IMR: Entries: 2002: October: 14 — Monday, October 14, 2002

On the Verge

Zac is spending one more night in intensive care. But we're glad for it.

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As Zac's eyes open, we bring things to look at. Katie finally comes to visit Zac.
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Katie evaluates Zac's vitals on the monitor. Katie is happy to sing and talk to her brother.
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Katie and grandma discover the playroom. Batteries? Who needs batteries?
Sunday morning came. I was exhausted. But strangely, I was starting to get used to it: seeing the world through a fuzzy, washed out filter, feeling the tips of my fingers tingle if I didn't move them, and the scent of cold, sharp nothingness burning my nostrils.

Sunday brought a forgotten-about wrinkle in the form of Katie's weekly swim class at the downtown YWCA. She'd already missed the previous session for Zac's baptism, and she wasn't about to be denied again. (Indeed, it was to be her last class for the Fall Session.) So while I wanted nothing more than to collapse unconscious somewhere, anywhere, I nearly shorted out my brain trying to figure out how to get Jen to the hospital, Katie to the pool, and me to bed in the next hour.

Of course, I called mom. She said she was on her way.

I decided, for some reason, it would make sense for everyone to be at the hospital, so I went home to get the girls. We got back to the hospital and parked the van before Jen finally got up the nerve to ask, "What are we doing?"

"I guess Katie will wait here for mom, while you go in and be with Zac, and after mom comes, I'll go home."

Katie, though, wasn't at all thrilled with the prospect of sitting in a van with a half-asleep zombie — especially knowing that she was, at that moment, closer to her long-missing brother than she'd been for days.

Jen and I knew that we'd let Katie visit Zac, eventually. We always answered her questions honestly, we explained Zac's condition and surroundings in simple terms, and she'd even seen some of the pictures I'd posted online. We didn't know when she'd be ready, but suddenly that morning, we decided she was.

We all went in. Katie was eager, but obviously sensed the seriousness of the situation, and walked slowly and silently. We introduced her to the PICU staff, and let her climb up on a chair next to Zac's bed.

The intial sight of her brother, I'm sure, was quite a shock. In the back of my mind, I figured I was probably witnessing one of my daughter's first "earliest memories." But she was more sad than scared, and seemed to almost immediately dedicate herself to the cause of cheering Zac up.

Zac, I'm sure, is a few days away from even thinking about smiling. But he seemed content to watch her through his ever wider, brighter left eye.

She held his hand and called his name. "It's okay, Zac," she said, soothingly. "Just breathe."

I was glad that Katie was taking it so well, as was Jen. And soon enough, Katie was splitting her attention between comforting her brother and charming the hospital staff. Confident all was well, I snuck back out to the van and passed out instantly.

When mom arrived to take Katie to the YWCA, she decided she wanted Jen there. So I was pulled out of my short slumber to stay with Zac while everyone else hit the pool. Zac's nurse, at least for half the day, was a 30-something blonde woman named Mary. She explained that they were still watching his fluctuating pulse, and now, slightly high blood pressure. She assured me, though, that Zac was pretty much ready to be discharged from Intensive Care, with the primary challenge being finding space downstairs "on the floor," in the Carter Wing.

When Jen, Katie and mom came back, we all headed down to the cafeteria for lunch. Everyone had cheeseburgers.

I told Jen that they were just waiting for an open bed in Carter. She frowned. She said she was really impatient to get Zac home, but she also was afraid Zac wasn't quite ready to leave the PICU. While dips in heart rate are pretty tame, she couldn't stop thinking about how her father and I (to a milder extent) have sleep apnea, and whether Zac could too. So I encouraged her to go and talk to the attending doctor.

Impressively, she did.

By the time mom, Katie and I followed her back up to the PICU, the decision had been made: Zac would stay one more night. I had never seen Jen more relieved. And as it turned out, she didn't even have to talk to anyone. The attending, Dr. Chang, made the call while we were eating downstairs. Not knowing Zac's "baseline" (normal, pre-surgery stats), they just wanted to be sure the slow heartbeat was just an extra deep sleep, and not a surgery-related problem.

