Part Three (v of v): Discharge, cont’d
September 20, 2013 Comments Off on Part Three (v of v): Discharge, cont’d
ii of ii
The next day would be The Day. And it was. And even though it was, and even though we were fairly certain it would be, we approached it cautiously, timidly. When, on the morning of, we inquired about Lucy’s last weighing, we feigned indifference to the point of near boredom. We did not call ahead, and we did not make a B-line for the logbook when we arrived; we gave it some time. Just another day at work for the nurse, who did not volunteer the information right away, maybe didn’t know of our situation, and we waited, made small talk with her, and tried to prepare ourselves to hear anything.
When at last we asked the question, it was asked parenthetically, as if it were an afterthought — neither here nor there. But the answer was a good answer, and the number was a good number, and we smiled a little and waited to see what would happen next. We didn’t anxiously await the next words out of the nurse’s mouth. We did not want anybody to say anything further. The less that was said, the less likely it was that disappointment would rear its head.
We did not ask when the doctor would be about, or which doctor. We did not ask if she, the nurse, thought today would be The Day. We had promised ourselves that we would allow this day to happen on its own, in its way, and that only when Lucy was in her car seat, in our vehicle, and our wheels were pointed lastly toward Home, then we would celebrate. We had this. God had this. And so we waited and let The Day come to us.
When the Doc of the Day was through speaking, we stared back at him, and he must have caught a whiff of anticipation. It was all the usual speak of an ordinary parent/doctor conference in the NICU, observation and review, except that entwined in the usual stream of information was talk of prescription medicines and pharmacies. Even as he stepped away to call in Lucy’s prescription, we remained nonchalant. We would presume nothing. When he returned and told us that Lucy’s order had been successfully placed and would be waiting for us, we nodded blankly and after a moment I asked, “Great. So we’ll be picking that up. . .”
“Today.” He paused, comprehended, and then his face changed and he offered the words he then knew we’d been waiting patiently to hear. It’s well after lunch by now, and still no one has said anything definitively, but he does so now, nodding matter-of-factly as he says, “I’ve already written your discharge orders.”
We share a glad moment.
I shake the doctor’s hand.
We let it sink in.
We hug and smile.
It seemed to be Going Home Day in Bay 7. The area was buzzing with activity in preparation, not only for Lucy’s discharge, but for that of at least two other little patients as well. In our entire Bay 7 experience, we’d seen departures, but never had we seen as many car seats, so many smiling faces, so much merriment. The place took on a different energy as nurses darted this way and that, making sure parents had all their necessary marching orders and medicines and they came and went with swag bags of one sort or another, and papers and packets and administrators with their folders and clipboards and nutritionists with their care and feeding instructions and complimentary formulas to get everyone by until they could get home and get settled and get to a store.
As our own docs, nurses, administrators and helpers frequented and left our bed station we slowly became aware of the eyes of another mother across the room. We’d seen her before, exchanged nods and smiles, but had never actually spoken. They mostly kept their backs to us, seeking their own sort-of privacy, just like we’d sought ours. We weren’t sure what to make of them. She was older, seemed old enough she could have been the baby’s grandmother and maybe had others; or perhaps she had brought a very late-in-life pregnancy to full term.
He was not young, but was noticeably younger than she was. Even though he wore the baggy shorts and shirts and sneakers and wore his hair in braids, he still looked aged. It looked like lifestyle might’ve taken its toll on their bodies, both of them, blurring age and appearances, same way it does for people who take exceedingly good care of themselves. Was he the baby’s father or the woman’s son? Husband? Live-in? It was hard to tell. He leaned back in his chair and muttered things occasionally, letting her tend to baby in all ways, but he was there and there often. There for baby, there for her, simply helping pass the time, we didn’t know. All were possibilities. Missus and I are naïve enough that we were surprised by how often, in the hospital environment, we were asked by a nurse or therapist, “Are you the mother? And are you the father? And are you married?”
The woman was alone that day, and twisted in her chair, observing the activity at our bed station and occasionally cutting eyes toward other bed stations, taking in all of the “going home” liveliness. Whenever our eyes would meet hers she was wearing a kind of happy for you look of approval, her eyebrows raised high. She wanted us to notice her, and we smiled solemnly back.
