Friday, June 28, 2013

In Sickness and in Health, Part II

The doctor instructed me to “pack” her wound with gauze twice a day, scrubbing the inside of it with peroxide each time I changed her dressing.  The wound was about four inches long, an inch and a half wide and an inch and a half deep.  It was raw meat and I was required to stuff 4x4 inch gauze pads in it twice a day. 

As he finished explaining, the doctor said, “I am glad you are doing this.  There are plenty of husbands who just have the nurse come to the house twice a day…”

Right there, I considered kicking this guy’s butt.  Why did he have to give me the option to wimp out after I ignorantly volunteered for duty? I began to hate this man I’d just met, and I don’t hate anybody.   After planning how I would have to dispose of his body if I killed him, I decided against it.  I then calmed down.

While I knew that we were going to have struggles and tough times, I didn’t think our love for each other required actions that were more intense than the feeling of a simple hug or a kiss goodnight or the struggle of an argument, or even the birth experience itself. But this clinched it. 

I didn’t think I could live long enough to have a week like this one.  I saw my son born, I saw my wife cut open, then sewn up, and then burst open again.  I couldn’t relate to myself in these circumstances.  I couldn’t believe I was the one everyone in the room was depending on to be “nurse” for Sunday.  This just wasn’t me.  I couldn’t do it.  Her wounding was much too powerful for me to live through.  I felt like I was dying in that room, I was so stressed.  Her life was up to me, and, by extension, Jonah’s.  Twice a day, I was ensuring the health of my family’s future destiny with a simple, intense ten-minute change of bloody bandages.  Since Sunday’s belly was too big for her to see it, I felt alone in my silent panic.

I responded to all of this with a smile as my hands shook violently at the thought of what I had to do.  

I walked out of that room a different man.  I couldn’t relate to myself in there because I wasn’t me anymore.  I was responsible at a higher level than I had experienced.  And I still couldn’t handle it.

I was seeing my shaking hands and Sunday’s tear streaked face and I knew I was on my knees with this heavy load on me.  I couldn’t take this by myself, and although Sunday was certainly there physically, I couldn’t tell her about my fear.  I couldn’t tell her that I was petrified that she was going to die.  I couldn’t tell her how awful her belly looked.  I couldn’t tell her that I loved her, but I didn’t know if I could love her enough to see her scars every single day, twice a day.  I couldn’t tell her.  I just couldn’t.  I was silent, weighted down and silent.

When we got home, I made sure Sunday was comfortable, and then I went into our bedroom and called my parents. I bawled my eyes out.  I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty creative and visionary type of person, someone who can see himself past a tough situation into a place of triumph.  This time, it wasn’t happening.  I was a changed person.  I wasn’t defeated, but I certainly needed some help.   I could only see her open belly and the potential for disaster.  I certainly knew what was at stake and it scared me silly. 

While I talked to my parents, I only remember what Dad said, mostly because I recognized that it was our first father-to-father conversation.  They both knew what was at stake, but Dad had the special position of father and husband in the conversation.  He knew what it was like to carry a load he couldn’t handle.  He knew what it was like to be frozen by the prospect of failure.  In that moment, he could connect with me, and he offered to lift that load.  I have no doubt in my mind that I could have physically fulfilled the promise I made to the doctor and to Sunday:  I would dress her wound every day, just like I said.  The conversation with Dad that night allowed me to fulfill that promise with the knowledge that he was there, understanding, supporting, lifting the weight off of my shoulders until I could move again.  He knew I was on my knees, and he knew that, being eight hours away, he couldn’t immediately do anything, but he also knew that I needed a lift. 

Right there, on the phone, he gave it to me.  He said, “We’re here.  And we can be there, if you need it.” 

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Sickness and in Health, Part I

Shortly after Jonah was born, I went back to school.  I was in graduate school, which means I taught classes in addition to the classes I took for my degree.

My cell phone rang at 12:15, when my 11:00 class let out.  The cell phone was there, in case an emergency came up.

It was Sunday.  The incision from the C-section had come open.  I remember getting dizzy and my chest tingling from fear.   I gripped the table I was walking past, and I really didn’t think I was going to make it out of the room without breaking down crying.

She confirmed how little she understood when she said, “There’s blood all over the place and I called the doctor.  We have an appointment at 2:00.” 


I asked Sunday if she thought that an ambulance should be called or if I should meet her at the hospital.   At this point, she said the one thing that I never expected:  “No, just go to your next class and meet me at 2:00 at the doctor’s.”


At this point I remembered something that I have consistently recognized at various points in our relationship:  Sunday’s a stud.  She looks emotional and fragile and all that malarkey, but that’s what all those sentiments are: malarkey.  She’s as tough as nails and she is the toughest when she needs it most.  

She was focused and I wasn’t. 

That drive from the campus to the doctor’s office was like moving through clear gelatin.  I didn’t hear anything, everything was a blur, and I really didn’t feel much, either.  I was scared to death.  I didn’t know what I was going to encounter when I got there.  Most of the stuff I imagined weren’t positive, and I have a pretty good imagination.

When I got there, I met her at the doctor’s waiting room and she looked just fine. 

We went into the doctor’s office—Sunday’s mother looked after Jonah, which was a huge help—and we met another doctor who was not our doctor.  I immediately began worrying again.

A little explanation.  My marriage to Sunday introduced me to a new concept:  the regularly-scheduled doctor’s appointment.  When I was a kid, we didn’t have those.  In fact, we didn’t have a “family doctor” which shocked Sunday when we got married. 

