Friday, August 5, 2016

Memoir Excerpt: Hannah's Birthday

I've been writing a memoir about my family and my athletic career.  I'm not sure who's going to care about it, but this is a project that my wife and have been talking about for several years now.  Basically since my dad died.  In theory, we're going to sync our stories and talk about how we complete each other, how athletics and our marriage saved our lives.

Me and Sally in the Mess Hall during my 20th Reunion.

I know I shouldn't share the excerpts before they're all together and in context, and I especially shouldn't share this one because I wrote most of it just this morning.  But.  Writing this piece almost brought me to tears.  Also, this is the story of me and my wife both, and this part concerns Sally quite a bit.  It's past time to share some of that.

If you're wondering, the memoir currently sits at 62K words covering approximately 172 pages.

Swim, Bike, Run, Live, Love, Repeat
Chapter 9 (Excerpt): Hannah's Birthday

I was on call one night with a hit utility pole in the North Bronx when Sally called me hysterically to tell me that she was bleeding uncontrollably.  I rushed home, thankful for once that my boss had been on the scene with me, and held her in my arms, wondering what I could do.
“God,” I prayed, “watch over us and give us strength.  Help us keep this baby safe and get through these next few days.”
I took Sally to the doctor the next day, and it turned out that everything was fine.  She’d somehow gotten a pocket of blood lodged beside the baby’s placenta.  Her bleeding was actually a good thing since it meant that this was clearing, but it had scared the crap out of us for obvious reasons.
This brought up another issue, though.  I could be on call at any time, and I was not always within easy driving distance of home.  Sally was going to go into labor sooner or later, and I wasn’t in a position where I could necessarily drop everything and get home in a couple of minutes.  I also couldn’t just change my work schedule.  New York City still needed me.  My job kept people’s lights on.  As I was coming to learn, electricity wasn’t some nice-to-have luxury, not in the City of New York.  People actually depended on what I did.  Not just Sally, but a lot of people, even if they didn’t know it.
Had we had friends or family close by, things might have been different.  The reality, though, was that Sally and I had only each other.  There was no one else.  My friends and classmates were scattered across half the globe, mostly serving in uniform God-knew-where.  My folks were in Tennessee, but I wouldn’t have counted on them even if they’d been living next door.  Sally felt the same about her own family.  They simply weren’t to be trusted, not for something that was important.  We were as liable to get excuses, tragedy, and drama as we were actual help.  
We were having a baby, but we were doing it on our own.  That was the only way to look at it.  We had to figure out how to make it happen.
We talked this over with Sally’s doctor and decided to induce labor on a day when I knew ahead of time that I could be there.  A quick glance at the calendar showed that Friday, September 26, 2003, would be exactly forty weeks.  We set this as the birthdate for our daughter Hannah, I scheduled a day of vacation in advance, and we avoided any potential complications with traffic or overhead electrical emergencies.  This all made Sally nervous, but I felt blessed to have a doctor who would work with us, to live in a time when the miracle of childbirth was a thing you could schedule through Microsoft Outlook.
The day came, and we bundled Sally into the car for the drive up to Hackensack Hospital.  She’d been walking daily and doing pregnancy yoga, and though she was big with the baby, she was also the fittest would be mother I’d ever seen.  She’d been preparing for childbirth like a cyclist preparing for a stage race.  By the time we got to the hospital, she was more than ready to hit the line.  The hospital staff got us settled and then broke her water, and when that didn’t trigger labor, they started a drip of pitocin.  We waited.  Sally beat me in three straight games of Scrabble as her contractions gradually increased to a level that was obviously uncomfortable, dilating her cervix and preparing her body for childbirth.  
After a while, this became a metagame.  “I’m having a baby, and I’m beating you at Scrabble.  How smart did you say you were again?  Tell me about that time you got into Harvard; I don’t quite remember all the details.”  In my defense, I’ve never said that Sally’s not smart, or that she’s not as smart as me.  She put herself through Boston University and earned a Master’s degree from Columbia.  She is also exceptionally good at Scrabble.
All of this was challenging but still basically fun until Sally got to about six or eight centimeters dilated.  Hannah’s vitals took a bad turn, and after a little dithering, the doctors decided to put in an internal fetal monitor.  This only served to heighten the alarm, though, and by now, Sally’s contractions were coming hard and fast.
A nurse said, “You’re almost ready to push!”
Sally said, “I can feel it!”
And then the doctor cried out, “Don’t push!!!”
It was too late.  Sally was ten centimeters dilated, and she needed to push.
“We need to do an emergency C-Section,” the doctor told me.  His face was intense.  Whatever was happening, he was seriously concerned.
Sally protested weakly, but I overrode her and said, “Do it.”
The room burst into chaos.  Nurses grabbed me and wrapped me in scrubs.  The doctor himself wheeled Sally into another room, telling her not to push even as she continued to protest.  In another moment, everyone had disappeared.  I stood in hastily assembled scrubs in a quiet delivery room, wondering if my world had just collapsed in on itself or if I was about to be a single father.  A quarter of an hour passed during which I stood in the dark in dumbfounded silence.  I’d had everything I’d ever wanted, and now I was wondering if it was all about to be taken away.
A nurse came to me in time, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me numbly into another room.  A pan sat there under a warming light, and a nurse set Hannah--crying--into the pan like some kind of store-bought pre-roasted chicken at the grocery store.  I didn’t know where Sally was or how soon--or even if--she would be able to comfort our daughter, but I remembered that babies sometimes hear the voices of family members in utero.  I held my finger where my daughter could grasp it in her tiny hands, and I started talking to her.  I tried to stay calm, to keep my panic for my wife from reaching my voice.  This must have worked because Hannah calmed instantly.
“It’s going to be okay,” I said.  “We’ll figure this out.”
We sat like that for twenty minutes.
The doctor appeared at last, looking like he’d just done the Bayonet Assault Course at the United States Military Academy.  He was happy, though.  That much was obvious.
“She’s going to be alright?” I asked.  I already knew the answer.
“She’s fine,” he said.  “The baby’s head turned at the last minute.”  He shrugged.  “I guess she wanted to see what she was going.  But her head was too wide to fit through the cervix at that angle, and that put pressure on her arteries in her neck, and it might have even snapped her spine if she’d come out vaginally.  We had no choice.  We had to do an emergency section.”
“Thank you for saving them.”
He shrugged again.  “Thank you for letting me do my job.”
“How soon can I see her?”
“It’ll be awhile yet.  Maybe an hour.”
“Okay.  We can handle that.”
As long as Sally was okay, I figured that we could handle anything.

1 comment:

  1. Dan, I am really enjoying your snippets of memoir. I am grateful to get a glimpse into your and Sally's lives in hindsight, and simultaneously a little sad about how life drifts people apart (wish I could have been there). Love this story- an exciting and terrifying start to parenthood. I love your memoir project- and I love you and your family, friend, even if we are mostly facebook close now. :)