Monthly Archives: December 2008

Challenge week two: the hospital-food diet

Are you participating in our challenge?

Lilah is breastfeeding and has absolutely no interest in a convenient little receptacle into which I could pour pumped milk for her to take from someone else.  Hence, where she goes, I go.

For the past 10 days, she goes nowhere.  For a week, we were in a hospital room together.  Now, we are home, but she needs to be on O2 when she sleeps. Predicting when a two-month-old will sleep is nigh on impossible, so we just stay home.  The only way I could get a walk in would be to wheel the tank along with us.  Not that I am particularly interested in taking her little lungs outside at all…

So, how much weight can a woman lose by hanging out in one room?  None, that’s how much.  I am exactly where I was two weeks ago.  How about you?  What have you lost?  And what can I find you doing?  Because you know where to find me.

Still waiting for the breastfeeing to melt those pounds away.

Part nine: No place like home

Part nine.  Scroll down for parts 1-8.

There is a moral in here somewhere.  Several, in fact.  There is the undeniable truth that kids get sick, sometimes very sick.  Medical care can be the difference between something fatal and something curable.  Shame on the U.S. that not every child is covered.  Every single child.  S-CHIP needs to be expanded or we need universal coverage for all minors.  I saw the disaster of NHS when I lived in London, and I know coverage for everyone is complicated, at best.  But, the children should not be negotiable.

Then there is the lesson that a small kindness – butter cookies, a sandwich – can go a long way.  And the moral about appreciating health care workers.

And there is a tale of strength in community.  When we found ourselves in need, our friends and the congregants at our synagogue were there.  They drove our kids, they babysat, they called and visited, and they let us know they had our backs.  When, in the midst of it all, a notice about a lice case went home, another mother got us the tea tree oil J just didn’t have the time to find.

It takes a village and all that crap.

Finally, as is so often the case, it is about appreciation.  When one is hauling one’s (post-pregnancy) ass out of bed at all hours to feed the baby and lift the four-year-old to the toilet and remove the nasty giraffe blanket from the four-year-old’s mouth, it is easy to forget how lucky one is to have them.  Baby vomit is not such a big deal when measured against serious illness.  Some days, I wonder whether four is too young for boarding school, but the week apart has reminded me of how much I need that obnoxious preschooler and his maniacal brother.  I must admit, I got pretty tired of the wrong food coming and hour late and tasting like it was made of the same material as the plastic pillows.  I wanted to go home: for me, for her, for them.  But, I was damned lucky to have health insurance.  And I’ll bet the mother who did get to go home – to take her son home to have one last Christmas –would have traded illnesses any day of the week.


It’s shout-out time, folks. Here are all the people who made this experience so much easier.  In order of appearance:

Brad, although I really wish he were with us one more week

N.W. – for taking Zachary to her house after school

M.C. – for driving Benjamin home after school

The entire staff of UCLA Brentwood medical offices

Dr. Denise Garvey

The paramedics and firefighters

The nice ER dude who took care of my car and got me a sandwich

Our nanny, who kept everything normal for the boys, filled J in on everything that had changed over the past week, AND packed me a bag, even though I ended up missing her birthday.

The nurses and care providers on the pediatric floor of UCLA Santa Monica

All the residents and attendings

Our Rabbi and the Mitzvah Corps

All of the friends following and supporting on Facebook, because Momma don’t Twitter

Tim – for watching Ben so Zach could make his birthday party

M.F. – who came to visit me

J.B. – for the muffins, which ensured there was a lunch for our boys

My MIL – for coming all the way across the country at a crazy busy time

Coco – for sending love my way

All of you for reading and sending your love

And, of course, Wanda, because she rocks

J – who is the best parenting partner I could have, but especially for the moment when he came to get the car and, even though I didn’t want him to go into the room where Lilah had just fallen asleep, couldn’t help peering in the window at her.

Our boys, who went with the flow, which is definitely not in the elder one’s nature.

Part eight: Counting blessings

Scroll down for parts 1-7.  More to follow.

So, Tuesday morning, I suggested to J’s mother that she should start looking into flights.  Lilah would not be allowed to go home until she was fully off the oxygen.  She was much perkier and ready to play, but she was so congested that her oxygenation levels kept slipping.  There was no telling when we’d be good to leave, J was in crunch mode at work, and the boys were rapidly becoming compost.

Wanda to the rescue again, picking Zach up from school and bringing him in to visit me.  I didn’t let the boys see their sister, both because her tubes might scare them and because they were the little germ carriers who had put her in this position in the first place, so I thought it best for them to keep their fresh batch of germs to themselves.

