Installment 2 - Raising Jake, '12 Days Journey Into the Light'
My presence in the delivery room for my son’s birth broke a 56 year old tradition my father started beginning with my sister Adrienne, then on to me and ending with my late sister Eileen.
No matter what my Father was doing as the Messenger breadwinner, Isadore, Izzy to his friends, was a very loyal and dedicated employee; if he was supposed to be at work that is where you’d find him. It was 1943, war time, and my parents were living in New York and my Father was working in a defense plant building tail sections for PBY Catalina’s. My Mother had started her labor as my Father was preparing to go to work. A call was made to the doctor who told my parents to meet him at the hospital. My Father then finished getting ready, called a cab and drove to the hospital. At the hospital he spoke to the doctor, checked my mother in, called another cab and went on to work. My sister Adrienne was born; the doctor called my Father to let him know he had a daughter and after the call, he went back to his assembly line.
When I was born, my parents were living in Durham with my Grandparents; the war was over and my Father was managing a Butler’s shoe store. The same scenario: Mom begins labor, Dad takes her to the hospital, Dad goes to work, I’m born and Doctor calls Dad. With Eileen, my Father owned a couple of shoe stores and we were living in Columbia, SC; but nothing else changed. I’m sure with previous generations of Messengers and child birth, participation in the process was also at a minimum, but here I was, it’s 1999, in a delivery room at Duke Hospital trying to see, hear, listen and comprehend everything and anything about my son who had just been born five and one half weeks premature. We did not know it then, but Jake, Deb and I were taking our first steps on an incredible journey.
Premature, Preemies or Preterm babies are babies born before the 37th week of a woman's pregnancy. However, if you've ever been inside a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), you know that all premature babies are small, have different preterm problems and requiring rather complex medical care; and being five and a half weeks early, Jake was no exception. Jake was born at 34.5 weeks into Deb’s pregnancy. Premature babies are almost fully developed by this time, however, the respiratory system really doesn't finish developing until the last weeks of pregnancy and most may need help breathing for a short time.
If coming into this world too early wasn’t enough for the little guy, he went straight from the delivery room to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and because his lungs were not quite developed, he was placed on ventilator and a feeding tube was inserted. Jake soon began to suffer from Newborn jaundice. Newborn jaundice occurs when a newborn's liver isn't quite up to the task of breaking down red blood cells for excretion. The resulting buildup of the byproduct bilirubin in the body's tissues turns the infant's eyes and skin yellowish. Left untreated, the jaundice could lead to more serious conditions, so Jake began ‘bilirubin’ treatments for his jaundice and was placed on a ‘biliblanket’. On the biliblanket, a blueish light passes through the infant’s skin and helps to breakdown the concentrated amounts of bilirubin into another form the baby can eliminate.
Jake was born early Saturday moring at 3:20 AM and due to his early arrival and the associated problems with his birth, we were originally told that Jake might be in the hospital until he reached his ‘full-term’ date. The possibility that we would not be able to take our son home for six weeks and seeing this tiny little guy with various devices, lines and sensors attached was quite a lot to comprehend; but not at any time did we ever doubt that he would one day come home with us.
By Tuesday, our routine began to settle in. We would go to the hospital in the morning and stay four to five hours; we would go home for lunch and maybe a nap, then back to the hospital until they made us go home. We were taught just how to scrub up for a visit and had to change out gowns each time we left the NICU even if it was just a trip to the cafeteria. At one point, Jake developed an embolism in one of his lungs and had to be taken of the standard ventilator which provided him with a steady stream of air and placed on an oscillating ventilator that provided gentle puffs of air and made it easier for him to breath.
If there any lessons to be learned from what we went through for the first several days after Jake was born; it would be to keep a clear head and not to panic, even if you hear something that sounds very foreign and very scary; do not go racing home to your computer seeking answers that you cannot verify and do not consult friends or relatives who may be a Doctor or know someone who is a Doctor to explain something that you do not understand. Even after some very long days of back and forth to the hospital, Debbie and I would talk about our day and ask each other about what we had heard and what we did not understand or have an understanding of. We would write them down and ask the Doctors the next day.
I’m going to say something here; faith and belief has a great deal to do with getting through having a preterm child in the hospital for an extended period of time and even more when you eventually pick that child up in your arms and take them home. We became friends with parents whose children weighed less than Jake at birth and had been and would be in the NICU for weeks before they could go home. Deb and I live very close to Duke Hospital and even if we take the ‘long way’ could be there in ten minutes. There were parents who lived a great distance from the hospital and would split visitation so one could go to work while the other stayed with their child. Others would drive for hours just to visit for the day, go home and do it all over again the next day.
It was evident that Jake was in a hurry to come into this world and in a hurry to go home. Each roadblock, each hill he had to climb and every adversity he faced- he made it through and became stronger by the day. Soon he was taken off ventilator; he no longer needed the biliblanket and the feeding tube was removed. Eleven days into his hospital stay, October 20, 1999, we were told Jake would be coming home on the 21st, a Thursday
If you remember, Debbie went into labor the day before her baby shower; a shower whose gifts would fit a newborn and not a preemie. We had a crib, but that was it, so on the afternoon of the 20th, a Wednesday, our first real panic began to set in. First thing, tell the doctors to please circumcise Jake before we take him home (Eventhough I had purchased the do-it-yourself circumcision kit- Deb convinced me to let the doctors handle this one). Also in October 1999, there was no place in Durham to purchase preemie clothes or diapers. So it was off to Babies “R” Us in Raleigh. We purchased ‘all’ of the boy’s preemie clothes and diapers they had. (Which wasn’t much?) Deb and I put the crib together Wednesday night and the next day, Thursday, October 20th, Jake came home- to sleep in his crib, in his room, in his house. To this day I cannot remember a time when I felt almost every human and parental emotion that was available for me to feel.
It was a very long twelve day, but now with Jake now home and settling in, Sunday was designated ‘family picture day’. Jake’s two grandmothers, Debbie and I would take our first family pictures with the new grandson and son.
That afternoon, family picture day, as I had done so many weeks before; I went off to play softball. A funny thing here, I was playing and pitching for a team of Duke doctors. We were well into the second of two games when I hung a belt-high curve ball to a batter that could have launched a softball to the moon if he put his mind and weighted bat to it. The very second it left my hand I knew it would be a game ending home run. The batter swung a bit late and hit my perfectly hung curve ball, but instead of going high over the fence, it came straight back at me and hit me square in the forehead. I hit the ground like a ton of bricks bleeding profusely out of a rather nasty gash in my head. The thing I remember the most is none of the doctors rushing to help me. Their girlfriends, a couple of nurses came running and took charge of keeping me awake and putting pressure on the wound. My doctor teammates huddled together and called the ambulance. Someone on my team managed to get my phone number and fill Debbie in on what had happened. Three hours later she picked me up to come home and take our pictures and with Debbie not at all happy with the situation, with twelve stitches in my forehead- I took my family photos. You could not have asked for a more fitting ending to 15 of the most up and down, stressful, exciting and incredible days of our married life.
Installment 3 of ‘Raising Jake’, ‘Some Early Signs’, I will talk about some early signs that a child may not be developing as they should and discuss some myths about child development that may also have parents not looking as closely as they could. If you are finding my blog helpful or interesting, please pass it along to others who may benefit from its content. If you have any questions or suggestions, please send them along to me and I will try and address them as best I can.