Posts filed under ‘Always’
Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and sour milk, sometimes I was given a thin pancake with cheese. Every day I ate potatoes mashed with water, no butter or salt, boiled chicken or pork unseasoned, bland soup with beets and carrots, a baked apple, weak black tea. My friend snuck me in a box of chocolate truffles when she visited. At night I’d take one piece from the box hid in the table next to my hospital bed underneath pieces of paper; emails from friends and family promising their prayers, fact sheets and information about Down syndrome. I licked my fingers clean.
I walked down to the water cooler to fill up my bucket. I’d walk slowly, peeking into other rooms, watching moms coo at their healthy newborns, bouquets of bright vibrant flowers in glass vases in the corner. Some mothers were watching television, passing time until they would pack up to go home.
Several times a day an orderly came to my room asking if I needed any fresh towels or a new bathrobe. I was disoriented, unsure, I could not understand what she was saying. I’d nod and go back to what I was doing. Piles of towels and bathrobes were stacked in the corner of my room.
My green threaded incision started to heal and my daughter struggled in her incubator. She still could not breath on her own, therefore could not be held. I resigned myself to sit next to her, my hand resting on her heel.
A few months after Zoya’s birth I remember waiting in my car in line at a gas station. An old man with a red baseball cap was in front of me, pumping gas in his rusty blue truck. Assumingly he had children, which meant that at one point ihe and his wife had a newborn. That day I sat and watched the old gentlemen, amazed that he had made it through the very difficult task of sustaining a life. Something so daunting to me at the time.
I ate, I walked, I sat by my new baby daughter, Polina, and I examined her. Sergei and I took turns. “Does she have Down syndrome? She doesn’t, does she? Wait, her eyes do slant a little bit. But she doesn’t have a single crease in the palm or her hand? She’s long, but her neck is a little thick.”
The fifth day after Polly’s birth I decided to take a walk outside. Tentatively, I stepped out of my pajamas and tenderly pulled up my maternity jeans and a black t-shirt. My mom and I moved slowly gazing up at the green trees, the large white hospital ominous in the background. People walked down the street, on their way to work or to see a friend, an umbrella tucked under someone’s arm because there was a chance of rain. I saw a mother step out into the sun, she looked on as her husband scrambled around her; baby in car seat put gingerly down at her feet, race to the car and slowly bring it up to the waiting new family. I watched all three settle into their car and drive off to their life. There I stood, in limbo, my arms empty, my middle aching. A new mom, but not really.
We met the head pediatrician and her colleagues the morning I woke up in the gray, bare recovery room, the morning of the emergency c-section. It surprised me when I saw a whole team of doctors pile into our room. I wondered if that’s just how it was done in Ukrainian upscale hospitals but soon learned that they were there because my child was sick. Because this was serious.
The main doctor became “the rock star” to us because her shoulder length hair was a brassy blonde, almost gold with three other colors thrown in for good measure. She wore thick make-up; deep blue eye shadow, bright pink blush and rich, ruby red lips. She looked official though, clipboard in hand, stethoscope draped around her neck, a crisp white medical coat with clothes underneath that were bright and stylish. The doctor next to her, who ended up being the kinder of the two, had dark brown hair and wore no make-up, a large mole sat above her lip on the right side of her face. She wore sensible black shoes.
My daughter had low blood platelets. She seemed to have some kind of infection in her blood but they could not figure out why nor how to fix it. Her body temperature and breathing were being helped in the incubator. She was a bit jaundice too.
That bleak morning, in hushed tones the rock star said it was too soon to know if the baby could fight off the infection. They were doing everything they could for her.
Elaina had jaundice the first few days of her life what seemed like a million years ago in our little apartment with the porch in Chicago. I sat outside with her while the sun seeped vitamin D into her skin making everything OK.
Shaking my head, I realized the rock star was still talking. Russian words fell off her tongue, cutting through the silence and apprehension thick in the room. I heard the words “syndrome downa” and knew she was repeating what I was told earlier; that my third child may have Down syndrome. I looked over to the side table next to my bed. There sat a tan telephone, a plastic cup filled with ice water and a straw and three pages of information about Down syndrome. She said that they had already taken a vile of the baby’s blood and sent it off to a geneticist for testing. We should know in two weeks.
The rock star said she would try to get the test results as soon as possible and then depending on what they are, my husband and I would be given options of what we would like to do.
“We know what we are going to do with her, we’re going to love her,” I thought to myself.
I said nothing.
The nursery quarters consisted of three rooms. Each room was completely visible to the other. The bottom part of the walls were like a cold dark January day, the top halves were windows. The rooms were strictly functional. Nothing in them celebrated the new lives they held.
On the right was a room lined with four or five bassinets against one wall. A diaper changing station occupied one corner. A rocking chair where nurses sat to feed or soothe a newborn was in the other corner. Each clear, plastic bassinet had a blue or pink card on the front with the name, weight and height of the child inside.
The room on the far left held four elaborate warming beds, donned with bright yellow lights. Two or three babies lay under screamingly bright lamps. The penetrating light nursed them to healthy bilirubin levels, changing their carrot-like skin back to newborn pink. The babies were spread eagle with little black tanning masks over their eyes. They looked as if they were enjoying an Aruba vacation. I half expected an exotic drink with an umbrella resting in a little hand. I wanted to climb up with one of them, scoot him over and enjoy the warmth on my skin too. I was jealous of these babies and their mothers. If only a bright light could bring my daughter back to full health.
