Thursday, November 19, 2009

The One About the Man Named Tony and the Boy Named Oliver

Thanks for the picture of Tony, Missy! :)

I think many of you have heard me say this since Oliver was conceived, but it bears repeating now more than ever…..In the 12 years we’ve known each other, Jasmine and I have gotten to know some very special children. And we’ve formed some very special relationships and very special bonds with those same very special children. Some we are directly related to and others we’re “related” to (quotations intended…) But I would be lying if I said she and I didn’t often lie awake in our bed late at night after spending time with our special kids over these 12 years, with only the moonlight streaming in (if at all…) and didn’t feel a small amount of sadness and emptiness with no children of our own. Mind you, Oliver doesn’t justify us as people, or justify our marriage…Jasmine and I built our love brick by brick and while we always left room in our lives for children of our own, I began to have doubts that the stork would ever come. So we were in this place where we wanted a child so badly and yet were content in the love we had made and were continuing to create on our own.

Jasmine was very fortunate to have two siblings, one of which (her sister) was born 10 years after her. This age difference enabled Jasmine to have a nearly maternal relationship with Jade. And Jasmine embraced her role in Jade’s development which in turn gave Jasmine lots of positive feedback about her potential parenting skills.

I have found it’s not fashionable for men to discuss this publicly (or perhaps I’m not engaging the right men on this…) but, despite having a strong sibling rivalry with my lone sibling (my younger brother Michael with a 6 year age difference) I too, have wanted children since I was very young myself. Of course, I was also the one who came downstairs shortly after my brother was brought home and asked my father while pulling on my coat in the living room one random morning, “Is this the day?”

“Is this WHAT day?”, my father asked in return.

“The day we take him back?”, I asked with unintended irreverent politeness.

The other thing I am reminded of upon Oliver’s arrival Tuesday afternoon is my feelings regarding hospitals. It is a well known trait amongst professional athletes and especially common amongst professional racecar drivers to fear, loathe and otherwise avoid hospitals and doctor’s offices. These places represent the fragility of human life to those aforementioned groups so by “burying that negative sentiment down deep and turning it into something else”, the athlete and driver deny its existence, thereby denying to themselves that anything will ever “happen to them”. In turn this thinking increases the focus on performance and leads to more positive results. Or at least that’s what these men and women tell themselves to sleep at night…

Of course, the closest I ever got to a professional sports career were a few seasons in Hockey North America and a few well-placed, double-clutched downshifts in my parents’ 1984 Ford Tempo back on the hard right turn on Burke Road in nearby Burke, VA where I grew up. You know the turn I mean…Turn onto Burke Road from Rolling Road (near Interstate Van Lines) heading south west. Wind up fourth gear as you pass first the VRE station on the right, then Heritage Square on your left. As you pass the intersection at Burke Road and Liberty Court, shift to neutral, blip the accelerator and then grab second on the gear box and enter the hard right, banked for your pleasure. Take an early exit, and up through the gearbox again. Rinse. Repeat. You can thank me later. No charge, of course. In summary, until Oliver came, I certainly had the athletes’ and drivers’ fear of doctors and hospitals.

In the early 90’s, when I was still waiting for the hospitality industry to “hit me” over the proverbial head and meanwhile trying to live above the living wage I met a man who would change my life forever. His name was Anthony Grzesiak, but I was lucky enough to call him “Maverick” or simply, Tony. And yeah, he was “Maverick” long before Tom Cruise or the McCain/Palin ticket was, faithful readers. You see, “Maverick” was the name Tony used when he talked on this gadget called a CB Radio. But my days on the CB on the Mean Streets of Northern Virginia are for another post, if at all…

In addition to forgetting more about high-end electronics and most importantly their…ahem…cough, cough “acquisition”, as well as the opposite sex, decent restaurants at the best prices and his beloved Oldsmobile Cutlass automobiles than I’ll ever hope to know, Tony taught me, and everyone else who knew him, about life and most importantly…how to look into the very face of death and say, “Not today, sir.”