Tuesday evening, I saw another mother in the hallway.  “You’ve been here since Friday, too,” I commented.  She asked why I was there, and I told her.  “Why is your child here?”

“He’s the oldest on the floor,” she replied.  “He’s twelve.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“They think it’s cystic fibrosis,” she whispered, clearly in the realm between exhaustion, terror, and numbness.  “At least now we have a diagnosis, but they caught it too late to do anything.  He’s autistic, too.”  She seemed to need to talk, although it was hard because she talked so quietly and I didn’t want to get to close because RSV was all her kid needed.  “They think my three-year-old has cystic fibrosis, too.”  I kept nodding and trying to sound appropriately horrified without increasing her despair.

“And they think I’m the carrier.”

All of us mothers are familiar with Mommy-guilt.  We don’t read to our kids enough.  We shout at them too much.  We forget to pick them up in a rainstorm.  They get pneumonia and are hospitalized when they are two months old.  Tuesday night, I saw in that woman’s eyes Mommy-guilt at a whole new level.  She blamed herself for killing her kids by bringing them to life.

“At least now we know what’s wrong,” she said.  “And we’re going to make sure he has a bitchin’ Christmas.”

J’s mother arrived from D.C. on Wednesday morning.  Not the easiest time for her to take off work, but we asked and she came.  J went back to work, and Lilah slowly improved.  She only needed oxygen when sleeping, a point she highlighted by ripping off the tubing that was taped across her face.  We would probably be at the hospital one more night we were told.

The child with cystic fibrosis, however, was going home. Staying at the hospital would do him no good.

Part seven: Pray ’em if you got ’em

Part seven of a multi-part post.  Scroll down for parts 1-6.  More to follow because we’re still here.

In the midst of all this, our Rabbi showed up.  Saturday is sort of the busy day at the office for him, it being the Sabbath and all, but after Saturday night services, he donned an apron and mask and came to watch Lilah getting her breathing treatment.  He’s just that kind of dude.

“How are J and the boys?” he asked.  “Would you like us to take the boys tomorrow?”  When I explained that J had things under control, he asked how they were doing for food.  It turns out that Sunday the Mitzvah Corps was cooking for Synagogue families who have Crap Going On: deaths, births, and hospitalization of two-month-olds, that sort of stuff.  His wife, a kindred spirit I have become friends with, would make sure someone fed my family the next night.

Before he left, the Rabbi said a prayer over my baby.  As I have mentioned here before, I do not believe in God.  I do, however, take any and all prayers offered.  As far as I’m concerned, if someone is offering you the very best he’s got, you’re a fool to turn him down.

“Someone’s bringing dinner tomorrow night,” I informed my husband.

“Oh,” he paused ever so slightly.  “I guess that means no more leftover pizza.”  Another pause, then contemplatively: “the boys’ll be disappointed.”

That would turn out to be the least of our concerns.  Estimates had us coming home Sunday or Monday.  We were hoping for Sunday because it was about the worst time for J to be off work, and someone had to be with the boys if I was not home.  My mother-in-law offered to fly out, but that seemed silly because Lilah would be home by the time she got here.

Sunday rolled around and with it came the party.  Birthday parties are stressful for Zach, so we try not to take Ben along.  It is usually best for us to be able to help Zach through the overwhelming parts without his brother along for the ride.  It stands to reason that none of our regular babysitters were available.  Enter Tim, a bachelor friend of ours from college, who apparently had a lovely play date with Ben while J was helping Zach at the Sunday afternoon party.

By Monday morning, the novelty of having just Daddy began to wear off for the boys.  Zach got on the phone with me to announce he was sick and needed to go to the doctor.

“Do you need to go to the doctor and get a shot?” I asked.

He was silent for a moment, processing the obvious miscommunication.  “No, I just need to go to the doctor,” he clarified.

“Well, she’ll probably give you a shot.  Do you think that’s a good idea?”  He was silent as it dawned on him that this was not the conversation he had planned.  “Or do you think maybe it’s a good idea to go to school and have fun?”

“Mommy, when are you coming home?”  Yeah.  I thought so.

Lately, I have felt incidental in my boys’ lives.  Sure, they are fond of me, but they spend so much time at school or with our nanny or with J that I have begun to feel they are loosening their attachment.  Like I am not really a part of their lives.  Clearly, I was mistaken.

Benjamin had a lousy day at school, weeping, pushing, and biting.  Part of the issue, I suspect, was the gigantic two-year molars that are making their entrance at a remarkably leisurely pace.  The other factor, though, was that Mommy seemed to have disappeared.  J brought him to see me in the afternoon, and I came down in the elevator to meet them so he would not see Lilah wearing the tubes.  Benjamin, perched on Daddy’s shoulders, lunged toward me with a fully lit-up face.  But, when it was time to go, all he wanted was Daddy, which was hard not to take personally.