As time passed and families left and when finally it was our turn to secure Lucy in her car seat, the woman’s face (she still faced us) had morphed from one of plain kindness into one of near confusion. Your heart could not help but go to her. I swear the halogen lights were out above her head, and whether that was malfunction or intentional (for sleeping baby’s sake) it hardly changes the image: Aged woman, all alone on her gloomy end of the ward, watching mothers and babies leaving for home and family and nursery, trying to look happy for them. Missus recalls hearing the woman say aloud, maybe to herself, maybe to whomever was there to hear, “Everybody goin home but us.”
In the busy breezeway and roundabout in front of St. Elsewhere I wait outside our minivan with hazards flashing, waiting to see Missus emerge from the sliding doors, bringing our baby out into the world for her first honest dose of sunlight. I stand beside the minivan at ease, feeling good, hands in pockets, not for warmth but for comfort, thumbs out, shoulders relaxed, waiting there facing the building for several minutes.
Directly, from across the congested tract of asphalt, vehicles vying for access to both the parking garage and street exit, a man’s face somewhere throttles a forceful “SIR!!!!” right at my head. I look north and from forty yards away a young, bearded valet in a sedan stares back at me with his best are you stupid face.
“COULD YOU MOVE YOUR CAR??!!”
His inflection is more like that of someone picking a fight than asking a question, like you’d say or shout at someone who’d just parked in your kitchen and now stood grinning, oblivious, reaching past you to help himself to your bacon.
I’d parked adjacent to the valet stand; the only blank spot in the area I could find. I look back confused at first, and then incredulous, and then I’m keenly aware of the scent of violence on my palate. He’s glaring right at me from the window of the sedan; positively glaring, wanting to make a show of it; put his command presence out there, I suppose. I’ve never been in a fistfight in my life, still haven’t, but maybe never wanted one more. There was a long moment of rueful eye contact, a stare down, and I wanted to do things to this kid, ruin his day the way he’d just ruined mine. Nothing would come of it but it was perfect, really. A fitting end: One more incident; One more confrontation. An appropriate valediction from St. Elsewhere to me. And back.
Short of violence, I wanted to take this kid aside and explain some things to him. I wanted to explain to him that he was a part of a hospital environment, and that he needed to be cognizant of that, even though his job was to park cars and probably he never set foot inside the building. He needed to understand that he was surrounded by people, dealt directly with people all day, who may or may not be having a terrible day — maybe one in a long series of terrible days; people living in a state of fragility, in a fog that has no beginning and no visible end.
He doesn’t know that today is a good day for me and not a bad one, but he also doesn’t know that today isn’t the worst day of my life, because where are you more likely to run into someone having an exceedingly bad time? And then you square up and accost someone like they were some form excrement because you don’t like where their car sits. Nice, fella.
But all I do is stare back. I don’t say anything even though I know a shouting match would be more satisfying than doing nothing, although not nearly as satisfying as ruining this boy’s clothes in front of his vested buddies over at the valet stand. I stand there glaring until I decide this looks stupid and as I turn toward my car, still looking back, he nods triumphantly, wearing his big boy face, and then drives off like a cowboy to go park someone’s car. Fortunate me. Spared by the beard. I move my car.
We were all loaded up a short time later. Lucy was buckled snugly into her car seat, snapped smartly into its base. Missus was in the seat beside hers. We brought her home wearing the impossibly soft, pink sweater with the hand painted apple buttons and matching hat, even though the day was a bit warm for that. My own blood was still a little warm from the incident with the bearded boy when I pulled out slowly and merged onto I-35 and pointed our tires lastly toward Home. I smiled in the rearview mirror at Missus as I drove away from St. Elsewhere, not for the last time that day.
On the paved walk connecting our porch to our driveway, a paper banner maybe six feet long and three feet high greeted us from the street: WELCOME HOME, LUCY. It was held up by two tubes of PVC cemented into coffee cans, the work of Missus’ closest friend and her fellow teachers. The love that is being shown you even when your back is turned.