Tony was born with Type I diabetes. In the mid 60s, a lifespan of 20 years was considered generous for those born with then-called “Childhood Diabetes”. Well, Tony looked at that number and said, “Oh yeah?” and then promptly and personally tacked 10 more years on it. And he did it with a grace and style all his own.

It’s important to me to juxtapose Tony’s life with Oliver’s because one ended in the same kind of place where the other’s began…a hospital. And for me, with rare exceptions, Tony’s battle with diabetes made me think hospitals were really just places people went to be systematically ignored and die. Tony was on several organ donor receivership lists, and was literally minutes away from being prepped for transplants when complications from his diabetes caused his transplants to be cancelled, and the organs given to someone else. In point of fact, I recall three times personally when I was with him when his hospital issued pager went off, signifying it was “time”. And I have no doubt there were many more times, too. And I hope not too many more because no one should or could stand that many near misses at extending their life. So, Oliver’s arrival, in addition to making me feel like I have fulfilled a dream I’ve waited my whole life for has made ME open MY eyes and see the wonderment of our hospitals, the world’s hospitals. I love you Tony, like the big brother I never had. And I know you were there with us Tuesday, man…to see this thing through.

The final weeks of our pregnancy sure were exciting. Oliver’s due date, pretty much from conception, was November 14th. This date was set first by our fertility clinic and later by our OB/GYN practice. And we certainly availed ourselves of all the information, you know? 20% of first time Moms deliver early…Babies arrive early, late…and so forth. But, we had our minds squarely focused on the 14th while trying to remain flexible about the final days.

We had 3 appointments leading up to the 40th week. At each, the lead doctor at our practice noted there was no cervical dilation, nor effacement. On the second of these three visits, the doctor said, “If you were my daughter, this is what I would tell you…your next appointment is Monday the 16th. On your return for that appointment, if there is still no dilation or effacement, then we will either schedule an induction or a C-section. But, Bosco is not dropping into the pelvis. If he’s in this position Monday, which we classify as -2, I can’t induce you because there’s no baby down far enough for your uterus to contract and push against.”

So when we left that second appointment, I said to Jasmine, “Ok, so when we go back Monday and there’s no progress…he’ll schedule one of those procedures for like what? Thursday or Friday?”

And Jasmine said, “Yeah, that’s probably right…”

So we go in on Monday morning, and after seeing there was no change to Bosco, the doctor consulted with his calendar and said to us, “Well, if you were my daughter I’d tell you…How about a C-Section tomorrow at 2PM?” And I looked at Jasmine, and she looked at me and then the doctor and said, “We’ll be there.”

We didn’t talk much on the drive home. I think it was because we were both so stunned that the next day, Tuesday, November 17th would be the day. His day! Our day! :)

Conveniently, our building had significant electrical work scheduled for Tuesday, so with the C-section also scheduled for that day we think that worked out well. The power would have to be off in the building from 9AM – 4PM, we live on the 5th floor and elevators need electricity, right? They asked us to get to the hospital at 12pm so, we made the decision to stay the night with Jasmine’s Aunts. In addition to avoiding the power outage in the building, this also had the benefit of going against any late morning straggling workers as we would be heading away from the city to get to the hospital.

Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of the H1N1 virus was the fact that all hospital tours were cancelled. The child birthing class right before ours was the last class permitted to tour the hospital. So, we had some dry runs to the hospital to orient ourselves about parking and entering but other than their website (which is very good) we didn’t really know what to expect upon getting inside the hospital.

So Tuesday came, and we woke up in the morning. After getting dressed, I had my final meal as a childless man…a bowl of mini shredded wheat and lots of water! And oh, what a clear, beautiful morning! We’ve been fortunate here in the 51st State with some very pleasant and unseasonably warm weather recently and we were so lucky to have that continue for our family’s special day…Oliver’s day!