Everyone was out of sorts.  J was trying to hold down the fort, with some excellent guidance from our nanny who arrives at 11:30 on weekdays, but he also had things to do for work and a flat tire to fix.  Benjamin was crying at lot.  And Zachary pretty much limited our conversations to asking in a small voice, “When are you coming home?”  I had obviously underestimated the extent to which his emotional life was rooted in my presence.

But, Lilah, although greatly improved, still wasn’t getting enough oxygen on her own.   As Monday turned into Tuesday, we regretted telling J’s mother not to come.  This was just not going to be a quick fix.

Part six: Channeling Job

Part six of a seemingly endless series about what is turning into a seemingly endless hospital stay.  Scroll down for parts 1-5.

            Gloria Gaynor was not so successful on Friday, but at some point the next day, when nothing else would calm Lilah, I tried again.  She was attached to a fluid drip, oxygen, and a monitor, so the dancing was pretty subdued, but I did discover that singing “I Will Survive” while bopping along is particularly calming for her, while “Puff the Magic Dragon” seems to piss her off.  Mark that as “file away for future reference.”

            And, so, we spent the weekend in the hospital.  Eventually, they took her off the fluid drip so that she would nurse more, which was a relief because she was not taking her usual amount and so I was pumping to keep up my supply.  The Snot Culture came back positive for RSV, so they took her off antibiotics because clearly the problem was viral.  Unfortunately, this meant they also needed to institute masks and gowns for everyone entering our room so as not to spread the RSV to other patients.  Again, very dramatic.  It was like being in The Andromeda Strain.

            J came home early from work on Friday and picked up Zachary from his friend’s house.  He ordered them pizza for dinner, packing away the leftovers to be eaten on subsequent nights.  He rented them a video Saturday afternoon once I had pointed out that this just might be an extreme enough situation to relax the “one program a day” television rules.  Because it was becoming just that sort of a weekend, J also took them out for ice cream Saturday night, which is when he discovered the flat tire.  Conveniently, we live around the corner from Pep Boys.  Less conveniently, Pep Boys couldn’t fix it and this particular problem needed the dealer.  Which would be closed on Sunday.  And my car was in the lot at the hospital, fifteen minutes away from our house.

            “Everything for tomorrow is cancelled,” he declared on the phone, which seemed to me a bit extreme, given that we had a perfectly good car sitting five floors below me.  “Nothing scheduled tomorrow is essential.”  That, actually, depends upon one’s perspective.  To the adults, swimming lessons and a birthday party are skipable, but Zachary had been planning for his friend’s celebration all week.  Come hell or high water, he was getting to that party.

            I started calling people, but strangely, people weren’t picking up their phones at 8:00 on a Saturday night.  Finally, I caved.  I called Wanda. I hadn’t wanted to, because we call her for everything, and I worry she is starting to feel like the Favor ATM.  She had already helped out several times in the past few days.  But, these were desperate times, and we were beginning to wonder whether we were God’s Favorites.  Wanda – my hero – went to our house to stay with the boys while J took a cab to the hospital to retrieve my car.

            Yes, 9:00 on a Saturday night, after having the boys to himself all day, after leaving work early in the midst of a very busy Friday, after being whined at all afternoon, while his baby was in the hospital, after adding insult to injury with the fucking flat tire, my husband took a cab to the hospital so he would have a car for the next day.  So that his son would not miss a birthday party. 

           Someday, dude, someday Zachary will appreciate just how much you love him.

Part five: Look what’s happened to us, I can’t believe it myself

Part five of a multi-part post.  Click here for earlier parts.  More to follow because we’re still here. Bonus if you get the song lyric allusion in the title.

            We got to the ER, where a very nice man met us and brought us up to pediatrics.  It is a sad statement on this baby’s life thus far that the nurses stopped and said, “I remember you.”  Yes, folks, this is the same floor where we stayed when Lilah was a week old and was jaundiced.  As opposed to the Medical Plaza, which is where we went to get an ultrasound of her sacral dimple and then later to get an upper GI series done to diagnose her reflux.  For a perfectly healthy baby, she is sure costing our health insurance a bucket of money.  She’s only two months old and she is already a veteran of the UCLA healthcare system.

            As the nurses checked us in, the very nice ER man asked me if I needed something to eat.  Seriously.  He did.  And I’ll be damned if the man didn’t go and get me a grilled chicken sandwich from the kitchen.