Surprisingly, we’d gotten out of St. Elsewhere in fairly short order, and it was maybe three o’clock in the afternoon when we pulled in. My in-laws greeted us, and we took pictures in the front yard, documenting the happy occasion. In addition to the banner out front, Missus’ parents had put out all manner of happy occasion decorum and our home looked and felt positively welcoming. A basket of gifts from Missus’ small group of teaching besties, some of whom she has known since college, contained gift cards, wine, chocolate I’m sure, and a wad of cash accumulate from the donations of school faculty and probably some parents as well. We shook our heads, gracious me.
There were also various pieces of kid-art adorning the walls in various places. The work of students (Missus is and has always been an elementary Art teacher) and Missus walked from one the next, smiling sweetly and fondly at each and making note of the students’ names. Soon, her attention was directed to the center of the room. There, sitting squarely in the middle of our dining room table, was a size-able stack of various sizes of various papers folded in half: Hand drawn artwork and handwritten messages of love and best wishes for their teacher. For her and her baby. One from every student in her school. There were over seven hundred of them. She stood there for the longest, smiling, trying for all the world to wipe away at a steady stream of endless tears; all the while letting them come.
The girls arrived home from school not much later and we spent a long while letting them fuss over their baby sister. Missus’ folks began to talk about heading for home. About this time is when I realize that it is after five-o-clock, and I’m not quite sure when our pharmacy closes. Before I made the mistake of not picking up Lucy’s medicine from the pharmacy on our way home, too eager to get her home, I’d made the mistake of having her prescription called in to the pharmacy nearest us: a kind of local outfit that’s been around forever; they’d just moved to a new location down the road from where we live. The problem with this is that, unlike your Walgreens, Target or CVS pharmacy, this place keeps regular business hours, it turns out. Which posed a big problem.
Lucy takes Enalapril every twelve hours to regulate her blood pressure, to make her sick heart’s work easier; she takes Lasics every twelve hours to ensure that fluid that would otherwise accumulate in her lungs goes in her diaper. My own heart started to beat faster while I was realizing that I might not make it in time. I try to call the pharmacy and get a recording. I know what that means. Father of the Year I ain’t. It’s a bad feeling. I call the St. Elsewhere NICU desk and ask to speak to the neonatologist on duty. This is going to be a little dicey – Lucy is not a patient of St. Elsewhere any longer. Is there anything they can do?
I hold for a bit, anxiously, and eventually the Doc of the Day picks up. It’s the Geico Doc. I remember his voice. He remembers me. It’s his first shift back from vacation, his first day of work since the day Lucy was born. I explain the situation to him, my turn to be embarrassed, don’t know how I could have let this happen. He puts me at ease, says there’s no reason I should’ve thought otherwise; says it’s still the middle of the day, after all. He’ll have two doses of each of Lucy’s meds waiting at the desk for me to pick up. I thank him profusely, repeatedly, and he can sense how eager I am to get there and to have that medicine in my hands. I tell him I’ll be right there, I’m on my way. He tells me “Yeah. Just be careful.”
When I come back downstairs Missus’ folks are loading their car. We pleaded them stay, but they wouldn’t think of spending the night, our first night as a whole family, our new family, together in our home. No, they would give us our space. This is how they are: Others first, always. Never mind the five hour drive and the hour it which that puts them home. Perhaps they were anxious to be home too. We wondered how we would ever be able to show, to prove our gratitude to them for what all they sacrificed for us; you can only say it so many times and so many ways.
We said our long goodbyes in full accordance with the Southern Baptist Houseguest parting ritual: A round of hugs and goodbyes in the living room while the next reunion is loosely planned; Again at the door, more of same; Again at the car; Wait for the honk, waving, as they disappear out of sight.
They were gone, and so was I. And you will believe me when I tell you that every second and every inch of the way back to St. Elsewhere I was repeating in my mind while unapologetically demonstrating that most time-honored and revered dude-behind-the-wheel axiom. The one that goes as such:
Drive It Like You Stole It.
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