Thursday, September 13

A Year Ago Today

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In the pre-dawn hours I eat breakfast with Pop and Ian. If I had known that this was the last solid food I would be eating for the next 60 hours, I would have insisted on eating more than an egg sandwich and Ovaltine. Like a trip down the buffet at The Peppermill. Twice. As it is, this egg-sandwich is going to have to work very, very hard.

Ian, Pop, and I show up at the hospital for my scheduled induction. I am promptly shown to a birthing room by a harried-looking nurse who seems to assume that I have done this all before. She leaves the three of us alone to ponder the bed, the gown folded neatly on top of it, and each other. Eventually our labor nurse, Nurse Stephanie, shows up and seems puzzled as to why I am not dressed and in bed waiting to be hooked up to the various machines in the room. She doesn’t seem to grasp that I have never done this before and that I really have no idea what to do. She explains to us that I need to change into my gown and hop into bed. This is almost as confusing as the first time I had a massage. You mean totally naked? Yes? Okey dokey.

7:50 am
My OB shows up and asks how I'm feeling while proceeding to try to fit his entire arm inside of me. I mention that I've been better. He announces that I am 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced. This sounds promising to me. He then unwraps what appears to be a chopstick and pokes it right on in there, releasing a flood of amniotic fluid onto the bed—the same bed I'm supposed to lie in for the next several hours. I kind of thought that they would use some sort of bucket or bedpan to catch this deluge, but apparently I am just supposed to lie in this nasty mess. How fun. Meanwhile, Nurse Stephanie continues to poke my hand over and over, trying to get the IV in and working. She doesn’t seem to be very good at this.

I am officially in labor. On my right I am hooked up to a monitor that records my contractions (via the sensor wrapped around my belly), the baby's heart rate (via the sensors stuck on her head inside me), and my blood pressure (via an automatic blood pressure cuff that goes off every 15 minutes). On my left is an impressively arrayed IV rack that holds bags of fluids, pitocin, and antibiotics, all of which are wired into my arm. I feel like I'm in one of those creepy cocoons in The Matrix. I am still leaking fluids as though I am in a perpetual state of bed-wetting. Nurse Stephanie tells me that I am having contractions 3 minutes apart, but they're so mild that I barely even feel them.

My mom shows up, and Ian departs to buy me some lip goo, one minor necessity I have forgotten to pack. I am comfortable and happy—my leaking stopped a while ago, and Nurse Stephanie has provided several thick cotton pads to separate my skin from the soaked bed. We watch A Baby Story on the TV, and I contemplate the irony of watching a woman give birth on the television while I myself am giving birth. I mock the woman on television for not getting her epidural—I will not make that mistake. The blood pressure cuff is pissing me off. Every time it swells up, the Velcro pops open, setting off a very noisy alarm on the monitor. After about the fifth time that she has to answer the alarm, Nurse Stephanie goes off to find an “extra large” cuff, leaving me with a complex about my upper arm flab.

I get "checked" (read: violated) again and am now 4 cm dilated. My contractions are 2 minutes apart. Not bad. The contractions are still very manageable, although another stomach pain is making itself known—I’m hungry. It is time for lunch! Nurse Stephanie brings me green Jello and some Saltines. Uh, thanks, lady, but I didn’t get this body on Jello and crackers. Nurse Stephanie informs me that I won't be allowed to eat anything solid until the baby comes. WHAT?! What kinds of sadists run this place?! Fuck. Matilda better come soon.

I can feel the contractions now. Unpleasant, but totally bearable. I still decide now is a good time to ask for my epidural. No use waiting until I’m actually in pain. Ian takes the opportunity to go grab some lunch. I warn him that anybody entering my room with food will be stabbed in the face with an IV needle. He decides to eat in the cafeteria.

Dr. Feelgood (aka, the anesthesiologist) shows up. I don’t look at The Very Large Needle he’s about to insert into my spine, but, based on the look on everyone’s faces, it ain’t pretty. Happily, the procedure is nearly painless and not at all disturbing. The pain begins subsiding almost immediately. I thank Dr. Feelgood profusely. He is my new best friend.