To me, “doctor” meant the guy in the blood-splattered white coat at the Emergency Room.  Unlike me, Sunday had scheduled doctor’s appointments when they were well.  My parents didn’t believe in that kind of medicine.  We went to the doctor when some thing was sticking out of our skin or when someone had lopped something off of someone else.   Obviously, Sunday was raised in a more civilized environment.  The doctor/patient relationship was more of an acquaintance for us, and an invested partnership for Sunday.  

I was used to having a stranger take care of me, but Sunday wasn’t.  She formed a bond, a relationship with the person providing her medical care, and I didn’t think this new guy was going to fly, mostly because he was new.  But, again, Sunday surprised me.  She seemed not the least bit nervous or uncomfortable. 

As the doctor looked at the bloody bandages and tape that Sunday had put on her belly to stop the bleeding, he began explaining how this type of thing happened all the time and that it wasn’t a big deal.  (Yeah right).  I have noticed when a doctor says that “this kind of thing happens all the time” he says it with the boredom of an expert. 

While he’s saying “this sort of thing happens all the time,” I am thinking, yes, this happens all the time.  So do violent verbal outbursts, mutilations, butt kickings and death—all of which may happen to the next doctor who tells me that something “happens all the time.”

The doctor started peeling off the layers that covered her wound, and everyone got quiet:  Sunday, the doctor, the nurse, and me.  When everything was uncovered, he did something I didn’t expect:  he opened her incision about four inches long.  Inside, there were dark patches where her blood had clotted.

The doctor broke the silence as he explained what happened.  The way he told it, the clotted blood inside her acted in the same way that frozen water acts inside a plastic bottle.  Simply put, the clots expanded so much that it burst her incision.  He pulled out clots that totaled the size of my palm and then he turned to me and said, “Are you ready to be nurse?”  I realized that this point was not the time to make a joke and ask for my sexy nurse costume, so I just said, “Yes.”  I have discovered that saying “yes” before I really know what I am agreeing to can lead me into some exciting, daring adventures.  This wasn’t one of those times.  This was a duty, not an adventure, a job, not a thrill.

Then I started running it through my head, “…in sickness and in health…”  

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Blowout: Your Child and Toxic Waste

Although the breastfeeding got hazardous every once in a while, this is the point in our story when things got dangerous.  For some reason, I never got the your-child-may-explode lesson from all that pre-natal reading I did.  No one says that little bitty babies, from time to time, poop with extreme force.  Seriously, there’s a learning curve here that no one talks about.

I thought I’d at least pass along these bits of information I’ve gleaned:
#1.  When you feed him about eleven, he’ll probably eat at three.  It is very important to change his diaper before putting him down at that eleven o’clock feeding, or there’ll be a larger-than-expected present for the person waking up at three.

            #2.  If you are the one feeding at eleven, and you don’t change him, and he has a blowout at three on the “other” person’s watch, be expected to be woken up to help with the cleanup.

            #3.  If you are woken up to help with the cleanup, don’t get grouchy.  In fact, if grouchiness is detected, cover your eyes and throat immediately, because retribution is coming.

Here is the story.  I was calmly and gently feeding my son at eleven—yes, it’ s a shock that my role is the one that occurs at eleven.  I was watching some late-night television and laughing as Jonah slipped off to sleep and I recall thinking, “He’s so peaceful.  I certainly don’t want to intrude on his slumber.” 

So, I made a terrible decision:  I didn’t change his butt. 

Now, here is the point where you may think, “Matt, you fool!  Why didn’t you change his butt?” 
Well, my response is, as always, “I forgot to change his butt.” 
Or, I could always reply, “His butt was asleep.” 
Or, "I didn’t want to wake his butt up.”  

At any rate, I was wrong.  His butt was very much awake and working overtime creating the slimy “refuse” that comes out of his very small body.  (Definition of refuse:  toxic, sticky substance that smells a little like my crazy neighbor’s house)  Before you jump on the “laugh at Matt” bandwagon, just remember:  there’s a huge faction of experts that recommend a sleeping baby NEVER be woken up.  Like the rhinoceros of the wilds of Africa, the sleeping baby is usually best left alone to continue his slumber.  (I have actually heard about a baby angrily charging his parents and inflicting massive bruising around the toes and ankles when he was woken up before he finished his nap.)

As for me, I didn’t wake him up and I gently placed him in his crib in his room, turned on the classical music CD that he likes to listen to, and I went to our room to snuggle with Sunday.

Fast forward about 3 1/2 hours.  Out of the haze of my dreams I heard, “Matt!  Get in here!”  I mumbled something about African Safaris and rolled over.  Then I heard it again.  “Matt!  Get in here!”  I woke up to realize that it was my lovely wife screeching at me.  I got up and ran into Jonah’s room, thinking that something had gone terribly wrong.  I opened the door and encountered a barnyard smell that brought me to one knee. 

Sunday was in there, ready for a fight.  At first glance, I thought she was going to hurt Jonah.  But then I saw the direction her anger was pointing, and it was pointing at me.  Yep, she was considering knocking me out right there in Jonah’s room.  At that moment, she seemed to look forward to guaranteeing that I was going to catch a few more moments of sleep, courtesy of her vicious right uppercut.

It took a while to talk her out of cutting me and convincing her to help with the crap-slick that Jonah had created in his room.  As we began the cleanup effort, I felt like we should begin by recarpeting and repainting the room.  It was that bad. I felt like someone had recreated the Exxon Valdez oil spill in this kid’s drawers and we were called on to wash the pollution off his little pelican.   

***As a warning to those people living in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we have placed all linens and clothes in a hermetically sealed container, which will have a dangerous half-life of 100 million years.***