            The rest of Friday afternoon was a flurry of activity.  Lilah needed fluids and antibiotics, so off we went to insert her I.V., much to her chagrin.  As I took off her top layer of clothing with the nurse, who is a mother of three, I noticed a distinct yellow smudge on the outfit.  “Eh, there’s not enough poop there to change her,” I said to the nurse, who completely agreed.  “That’s how you know she’s a third child.” 

              My daughter is a linebacker of a baby, so it took quite a bit of effort to hold her down and get the thing in.  To calm her, I began reciting books.  “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines…”  One of the nurses joined in: “Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”  I tried singing, despite my tone deafness.  So, and you really need to try to picture this, there we were, me holding the baby, the nurses trying to insert the I.V., and all three women singing “I Will Survive.”

                 As they worked, I looked at the onesie she was wearing, the one I had thrust at Brad six hours and one ambulance ride earlier.  It said very distinctly across the chest: “Tuesday.”  “I guess that’s how you know she’s a third child,” I commented ruefully.

                 Suddenly, I realized that we had missed Zach’s occupational therapy appointment that afternoon.  And that wasn’t my only worry.  I was concerned that, given how I had snapped at him that morning, he might think he had landed his baby sister in the hospital.  Especially since he had been telling me he wanted us to go back into the hospital so his Daddy would take care of him. 

                   I called home and asked to talk to Zach that night.  “Baby, do you know who was really cooperative at drop-off this morning so I could get Lilah to the doctor?  And who went so nicely to his friend’s house so I could take care of Lilah?”

                  “Zachary,” he told me.

                   “That’s right, babe.  Thank you so much.  I couldn’t get Lilah the help she needs if it weren’t for you.”  He seemed to accept his role as Hero of the Situation with humility and good grace, but he had some reading he needed to get back to.

Part four: As the world turns

Part four of a multi-part post.  Click for parts one, two, and three.  More to follow, because we are still here in the hospital.

            After looking at the x-ray, the doctor began bandying about the word “hospital.”  This was not, however, the moment when I started to worry.  The worry started when she summoned the ambulance to drive us the ten minutes to the hospital.  When I realized she did not think it was safe for the baby to spend 15 minutes off of the oxygen, I had to ask the question.

            “This is curable, right?”

            “Completely curable,” she replied, as the nurse showed up to get a booger sample from the baby’s nose to send to the lab.  That’s a job I think I would pass up – Snot Analysis.

            By now it was noon, and I had called the school to tell them that, yes, the other mothers would need to take my boys home.  I was also very, very hungry and unsure where in this scenario I was supposed to get lunch.  Selfish though this sounds, remember that I have breast milk to make.  I asked the nurse whether there was anywhere in the building to get food.  A few minutes later, as the firemen and firewoman arrived, the nurse handed me a baggie filled with cookies. Butter cookies.

            Let me reiterate: if you ever have any reason to interact with the staff at UCLA Brentwood, do not fuck with them or I will have to find you.   These are the ladies who packed me butter cookies for my ride to the hospital with my sick baby.

            The firefighters and I awaited the paramedics who were to escort us in the ambulance, which would arrive shortly alongside the fire engine already parked outside the doctors’ office.  “Oh, my,” I told them, “my sons are going to be so jealous.” 

We realized that we had a problem.  Someone had to hold Lilah in the ambulance, but I also had to move my car, which, you may recall, had been valet parked.  I could not leave it in the building overnight, and I was pretty sure the parking attendants were not going to deliver it all the way to UCLA-Santa Monica.

            Fortunately, there was a woman doing a ride-along in the ambulance.  (I feel like at this point my narrative has the cadence of a Curious George story and this is the point at which I should say, “George was curious.”)  The plan was that she would hold the baby while I would follow in my car, a plan of which the head paramedic clearly did not approve.  But, I am a pragmatic kind of person, and I knew full well that Lilah would not be any better off with me strapped to a bed holding her than with someone else strapped to a bed holding her.  So, the woman seated herself on the bed.

            At which point all pragmatism flew straight out the window and smacked into the tables outside Café Luxe across the street.  There was no fucking way I was letting a stranger hold my baby with the oxygen mask as she rode to the hospital.  The valet could keep my stinkin’ car as far as I was concerned. 

            And then the very nice fire fighters offered to drive my car over for me.  Which is how I rode in an ambulance with the siren on, followed by a fire department car.  I can only assume the fire engine went back to the station to await an actual fire.  As we drove, cars moved out of the way.  I watched through the back window as I held the baby with one hand and ate butter cookies with the other.

            It was all very dramatic.