The middle room was for babies who were sick. It was plain except for medical equipment.
And there our child was, alone.
The machines hooked up to her showed she was alive. Her domed bed was adorned with wires and switches. Oxygen and warmth pumped into her little plastic house. She too had a pink card taped on the right side of her plastic house.
But the card did not have a name written on it. The birth surprised us three weeks early. We had yet to decide on a name. After her birth my mental list of names did not fit her. Though in many ways she resembled her sisters, honestly, I could not consider choosing a name. I still felt like I was visiting someone else’s sick child.
Life was happening around her but not in her. While visiting I concentrated on her body to ensure that her chest moved up and down. Her actions, if any, were slight. She hardly ever opened her eyes. Her lips were crusty and peeling. Just under five pounds you could see her bones sticking out of her limp flakey flesh. Her body was long. She had big feet and a full head of golden brown hair. I remember thinking that she looked like a grumpy old man at the end of his life, too weak to bother with the rest of us. I was allowed to open the plastic window and lay my hand on her body or hold her hand for a couple of minutes here and there. Her oxygen went low when the window was open. I liked to hold onto her heel.
I stood by her incubator in small increments of time for the first three days. My incision ached and I became light headed often. Every two hours a nurse would take a tiny tube connected to a bottle of formula that held a few ounces. The nurse would place her hand on the back of the baby’s neck, lift her head a bit and when her lips parted the tube was placed inside her mouth and then pushed down her esophagus and into her stomach. Instantly the liquid would disappear. Every time it was very quick. I asked the nurses to let me know when they were feeding. Usually I did not find out in time.
The next morning I woke early again. Looking around, I remembered where I was. The television was back in the corner. The walls were still bare and I was still sore and confused and scared.
The nurse suggested I get up and go to the bathroom. She was obviously out of her mind. My middle had been sliced open and a baby, plus a large liver looking thing had been cut out of my body. I was sewn up with heavy green thread, the kind you see on an old rugged pillow. The doctor tied a bow at the end of my incision.
My catheter was removed so I no longer had a choice. I could either wet myself or get up.
I was moved downstairs across from the nursery. It was like an apple dangled out in front of me. I was just across the hall from my daughter. By day two I was up and moving, painfully, slowly.
My mother had applied for her passport with the intent to come to Ukraine to help with the new baby. After she heard of the early arrival, bags were packed and without hesitation she boarded a plane for the sake of her daughter.
The first time I took a shower in my hospital room was three days after my c-section. My mother and the nurses where in some sort of cosmic agreement, although they could not communicate, that I needed a shower. It was in the afternoon, the first actual day of my mother’s experience in Ukraine. She had flown in late the night before.
My mom’s remedy for most things in life is cleanliness. Baths, showers, cleaning, generally anything hygienic is good for the soul. One time when I was a kid, I was complaining to her about a particularly hard day. Her advice to me was, “go shit in the tub.” And unsurprisingly, I felt better after a half hour of uncontrollable laughter at her slip of the tongue.
She helped me lug my wobbly body, donned with one enormous Always maxi pad that was supposed to catch buckets of blood while stuck to a flimsy pair of gauze underwear. From just under my rib cage down past my unmentionables, my body felt like a horrible nagging tooth ache every time I moved. I clumsily undressed and my mom helped me step up into the shower. At thirty-one, I am sure that my body had expanded and changed quite a bit since she last saw me in this light.
The hospital was similar to a hotel in the States. It was like all of this was happening at a Best Western. Little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and soap lined up on the shower wall ledge waiting to wash my body.
As a missionary I have not had a good relationship with travel size toiletries. Supporters of our foreign work think we either cannot afford our own products or that the country itself does not sell soap. People took it upon themselves to save up shampoo, lotion, conditioner and soap from their hotel stays and ship them to us in care packages. Good friends of ours working in Mexico received already used tea bags that were still “good” for a second time around. When I’d get care packages like this, I’d throw it all in my bathroom closet and walk down to the supermarket. There I would get a big bottle of Dove shampoo, some Pringles chips and a couple candy bars.
My body ached as I attempted to get clean in the shower. It felt like there were little flecks of sand in the water, but I just assumed I was mistaken by my own filth. The worst pain was trying to lift my hands up to wash my hair. That motion localized and climaxed the pain of my incision. After doing the best I could, I tenderly stepped out of the shower. Drying was going to have to be an air thing as I reached for my fresh pair of queen size gauze underwear with the Always maxi pad, compliments of the hospital.
By the time I was in my new throw-away underwear and fresh night gown I felt like a wilted flower that had been pounded on by a harsh rain. I was clean, but nearly wiped out. Hoisting my thick lifeless belly up onto the bed I commented to my mother about the little pebbles of dirt that were all over the shower. “That’s what surgery will do to you,” my mom said in all her wisdom.
As soon as I was on the bed I was asleep. I don’t remember getting from the shower to the bed. Later we found out that the hospital did have a problem with dirt in the water for a few days. By the end of the first week the dirt was gone.