Nurse Stephanie checks me again. She pauses, feels around some more, pauses, and feels around some more. There is a look of confusion on her face. I become worried. "How's it going?" I ask. "Well," she begins, and feels around some more (at this point, thankfully, the epidural has erased all the discomfort of having someone stick their hand into my cervix), "I don't think I feel anything. You're 9cm dilated." We are all shocked. I'm almost there! I can't believe it went so fast! I am a master of childbirth! I am ecstatic that everything has gone so quickly and so easily. Soon I will be giving birth, and then I can eat! Hooray! Mom and Pop are proud of me. Ian beams. I feel like a natural woman. I think, maybe I shouldn't have gotten the epidural after all...this is a piece of cake! Oh hubris.

Ian goes to get something to drink. Nurse Stephanie warns him not be gone long; the baby will be coming soon. She prepares for the birth, unfolding the baby station and turning on all the machines. It’s time to have a baby.

We do some practice pushes. Because my epidural is still so fresh, I can't feel a thing below my waist, so I just make a scrunched-up pushing face like the ladies I see on TV and will myself to push, although I'm not at all sure if I'm succeeding. Nurse Stephanie says I'm doing a great job pushing, but we're still at 9cm, so it's not time yet.

Nurse Stephanie checks me again. Still at 9cm. She seems confused by this. I am so hungry I want to eat her.

We do some practice pushes again to see if that gets things moving. This time, Nurse Stephanie seems perplexed. "There's still some cervix." She goes to get another nurse for a second opinion. This nurse checks me and glares at Nurse Stephanie with a look that obviously says, "You messed up so bad, but I'm not going to say anything in front of the patient, lest we freak her out." I ask her, "How many centimeters?" She pauses, "5.5 to 6." Oh. My. God. My heart sinks. The mood in the room darkens considerably. My stomach growls. I cannot believe that Nurse Stephanie was SO wrong. I cannot believe that I am so far behind. I am not a birthing goddess after all. I suck. And I am hungry. Shortly thereafter, the OB arrives and confirms that I am only 6cm dilated. He seems disappointed. Everybody is disappointed. I want a drink.

Things start to get kind of blurry in the timeline here, as I have lost all my momentum and am delirious with hunger. I get several visitors: my sister and her boyfriend, my friends Mike and Crystal, and Micaela. Ian, Mom, and Pop take turns going out for breaks so that they can trade out the guest passes with other visitors. It’s like an open house in here! I love it. Some women don’t like to have lots of people around when they’re in labor, but I am starving, and anything to distract me from my hunger is welcome. Nurse Stephanie goes off shift and Nurse Somebodyelse takes her place. The epidural wears off and I experience about half an hour of painful contractions before Dr. Feelgood shows up to top off my epidural. I do very well with the contractions—breathing through them, keeping my eyes open, relaxing my face—and everyone is very pleased with me. I imagine that I could probably handle the labor without the epidural, but then I think…Why? Given the choice between severe pain and no pain at all, I'll always go with no pain at all. But did I mention how hungry I am? By now, my hunger pains are nearly as intense as my contractions, and the epidural doesn't do anything to help the hunger.

I have been sleeping for about an hour when the OB arrives to check on me. I am at 7 cm. He says I need to start thinking about a c-section because I am not progressing well. Should we do it now? He has to zip over to the other hospital to deliver another patient, so if we don't do it now then we'll have to wait until about midnight. Although I am not opposed to a c-section, I'm just not ready to throw in the towel yet, so I suggest that he check me again at midnight and we'll decide then. He agrees that this is a good idea. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have demanded the c-section then and saved myself eight hours of misery. Oh well.

