July 5, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
I’ve posted a couple of stories involving my daughter on this blog. It seemed time to share one about my son. This was originally told as part of my solo Minnesota Fringe Festival show, “The Sins of the Mothers,” in 2011.
When I was pregnant with Maggie, my husband used to joke that I read so many birthing and nursing and parenting books because I was trying to have my second child first.
The truth is that if Aidan had been born first, he would have been an only child. He cried the moment he arrived. The boy was angry. “I’m cold! It’s too bright! I’m hungry!” Maggie slept through the night at five weeks. I don’t think Aidan was sleeping through the night at five years.
We named Aidan after a Celtic saint who founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne in England.
We almost didn’t, though – this was 1989, and it wasn’t a popular name at the time. Also we were afraid he might get the nickname “AIDS.” Aidan didn’t think much of being named after a saint growing up – but he was keen on the fact that in Gaelic, the name meant “fierce.”
My labor was short with Aidan – three hours from the time I checked into Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The nurse who set me up had placed the external monitor that measures contractions, the toko, incorrectly. So while I kept telling everyone the contractions were strong, they kept pointing to the graph on the screen – my husband kept pointing to the graph – and telling me the contractions were mild and that if I’d just relax I’d do much better. When the resident finally came in and adjusted the toko, the lines on the monitor jumped like a geiger counter at Chernobyl. He did the internal exam, and said, “Oh, my. You are in transition.”
They wheeled me into the delivery room at something of a clip. And then the negotiations began. “Now just wait till we move you from the guerney,” my doctor said. Across the room in the mirrored cabinets I could see my son’s head, crowning. He was always an impatient child. “Just wait till I get my gloves on.” Catch.
Aidan went back to Henry Ford once, about two months after he was born.
He had what they thought might be RSV – Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). It had been mentioned at his last checkup, something to be aware of during the winter season. “There’s not much we can do to treat it,” I remembered the doctor saying. What I thought that meant was that, like a cold – which was all RSV basically was in older children – you just had to wait it out.
What she really had meant was that when a child under the age of one gets RSV they need to be as close as possible to a respirator or they might die.
That’s something of a different message. And I had missed it. I, Stay-At-Home Mom, who could quote chapter and verse of every Baby Manual on my shelf, did not have a book with RSV in it, and had misunderstood a simple doctor’s directive. So I had ignored all the warning signs. That he was not nursing well. That he was listless. That he had stopped crying.
When the cold did not get better and I finally called, and described these symptoms over the phone, I was surprised at how quickly the nurse put me on hold. The doctor on call told me to bring him in right away. The waiting room was full, but we were in an examination room in five minutes.
The doctor was younger than me, with preppie clothes under her white coat and a Princess Di haircut.
When she saw my son she sent us straight over to X-ray. They strapped Aidan down on a plexiglass tray, covered his genitals with a lead-lined mat, took pictures of his wheezing chest, and ruled out pneumonia.
“We need to do an arterial blood gas,” she said. “Do you want to be in the room?”
“Of course I want to be in the room!” I said. “He’s my son!” “Hold him still then.” Hold him down was what she meant. I found out later that a blood gas can be quite painful for a baby, especially if it is not done properly, and this was the first time Princess Di had performed one on a child this young. I had never heard him scream like that.
But the results were inconclusive. “We could do it again,” the doctor said as she suctioned the mucous out of his nose. “But I’d rather send him straight to the hospital. They have better equipment there.” I called my husband.
“A cold lasting more than two weeks,” wrote the intake nurse. I bit my lip to keep from crying. “Possible RSV.”
They attached Aidan to a heart monitor – the leads had little smiley faces on them – and another monitor that measured the level of oxygen in his blood. He struggled to breathe. The skin between his ribs contracted like webbing. “Only one of you can be here overnight,” we were told. “Is mom nursing?”
All night I lay in a sweaty, naugahyde, Lazy Boy next to the bed; someone came in every hour to suction and to scribble something down on his chart. Aidan still didn’t want to nurse. After an hour or so I stopped pretending it might actually be possible to sleep, and I just listened to his labored breathing, watched the screen on the monitor, the way the lines went up and down, up and down, with his heart beat, watched the numbers on the black box blink. Thought about that toko. What if these, too, were not hooked up right? It was a long, long night.
But in the morning, Aidan seemed to have turned a corner, and he was doing much better – he even smiled at one of the nurses.
“This boy is sick? No – I don’t think so!!!” she said, while she played with his feet. They never did another blood gas. By the end of the day, the doctor decided it was not RSV after all, and he could go home.
On the way out we passed several rooms where the doors were barred with yellow tape, like at the scene of an accident, or a crime. The babies in those rooms cried constantly. There was no sign that anyone had visited them– no bright balloons, no stuffed animals, no flowers. In black letters on the tape was written “Caution: Biohazard .”
“What’s that about?” I asked the front desk nurse.
She leaned in confidentially, like the desk between us was a white picket fence, built for gossiping. “Those are the AIDS babies,” she said. “Their mothers are crack addicts, mostly. They don’t know the first thing about taking care of their children.
She smiled at Aidan. “What a cute baby. What was he here for?”
I held my son tightly to my chest while the other babies cried. “A virus,” I said.