Enter The Deuce: Home

photo-17Philip meets his baby brother, the Deuce.

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.

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.

,

66 comments

  1. Shawn

    Infinite Smile :)))))))))))))))) Best news I’ve read or heard in quite some time.

    After all you’ve been through, the intensity of 4th trimester parenting will seem like nothing.

  2. Andy

    Congratulations all! Thanks for doctors, nurses, NICU staff, people who donate equipment. Great new chapter coming! You didn’t need to learn what you did to be great parents, now you’ll be even better. This love & support is how it ought to be.

  3. Jesus from Cancun

    AAAHHHHHHHHHH, YES!! This is what I wanted to hear. Great news!

    Now get ready for the real struggle: A second child at home. Another challenge begins… This comes from a father of 3. ;)

    Seriously, congratulations! I will be looking forward to hearing updates about The Deuce as he grows up. I think he is some sort of the Godson of the RKP crowd by now.

  4. todd k

    Good news to hear. I remember bringing our first home and saying to myself “Just like that, you just let us take him home? How do you know I am even qualified to feed this baby?” Also fun to learn over time how the second kid is often entirely different than the first and how obvious those differences are even in the newborn stage.

  5. nrs5000

    Super news. Mille chapeaux for how you have handled this with grace, and written about it movingly.

    What with him being a night owl, all the more reason to enjoy those afternoon naps on the couch with him on your chest.

  6. Naz

    This has been an unfortunate (for you Padraig) series of posts, but the most riveting series I’ve read in a while. The way the words have been written have taken me on a rollercoaster side-by-side and I’m very, very happy that the Deuce is home. Cheers!

  7. 68GT

    Easter??? What about the fact that he came home on the greatest day of bike racing, The Ronde? That the Deuce came home on the same day that Spartacus vanquished the hellignen, cold, cobbles and field at RvV must be kismet.

    It’s game on now Deuce… your pops will soon be struggling to keep up and long may it be so…

  8. Jen Dial

    Awesome expression on big brother’s face! That Deuce is robust! SO happy for you. My guess is you’ll be quite less annoyed getting up in the middle of the night for him because you’re so thankful. I think of you guys every time I am awakened at 2am and through you have come to appreciate that time with my baby instead of being annoyed. So I thank you for your honest writing; it has given me a different perspective too. The Deuce should know someday how far-reaching he was from that isolette.

  9. Brandall

    I have to say I got choked up several times (make that almost every time) with you entries… and this one was the best, for obvious reasons. Congratulations. Lucky kid… more ways than one.

  10. Steve

    Like walking through your front door after a ride that got ahead of you. One look at your eyes tells everyone that your making it back home was nothing short of miraculous.

    (Thanks for sharing)

  11. Guy

    So glad to hear he made it through all of this and is home, where he belongs. I have been praying for your family and little man all along. I knew he would make it home at the end of all this…and how fitting on Easter Sunday. Bravo, bravo!

  12. Sam Findley

    For some reason, I’m thinking about the time (which I do not remember; I was young) when I was left with the neighbors while my mother went into the hospital for the surgically intense birth of my youngest brother. Apparently, they took me to see the movie ET, because when I first visited him in the neonatal ward, I (allegedly) shouted “ET!!!” I bet your eldest is at least as excited to have a little brother as I was that my mother had given birth to an alien.

    I wish you many more nights of sleepless grace with your two children. Kids (mine included) are so odd, perpplexing, anxiety-inducing, and yet we cherish them so.

  13. Rod

    Very happy for you, Padraig. My wife’s pregnant with our 2nd. child, and although she doesn’t like bikes that much I’ve been keeping her posted on this. She’d be jumping with joy if her back wasn’t so achy.

    Godspeed, Deuce. Welcome to the outside. Sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it hurts, but your family has proven they’ll dig deep for you.

    Thanks for sharing this – not just the last event, the whole experience. You guys at RKP have built a remarkable community.

    Rod

  14. P Poppenjay

    I saw that intensity in his eyes, looking at you in the first photo when he was, I think, less than 24 hours old. I had never seen that in a new infant, ever.
    What you shared about his release on Easter is quite moving.

    I honor you and Shana and your surviving those 37 days.

    Miracles occur…

  15. TucsonMTB

    Outstanding! Congratulations, sir!

    Now you can look forward to the anxiety you will feel when you see him descending a neighborhood hill on a borrowed bike with under inflated tires.

    But, it will be alright.

    A good friend once reminded me, “It’s not over until it’s over. And, if it’s not alright . . . it’s not over yet.”

  16. P Poppenjay

    Padraig,
    For the devotees of RKP, those of us who are familiar and gifted by your right and left brain capabilities, i. e., Body, Mind, Machine you find us returning, resolutely.
    Your series n The Deuce has opened an inspirational, vulnerable, soulful, deeper element of you on your journey. We have experienced the raw truths, hurdles, angst. Heroes who have served you and The Deuce and, sometimes, disappointed.
    We have wept and celebrated with you.
    For you to have opened your journey to all of us has been a masterful undertaking on your part.