The OB is still at the other hospital, so he calls Nurse Somebodyelse and asks her to check me. I am at 8cm. The OB is very pleased with this and says it sounds like I've started to progress—he no longer wants to do the c-section. He'll be back in a few hours, and we’ll deliver the baby then. I start to cry. Why do I cry? From pain? No, I just had my epidural topped off again. I feel fine. From boredom? No, I have plenty of good company in Ian, Mom, and Pop, who are all still sticking it out with me. From frustration? No, I feel I could go for several more hours if only they'd give me some food! I am crying because I am SO FUCKING HUNGRY! I literally start begging the nurse for something to eat. My uncontrollable sobbing, along with some mildly threatening tones from my father, eventually break her down, and she brings me a piece of white bread and a bowl of broth. Oh goody. It takes the edge off, but only barely.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A new day. I decide to try to sleep so that I don't feel the hunger. Sleep is difficult, though, when a blood pressure cuff starts squeezing the shit out of my arm every 15 minutes. I hate that thing. I hate the nurse. I hate my OB. I hate anyone who ever had an easy labor. Must. Go. To sleep.

I sleep. I wake up. I eat dozens of Saltines. I send my Mom and Ian out on secret Saltine-stealing expeditions, figuring that if I eat enough Saltines, they'll equal one actual meal. They don't. It’s dark in the room except for the lights on all of the machines—all of those machines that are still open and ready for me to have the baby at any minute. I sleep. Ian reads. Pop sleeps. I wake up. Mom reads. Dr. Feelgood has to top me off again. Mom gives me ice and tries to convince me to go off the drugs. Everything seems so surreal—this is the longest I have been in the same room with both my parents since I was 9. I sleep. Ian dozes. The OB comes by while I'm sleeping, but the baby's not ready yet, so he let's me sleep. The OB goes to the on-call room to sleep. And maybe eat, too. Bastard.

The OB checks me again. I'm at 8.5cm. I decide. It’s time for the c-section. I'm so hungry that I'm willing to undergo major abdominal surgery if it means I'll get to eat. They're just about to wheel in another woman for an emergency c-section, though, so I have to wait. Nurse Somebodyelse tells me I should be able to go in at 6am. I don't really care. All I care about is food. I've pretty much stopped thinking about the baby altogether.

Nurse Somebodyelse shaves my pubes and prepares me for surgery. Ian is given his stylish scrub blues to change into. We’re ready.

I am wheeled in for surgery. The one thing that I knew would scare me about having a c-section was the space of time between when they take the woman into the OR and when they let the husband in. Getting prepped for surgery is scary enough without having to do it alone. I dreaded the 15 minutes or so that I wouldn't have Ian by my side.

They wheel my bed up to the operating table, and two very strong nurses lift me onto its cold, steel surface. Immediately, I am in pain. I have been molded into that hospital bed for nearly 24 hours, and the switch to the hard, flat table causes me extreme discomfort. I am concentrating so hard on trying to be calm and comfortable that I can’t pay attention to what is going on around me. I desperately want Ian here so that I can tell him, make him explain to all of these people that I’m not going to be able to sit still because my back hurts so bad. And then I think, my back shouldn’t be hurting! I shouldn’t be feeling anything. I look up at Dr. Feelgood and tell him that my back hurts. He’s busy juicing me up and tells me, “Just give it a minute.” I wait, trying to ignore my aching back, looking at the door and waiting for Ian to enter. The surgical team is busy getting ready to cut. They hang the blue drape in front of my face. They strap down my arms. Dr. Feelgood gives Nurse Somebodyelse the OK sign, and she starts to rub that orange stuff all over my belly.

And I feel it. Not just the pressure, or the cold, but I feel the scratchiness of the swab she is using. I feel the orange stuff dripping down my belly. I FEEL it. I start to panic, and I start to yell. I yell for Dr. Feelgood and tell him that I can feel what they’re doing. He pats my arm and tells me not to worry, the OB will check me for sensation before he starts to cut. They put a heavy cloth on my belly and I feel it. I feel the hole in the cloth where they intend to cut. And Ian is still not there. I keep saying, “I feel it. I feel it.” But my voice sounds weak and I’m not sure if I’m really saying anything at all. I just want Ian. More than anything I want Ian. I’m imagining Ian walking through the door. I hear my OB from the other side of the drape. “Did you feel that?” “No,” I answer, not sure what I was supposed to feel. The next thing I do feel is a scalpel. I lose all connection with any sane or reasonable part of myself and start freaking the fuck out. Right then, Ian walks in.

