I forgot my wedding ring. I left the house quickly and yet somehow managed to do what I had sought out to do, which was pack for about three to five days, get the dogs to the kennel, feed the cats. But I forgot to grab my wedding ring off the holder by the kitchen sink, where I’d removed it because I don’t like to wear it when I work with meat. But now I’m here and it’s been about three days since I wore it last and I don’t have it on to worry it around my finger when I’m anxious. I still have my tattoo, but you can’t worry a tattoo.
My wife has been moved to the purgatory floor, where we will wait to see how things go. The room has two doors and two bathrooms because it used to be two rooms. It’s hard to tell how old this hospital is because most of it looks fairly modern, but there are little suggestions of age, of remodeling, of time.
It is a pretty hospital, though, with a lot of considerate conveniences, and a lot of caring people in the specialization we particularly require. Our OB in Savannah was wonderful but this hospital has a whole NICU unit and multiple neonatologists (a word in desperate need of abbreviation) and Savannah does not have these things. Norfolk, Virginia, is probably a pretty place, too, especially in spring. I still hate Virginia, though. But hey. Pretty.
I should probably be in a worse mood than I am, but a large part of me feels lucky to be here. Three days ago I had no rational expectation of being here. I was only worried about teaching three classes that were offered to me at the last minute before the semester, which was a welcome lucky break, given that I had no other solid leads on a job for this spring while we waited on the baby to come. Gretchen was experiencing no symptoms that would’ve necessarily suggested the severity of what was happening, so all she was anticipating was getting through her training course in Virginia and basically waiting for the stupid government to pay her again. Now it feels like a bit of a lucky break that she should be here, within range of this hospital, which caters to this exact need.
It’s eleven p.m. They’re about to wake her up for another dose of medicine, intended to keep her from having any contractions. In another hour we will pass over into day five of week 22, our third full day in the hospital. The probability of a premature birth in the first 72 hours after being admitted with symptoms of preterm labor is still pretty high. I know that’s not a huge milestone, three full days, but the first night we were here, in the labor and delivery suite a floor below us, all I wanted to do was make it up here, to this floor. They talked about this floor like a dream state, a luxury resort. I honestly expected, like, turndown service and a minibar. And now we’re here, and I’m still thrilled about it. And there are two sinks and probably a better view than our first room that I’ve forgotten to look out at, but also it’s got less room and a much less modern feel than the birthing suite we were temporarily in. And it’s kind of depressing, lying here at night, thinking about how small it used to be when it was two rooms instead of one. But my wife is comfortable enough to fall asleep to Family Guy while I write in the chair next to her, and the baby’s heart rate is steady and strong, and with every passing minute he grows and develops and grows some more, which is exactly what we need him to do.
It is now past midnight. Week 22, day 5, we are here.
Stats for premature births at this stage of pregnancy suggest a vast improvement in outlook from week 22 to week 23, and even vaster from 23 to 24. Saturday would be week 23, day one, and would bring with it about a 300% increase in viability.
On the sixth floor they have rooms for family members of admitted patients for cheap. The beds seem like hand-me-downs from remodeled patient rooms. Linens, too, slightly stained and rough, the bed sheets reminiscent of the hair on troll dolls. As though they were raised like sheep for wool, but also it’s a humane troll hair farm, so they wait for the trolls to die naturally, which is why the sheets are white. Because old trolls. Also the headboards have a particularly coffinesque feel.
When my wife arrived here on Monday they did an ultrasound and measured Alex’s weight. 22 week expectancy is around 450 grams, which is less than a pound, but their initial estimate of Alex’s weight was about 500, which is over a pound, and which is another critical milestone in growth, statistically speaking. Over one pound, the odds drastically increase. Later on, after I got here and the nurses that were helping us get settled into the delivery suite were going over the file, they mentioned this estimate and how it was good and then both of them saw the exact number at the same time and said oh! like in surprise but a good surprise. 580 grams! Wow! That’s really good! they said. And I swelled with hope and senseless pride that my baby can grow well. But also hope, that maybe our baby’s 22 weeks and two days might be more like other people’s babies’ 22 weeks and six days.
Today the doctor was going over the stats with Gretchen’s dad and looked up the notes and said, sooooo, weight at check-in was… 498 grams.
Not that I hadn’t felt doubt by then, of course. Not that the whole car ride up wasn’t a delirious somnambulant stupor punctuated by crying jags triggered by invented thoughts of condolences from people wanting to help out with our dogs. Not that I haven’t needed an occasional walkabout out to the car to ostensibly change hats and then found myself sitting in the driver’s seat and wailing my little caboose off. But I liked 580. It was a number to hang your hat on. 498 g is in the 47th percentile, just below average. What’s to feel pride about in just below average? What hope is to be found in a number like 47?
So yes, it has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. And subsequent nurses have tried to figure out where the 580 might have come from, because nobody can seem to find it in the notes anywhere, and they’re assuming it was the estimate from the bedside sonogram which is a less accurate measure, typically. And yet, I’m still feeling more 580 than 498. I’m never really a glass-is-half-full type, mainly because if I’m thirsty I don’t stop to observe the glass’s contained volume relative to its capacity, I just drink the thing. But Alex doesn’t seem to be worried, himself. They say his lungs will have trouble developing at the same pace without the amniotic fluid around, but he’s still moving about, flexing his muscles, which to me indicates his lungs are also practicing providing those muscles with oxygen. We have a lot of support. A ton of support. People are reaching out from places I’d forgotten I’d ever been, and beyond. Even if we were in poor spirits, I don’t think we could be there for long with all of the love being sent in our direction. So thank you, all of you. Every last bit of it is appreciated.
We are still on the edge, but it feels like we have a good grip.
There are two sets of elevators about thirty yards apart in this wing of the hospital. One is for staff, the other for visitors. On the floor where I have a sleeping room, this motivational sign was put up between the two sets of elevators:
Which is hilarious but also, as intended, motivational. The difference between doctors and visitors is of course more than attitude, but I’m in the 580 club. Both of us are. All three of us. And we are overwhelmed by all of your support.
Thank you, all.