    My hope is that you have found solace, peace, cheers and the gifts that abound in sharing the griefs and triumphs on your journey.
    You have gifted all of us, to be sure.

  17. LesB

    “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.”

    There’s a saying, “Adversity breeds character.” Looks to me like this is what is going on with Matthew. To some measure you have a little wise old man there.

    Adversity CAN breed character. Or it can tear down character, depending on how one deals with it, one’s approach. Looks to me like with support from his parents, Matthew is able to make the adversity of his first month of life a solid base from which character grows.

    ::::::

    “What is this strange place they’ve brought me to?
    Where’s the other babies?
    Why is it so quiet?
    My tubes! Where are my tubes? My wires?
    Who is the funny little guy?
    Why do strange friendly people come around making goofy faces at me?
    Strange place. I like it.”

  18. VeloPastor

    Padraig – great news! As a Presbyterian pastor, your comments on church, faith & Easter are smack on. I appreciate you sharing your faith in written form even if you are not a “practicing” Catholic. May God continue to bless you and your family. Philip “VeloPastor” Oehler

  19. John

    Fuck Yeah!!!! I love kids, like all parents should, and I have been sending good thoughts your way the whole time. Don’t know if it helped, but I like to think it did. Hope to see you at the BWR and maybe take a picture with you.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks everyone. Actually, I can’t thank you all enough. Your comments here and on Facebook and through Twitter have done us a huge favor and helped immeasurably during this ordeal. They were important at each and every step.

      68GT: The combination of a Cancellara win at Flanders and Matthew coming home on the same day did kinda make me feel like all was right with the world.

      VeloPastor: Thanks much. I may have strayed, but it’s important to me to be gentle and respectful where others’ views on religion are at stake.

  20. Wisco

    Hurray! I too am not a very religious man, but praise be that young Matthew is home and back to “just being a baby”. Your gifts as a writer were never more on display as they have been as you shared a very personal part of your life with us. Thank you and we all hope it was of some comfort and you and your wife lived through this.

    A colleague at work recently had a son who lived for 29 days in the NICU with a heart abnormality than was too much to survive. We all welcomed him back to work, but he’s clearly a different person now. Thanks again that you did not have to suffer that outcome.

    Now back to cycling stuff? Tubulars or clinchers….. discuss.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Wisco: I’m so sorry for your colleague. I can’t be certain, but I think I got a look into the abyss through which your coworker is now falling. My heart goes out to him. The pain. Oh the pain.

  21. JRH2

    Great news. You and I don’t know each other, but I’ve been deeply moved by your telling of this part of your life. Thank you for sharing it. I’m really happy that your family is intact at home now. Go Deuce!

  22. ben

    That is great news. Have a great life little duece! When Cancellera held up 2 fingers towards the end of Flanders – Maybe he was dedicating his win to the Duece ;-)

  23. AGL

    Such great news! It’s nearing 2 years since our twins entered the world via 2.5months in the NICU. Looking at them today, seeing them grow right before my eyes almost obscures the stress and worry of their earliest days. I remember the excitement and relief we felt when each of them came home in turn. From our family to yours, welcome home, Deuce!

  24. Adam

    Fantastic news! The beginning of a new & wonderful chapter. Although slightly tinged with sadness as it will mean an ending to the brilliantly written pieces. It still astounds me that you have been able to sit down & write so well at such a trying time.
    All the best to you and your growing family.

  25. cormw

    Congratulations, Padriag! That is great news! Make sure you soak up every second you can, because they grow up fast. My boys are now 8 and 6 and I cannot believe how fast they are growing up, time sure flies!

    Congrats again and here’s to your son’s health and your family’s well being!

  26. Patrick

    Immense relief.

    I’m finally finishing “The Real Frank Zappa Book”, after months of it sitting around with the other books I’m partially through (adult adhd guy with a 3yo, job, and remodeling project, you get the picture. A chapter in the book discusses the children; his youngest, Ahmet, was a premature baby with the Deuce’s precise issue. Interestingly, but not surprising, was that Frank discovered it as he was walking down the hospital hallway with a nurse who was in Frank’s words, “acting like she was pushing a ham down the hallway”. “Why isn’t he breathing?” And so it went. Fortunately in Ahmet’s case, and the Deuce’s, they got past the first rough weeks.

    Best of luck with everything, including sleep!

    -Patrick


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Patrick: I read that book years ago and completely forgot about Ahmet’s birth. How interesting. The “ham down the hallway,” was how I felt when I was steered away from the operating room as the Deuce was wheeled into surgery. I remember thinking, “Jeez, just tell me, ‘This is the OR and you can’t come in here,’ instead of acting like you’re on defense in a basketball game.”

  27. Travis

    I am so relieved and glad for your family. Your articulation I this experience has been a constant reminder that every moment I have with my two small sons is finite. Thank you for sharing this experience with all of us in the other end of the computers.

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