I feel them cutting. The pain is slightly numbed, but not gone. It feels like somebody with a very sharp pencil is drawing a line across my abdomen. Hard. I feel this repeated, over and over until they’re all the way in. I am trying, trying to stay calm. The last thing I want is to start flopping around when they have a scalpel in me. I focus on Ian. I tell him that I feel it. I feel them cutting. I beg him to do something. I beg Dr. Feelgood (henceforth to be known as Dr. Shithead). I beg him to give me more drugs. He tells me that I have to wait. I try to calm down, try to be a good patient. Ian is rubbing my hand. I look straight up and realize that I can see the large surgical light, that it reflects, that I can see something resembling roadkill in the glass, that the roadkill is my belly.

And then the pulling stars. They are ripping me open to get to the baby. I avert my eyes, madly trying to look at anything besides the light. I squeeze Ian’s hand as hard as I can, but the pain is so bad that I can’t articulate anything. All I can say is “Pain, pain, pain,” over and over again, hoping that Ian will save me, that he’ll leap over the drape and punch out the OB, and that he’ll grab Dr. Shithead by the collar and shake him until he gives me more drugs. But Ian looks pale, shaken—he is as helpless as I am. I look over at Dr. Shithead and start screaming. I can’t help it; it hurts so much. Dr. Shithead leans over my face and tells me, “You have to calm down—your blood pressure.” I shake my head. I need out, out of this torture chamber. “I’ll give you more anesthetic as soon as the baby is out,” he promises. Ian cuts in, “And when, exactly, will that be?” I can tell by his tone that he is on the verge of screaming, too. “Just two more minutes,” Dr. Shithead answers.

Okay, okay, I can make it two more minutes. I try to calm down. I close my eyes and focus inward. I begin to shake violently. I hear Dr. Shithead telling me to take deep breaths. I breathe. I shake. I wait to hear Matilda cry. As soon as I hear her cry, Dr. Shithead can give me more drugs. I wait to hear her cry. Two minutes passes. Something is wrong. There is no cry. People are rushing in and out of the OR. Something is wrong. Something with the baby. The baby is going to die. I am going to die. How did this happen? Where is the baby? Why isn’t anyone telling me anything? I look at Ian again. If the baby is dead, surely it’ll show on his face. I feel more shoving and pulling and ripping, and finally, finally, Matilda is out. She is crying. Somebody tells me it’s a girl. She’s healthy. Ian looks at me, smiling. “She’s out!”

But I don’t care. I can’t care. The pain is overwhelming. All I can think about is that pain going away. And then it hits me. They are going to start putting me back together. I will feel it. I will feel every suture. How am I going to take this? I can’t, can’t do it! I grab Ian’s hand and once again, “Pain, pain, pain.” Ian tells me that Dr. Shithead has already given me more medicine…don’t I feel it yet? “Pain, pain, pain…”

I hear Ian talking. I’m not sure who he’s talking to. I feel good. Comfortable. Warm. Ian’s voice sounds nice…what is he saying? “…perfect…red hair…Tracy’s fine…” I’m fine? That’s good to know. Where am I? I try to open my eyes, but it’s too much effort. I decide to just relax and listen. Ian is talking to on the phone. His mom? He seems to be the only one here. I’m back in a comfortable bed. And I feel good. Where is my baby? Then I hear Pop’s voice. “Is she awake yet?” “I think she’s waking up,” Ian says, and I am. I feel my eyelids blinking, and then I can see. I’m back in the same labor room. It’s empty, and all the birthing equipment is put back away. The nurse comes in. It’s Nurse Stephanie again—I have cycled through another full shift. She tells me everything is fine. I’m fine. The baby is fine. I’ve been given morphine. Well, that explains a lot. Mom and my sister return with pictures of Matilda on the camera. They can’t bring me Matilda; she’s going through her evaluation. I see pictures of her on the tiny camera screen. I don’t recognize her. She looks pink and angry. I give back the camera. I’m just going to have to wait. The orderlies come in to take me to a recovery room. They’re getting pretty sick of me in this department.