Everyone on staff who came by made it a point to apologize for the extended stay, but we were happy to tell them we didn't really mind. While my insurance company might have something to say about it, the fact of the matter is we were worried about the same thing the doctor was.

The nurses, who were being especially forgiving of Katie's random and repeat observations ("That's my brother! His name is Zachary!"), soon let her in on the big secret: there was a play room full of toys and games on the second floor. She lit up, they wrote up a special pass, and mom took her down.

After making sure Katie wasn't going to get into too much trouble in the playroom — nicely appointed with computers, arts-and-crafts supplies, and an outdoor area with things to climb, ride, and throw — I went home to sleep.

Two hours and a much-needed shower later, I was back in the PICU.

Jen was beaming when I walked in. Jen got to breastfeed Zac, and it seemed to be just what the doctor should have ordered. That is, Zac was fussy and impossible to comfort with either attention or drugs, but after he got some fresh milk straight from the tap, he seemed to become an entirely different patient. He was relaxed, stretching luxuriantly, his right eye was now starting to open, and his readings were so strong he was taken off the oxygen completely.

The PICU staff, meanwhile, seemed to have fallen in love with Katie — I found her behind the "Staff Only" desk, drawing. And sharing Katie's excitement at seeing both of Zac's eyes open, Zac's afternoon nurse, a guy named Si, assembled a homemade mobile to hang over Zac's crib.

I set up the store-bought, scientifically designed mobile I'd brought from home right next to it. Now Zac was getting a double-dose of visual stimulation.

When the 7 p.m. shift-change ritual began, we all snuck out to KFC for a tasty, greasy dinner. Then, everyone else went home, and I went back to the hospital for what would be, almost certainly, Zac's last night in the PICU.

Zac's nurse was Brandy Green, a warm blonde-haired woman I was sure was from the Heartland, but who turned out to be from Canada. She too, it turned out, was assigned to Zac for only half a shift, but only because she was needed for a new patient being MEDIVAC'd in from Hilo. Zac's nurse after that was Jennifer Warren.

Zac started to get fussy at around midnight, so I decided to try bottle-feeding him some of the breastmilk Jen had been dutifully stockpiling in the PICU fridge. I was doubtful, but Zac ate... and how.

Based on the rate he was being fed breastmilk through a tube at the time, he basically sucked down six hours worth of milk in ten minutes. Impressed with his performance, they disconnected (but left in) his feeding tube soon afterward.

And just like that, he was flying solo. Besides the disconnected feeding tube, all that was left on him were a couple of IV lines in case he needed drugs (although he was taking painkiller orally pretty well), and the standard array of monitors.

As he slept, I watched "Kiki's Delivery Service," then flipped through every page of the Sunday edition of the Star-Bulletin.

At about three in the morning, Zac woke up, mad as hell. I tried to feed him again, but this time he didn't seem to be in the mood. I even took him out of bed and tried to feed him in the rocking chair, to no avail. Formula instead of milk? Again, no go. He seemed to be sucking on the bottle, but for all the movement and noise, the bottle stayed full.

As a last resort, we switched the nipple on the bottle, going from a fancy orthopedic nipple to a standard, simple one. And that did the trick. Now he was getting milk, and he was happy. He was also exhausted, and fell asleep before finishing the bottle.

He made up for it at 5 a.m., though: two full bottles of milk in twenty minutes. And it turns out, it was the last of the milk. I woke Jen up a few minutes ago, and told her she'd need to "fill 'er up."

Zac's awake now, and studying his mobiles. (He follows them with his eyes when I move them.) He also seems on the verge of smile, now and then. Perhaps seeing his mommy again will do the trick.


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© 1997-2008 Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: [ PGP ] · Created: 13 November 1997 · Last Modified: 14 January 2008