their protocols didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that I couldn’t help feeling that this helpless child—one with an effusion far worse than Matthew’s—deserved better than these two fuckups.
The neonatologist sat down with me and we went over the Deuce’s situation. They had stopped the Octreotide and some 36 hours later they did a chest x-ray (he’s had at least one per each day on the planet) and found fluid in his chest again as I expected. The doctors would have been more surprised if there had been none. effusions usually take a month to resolve. Two weeks would be unusual. They backed the drug off less because they figured he must be well than they needed to check and see if he’d made any progress in that time. The doc told me that it seemed like he might have, but they couldn’t really tell because the fluid wasn’t draining and they weren’t sure why that was.
If I’d had any reason not to trust him when he said that Matthew was doing well, that they were pleased that he was stable and felt he was making progress, that evaporated when I heard just how frankly who could speak to the parent of a newborn. The parents of the 480gm girl next to Matthew had departed after a seemingly brief visit and the doctor was now calling her at home. I’m not sure what he said that caught my attention, but I’ll never forget the words he spoke as he walked out of our pod: “I’m not going to lie to you. The situation is not good.”
For those keeping score at home, my day had included a long ride with friends knocked out at a tick or two under race tempo. Win. A quick post-ride lunch consisting of Wahoo’s enchiladas with a buddy. Also win. A motorcycle crash on the freeway. Lose. Witnessing the clueless attempts of a couple of kids to verify their identity as the parents of a newborn holding the biological equivalent of a pair of twos. Big lose. Finding out Matthew was producing fluid, fluid that was currently staying put. Yeah, lose.
Wait, it gets better.
Next-door baby needed some procedure that I assumed was more than drawing blood but less than surgery. Staff drew the curtain around as I waited for the shift change; I wanted to hear what info the our nurse deemed important enough to pass on to the next shift, plus I’d have a chance to be around for his next chest x-ray. Matthew had been awake and I’d been talking to him, telling him about my day, the new skatepark I was planning to take his brother to the next day, how I was hoping to catch up on my favorite show, Archer, that night after dinner. Explaining satire to a newborn isn’t as hard as you think.
Then I heard a gasp and an “Ohmigosh.” I was too spent to keep track of what was being said. It washed over me like a heater set on full blast, a buffet of other peoples’ panic. Things weren’t going according to plan and things were getting serious, STAT. While I had every right to hang out with my son and wait for the changing of the guard, not to mention checking out the x-ray, I wasn’t feeling good about being an accidental witness to whatever was taking place eight feet away. Decorum suggested I leave. Well, more properly, my sense of decorum demanded that I leave.
As I drove home there was still a CHP cruiser with its lights on parked at the site of the crash.
An oxygen line has been taped to the Deuce’s face once again. It’s blowing normal air, but it is blowing at two atmospheres. Of course, his rest isn’t the gold standard it had been. The thinking is that air blowing in him will help the lung inflate more fully. That should make the Deuce breathe more easily and fully, and it may help push the fluid in his chest out. What I know is that either that outcome of his body reabsorbing the fluid are acceptable outcomes. Of course, I am aware that you don’t have to be too inquisitive to conclude that they doctors will take action if the fluid stays put with the same stubborn intransigence of my other son on the couch at bed time. But just what they’ll do is an answer I don’t have.
And right now, I’m not ready for it, either.