I am comfortably set up in my new room. Ian unfolds his little cot and immediately collapsed into sleep. Pop has returned to our house to sleep. Mom sits at my side. They have all seen Matilda. Everybody has but me; I still haven’t seen her. Her temperature is low and they want to keep her under the warmer for a while. They tell me they will bring her to see me at around 10:30. I’ll have to wait. Mom and I fill out the birth certificate form while we wait for the nurses to bring me my daughter.

The door opens. A nurse walks in, wheeling a plastic bin in front of her. In the bin is Matilda. She is bundled up tight, and the nurse puts her in my arms. I look at her, and she looks back. “Hi there,” I say.

I later learned of all the little things that went wrong that combined to create a horrific birthing experience for me. The first is that the day I checked in was only Nurse Stephanie’s third day working on her own. She had only just completed her training and had not yet developed a good sense of how far dilated a patient is. (I’m not mad at her, though—she was SO sweet and even came to visit Matilda and me after she got off shift.) The second is that Dr. Shithead could have given me more medicine, or put me under sooner, if he chose. It is essentially a judgment call on the anesthesiologist’s part, and apparently Dr. Shithead did not think it urgent enough to put me under sooner. Apparently I just should have sucked it up. (I am mad at him!) The third is that Matilda got stuck in the womb, and my OB needed to use a vacuum to get her out. The vacuum in our OR, though, was broken, and they had to send out a nurse to find one that worked. Thus, the “two minutes” that Dr. Shithead promised me turned out to be more like ten.

You’ll be happy to know that The Fates granted me an easy recovery in exchange for my miserable birth experience. I spent three happy and comfortable days in a private room surrounded by friends and family and eating copious amounts of food.

Tuesday, September 4

Summer's Almost Gone

Summer comes slowly to Reno, but leaves quickly. Sometime after Labor Day, it packs its bags and takes off for the Southern Hemisphere. No long, drawn-out goodbyes, no tears--one day it is unbearably hot, and the next day the heat breaks like a fever and it is Fall.

In Reno we say goodbye to Summer by eating copious amounts of pig flesh.

You may remember that this time last year I was 9 months pregnant and packing away two racks of ribs in the all-you-can-eat VIP Rib Village. This year, alas, we couldn't afford to be VIPs and had to stand in line at the rib booths with the rest of the commoners. Above you see me gnawing on an ear of fresh roasted corn because I find fresh roasted corn with butter and seasoned salt to be one of life's greatest pleasures. Ian mocks me for this, saying that corn is "filler" and that I am wasting good rib space. I still ate more ribs than he did--SUCKA!

Matilda doesn't yet have enough teeth to enjoy corn-on-the-cob, but she does love her some ribs, and she got to enjoy the Rib Cook Off being wheeled from booth to booth gumming various bones from the different competitors--ah to be a baby!


I went to Starbucks on Saturday morning and scared the barrista with my burst of enthusiasm at seeing that the Pumpkin Spice Latte was back on the menu. You think they'd be used to crazy women shouting "Omigod! PUMPKIN!" But apparently I'm the only one. (You should see me on the day they bring back Gingerbread Latte!) Then I paused, let it sink in, and then started chiding the poor barrista: "Wait a isn't fall yet! It's only Labor Day!" She looked at me, confused, and kind of shrugged. I declined the Pumpkin Spice Latte, informing her that things just taste better when you wait for the appropriate time. Like how I won't drink eggnog before Thanksgiving no matter how much I love it. I love Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but not until Fall, and Starbucks should wait at least until the Equinox.

Then I opened the door this morning and what should I feel but that cool, brisk gust of air that signals the arrival of Fall. I felt sad and started missing summer immediately. This afternoon I noticed that the tree in our yard was already sporting a few red leaves. Goodbye, Summer! Time for me to go get my Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The last picture of Summer