The Deuce is home.
It’s a piece of information that needs no introduction, requires no preface, begs no questions. It’s a bottom line, an endpoint, a conclusion. Is it all the resolution I’ve wanted? That’s a question I asked myself this morning as I looked out over Santa Monica Bay as I pedaled toward home. I was aware that I’m still not really ready for group rides, that I’m still not back to my old self. I’m done with suspense, with surprise, with anxiety, with all the factors that make stress stress.
Of course, nothing will release me more from the weight of the Deuce’s 37 days in the NICU than just having him here at home.
Two nights into this and it still hasn’t completely sunk in.
Frankly, after more than 30 days in the NICU, the suddenness with which he went from “improving” to “discharged” could teach jai alai players a thing or two about speed. The day after his doctor removed his chest tube he said to me that they would soon begin discussing when he could go home. In my mind, given how things had moved with all the hurried pace of rush-hour traffic on the freeway, reading between the lines suggested that he might be released the middle of this week. And that would be fine. With the danger seemingly past, patience was something I had by the liter.
The next real surprise was when we arrived at the hospital later that morning and the nurse tending him said to us in a conspiratorial tone, “The doctor might release him at the beginning of the week.”
Oh, well, wait, what? Come again?
My wife turned to me with the high-eyebrowed look of someone betraying a lack of preparation, I knew what she was feeling, what she’d say next. So when she said, “I’m not sure I even feel ready,” it wasn’t necessary.
After all the waiting, all the worry, all the tears, I was surprised that my reaction to his looming discharge was to wonder if I was prepared to care for him. Though he was already five weeks old, his condition had left me with the indelible perception that he was fragile, more fragile than his brother Philip was at two days, when he went home. With his two incisions sutured shut and his various picc lines and IVs removed he was a baby—no more, and certainly not less.
Just a day later the doctor approaches us for our daily consult and says, “I’m going to release the baby tomorrow.”
I’d like a large serving of ‘whoa’ with a side of ‘hang on a sec.’
There wasn’t much to discuss. We made arrangements to allow our son Philip to go with a friend to an Easter Egg hunt while we picked up the Deuce. There were forms to fill out, instructions to listen to, guidelines to impart, appointments to make. It felt a bit like buying a car from a car lot with only one car.
As we went through the paperwork the stoner parents of the 480g baby dropped by for 15 minutes or so. It was the first time I’d seen them in more than a week. I had the feeling we were seeing the first act in what would be a tragedy that would unfold over a lifetime. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll add that I don’t really mean to pass judgment on them, but I can’t fathom the choices they are making; maybe their disconnect is just a coping mechanism but my sense of a parent’s love looks at them and says, ‘No way.’ Even though the Deuce is fine, I doubt I’ll ever get over the feeling that I wasn’t at the hospital enough. I spend more time in Trader Joe’s than these two do at the hospital.
So Matthew was released on Easter Sunday. I’m not a practicing Catholic; it’s a fact that pains my parents, but the whys and implications are the stuff of another work. Whether or not you go to church says little, though, about the spiritual life you live. The symbolism of Matthew’s release on Easter wasn’t lost on me. It was unavoidable. Walking out of the hospital into the sun with him felt less like rebirth than birth itself. It was our first time to be outside with him and there was no denying that was a greater testament to his life than the previous 37 days. This was real life—no safety net. In that regard it struck me that the experience was not unlike what Easter represents, in that Jesus Christ’s rise from the dead was the miracle of his life, and it matters not if you’re speaking literally or metaphorically. And no, I’m not comparing my son to Jesus Christ.
Our son Philip is three and has shown all the interest in learning about Matthew that he shows in anything that isn’t a toy he can play with—very little. On one occasion I took a photo of a picture of him next to a picture of Matthew and then showed that to him. I thought the equivalence might help bring the lesson home for him and it did. For about 30 seconds. Next!
We arrived at the friends’ to pick him up and before climbing up into his seat, I opened the side door so he could peak in and get his first look at Matthew in person. His curiosity and regard for his little brother expressed a kind of love new to me. It was like learning about chocolate.
This stuff has been around all these years and I didn’t know?
We’re finally getting to know our son. Really getting to know him. Life in that isolette stripped him not just of his ability to move but the sounds he makes and his opportunity to connect with anyone by locking eyes.
Here are a few of the things we’ve learned about him: He’s a night-owl. Loves to be up from about 1:00 to 4:00 every night/morning. And he’s noisy. He’s got a veritable vocabulary of grunts, squeaks and gurgles. Then there’s his gaze. This kid is taking the world in. Shana and I have compared him to Stewie on “Family Guy.” We have this ever-present sense that he’s scheming and planning, that his opinions and desires outstrip his abilities much the way we kid our cats believe they could run the house if only they had opposable thumbs. The intensity with which he’ll look into my eyes is nearly unnerving. This is not something his brother was doing at this age.
But I like it. I think we’ve both been craving this connection.
At his first follow-up appointment this morning the pediatrician asked if we’d learned the cause of the effusion. His question concerned mechanism, the way a stab wound is the mechanism for blood loss. No, we never learned why. And we never learned why in a larger sense either. Early in his stay in the NICU I asked his doctor at a point when the two of us were alone if this was in any way related to advanced maternal or paternal age. Did being over 40 have anything to do with this? He told me no and then quickly added how there was another baby in the NICU had the same thing but the parents of that baby were of prime parenting age. We’ll never know. He was a 1-in-10,000 baby and though that could have played out in many other ways, we scored the lucky break with a mortal scare, but a condition that was only temporary. My nerves are shot, but he’ll grow up fine.
“Alex, can I have ‘Beating the odds’ for $2000?”
As I changed his diaper following lunch I looked down at him. Two small scars dot his chest on the right; that’s the only evidence left of his 37 days. They’re each about 5mm long. They’ll fade in the coming years, of course, and that’s an outcome that will serve him. The day I can no longer find them will be a sad one for me I expect. They are my one physical reminder of what we went through and for now at least, they are a kind of talisman, a reminder of just what we all have survived, what we are all capable of surviving.