After a short and uneventful ride to the hospital, we pulled up and I dropped Jasmine off. They offered complimentary valet parking, but you know? I’ve got a nice set of “custom exhaust bearings” and “chrome billeted wiper blade intakes” on the Saturn so, I wasn’t real keen on letting them park it…

We got up to Labor and Delivery and started filling out some of our additional paperwork. We had pre-registered, but it’s a hospital…paperwork is the fuel that they run on. Once that was completed they lead us back to our recovery room where we would prepare and later return after the C-Section. Jasmine got into her surgery gown and they took all her statistics and vitals. And then it was time…It was time for Jasmine to deliver our baby and time for Rob to “cowboy up” and do what he could to help the family.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about being in the O.R. given my psychosomatic disorder about medical procedures. I certainly WANTED to be in there…and my family NEEDED me to be in there…but as recently as the night before I found myself saying to Jasmine, “I don’t think I can go in there…I’m worried if I pass out that I will become the focus in there, when the focus needs to be on you and our son.” Jasmine didn’t really know what to say, and I can’t say I blame her for that.

But then, as I said, it was time. They needed to take Jasmine into the O.R. about 15 minutes before me in order to get the spinal block in place, which would numb her for the procedure from the chest down. After they wheeled her out, I was alone with my thoughts…to use YET ANOTHER sports analogy it was the moment before THE MOMENT as the Gatorade ad reminds us. After a few minutes, I heard the door open and I looked up and Nurse Michelle was handing me a set of scrubs. And then it all just disappeared…my world got so small at that moment and all there was, was the scrubs and my will to do what I needed to do for my wife and our son.

I pulled on the scrubs and began hearing the song “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project over and over in my head. I am NOT a fan of the Chicago Bulls but, this is the song that is played over the P.A. at the United Center when they take the floor. And even if you don’t know the Bulls, I’m sure you’ve heard it somewhere else…

So, after The Alan Parsons Project and I got our groove on, Nurse Michelle led me back to the O.R. Now, if you’ve never been in an O.R. you should know that it’s a bit of a disorienting experience. And this is only me talking. I can’t imagine what it must be like from the actual patient’s perspective! Jasmine’s body was oriented North-South and the door to the O.R. was Northwest. They brought me in and had me immediately sit in a chair next to her right shoulder. The light in the O.R. (again, for those of you who have never seen it…) is like the light of a thousand suns and yet it’s not uncomfortably bright and there’s no real glare. There are just no shadows and the light just bounces off everything.

As I sat down, the awesomeness of the moment bore right down through the top of my head and out my feet. I had a surgical mask on, so no one (especially Jasmine) could see my stupid lips quivering. I put my hand on her outstretched right arm, choked back the force of my typhoon of tears and looked at her and said, “Here we go…” A few moments later, I heard Dr. Mark Siegel our doctor that day say to Jasmine, “Did you feel that?”

“Uh, no…”, she stammered through her shivering, a normal reaction to the spinal block because your body is fooled a bit into thinking you are numb from cold, so it starts the shivering reflex to counteract this.

“Good”, said Dr. Siegel. “I just pinched you. If you could feel that, then we would have to make some adjustments to the anesthesia before going any further.” I’m sure I’ll never be able to confirm this, but I will always feel like that conversation was as much for MY benefit, as it was for Jasmine’s. Because when a person is preparing to cut on your wife, no matter how skilled or experienced they may be, it’s reassuring to know the anesthesia is working at a level it’s supposed to be.

A few moments later I heard Dr. Siegel say simply, “Incision…” and I knew the procedure itself had begun. They have a sterile screen up which when combined with my seated position prevented me from seeing ANYTHING but I still felt the need to stare at the ground in order to focus, rubbing Jasmine’s forearm the whole time.

Then I heard the nurse gasp (in a GOOD way…) and say, “OH MY GOSH! HE HAS A BEAUUUUUUUUUUUTIFUL FULL HEAD OF LIGHT BROWN HAIR!” And at that moment, I looked up and I will always be glad I did because it was just at that moment they were pulling him free. I could just see the top of his head over the top of the drape and of course Oliver was spluttering and winding up his crier. I could tell by Dr. Siegel’s body language that he was making his final grip on our boy and getting ready to fully haul him out. And in the time it takes to smile, I saw our boy…the mighty, mighty Bosco held up in that brilliant light and become our son…for real and for true…as he became the mighty, mighty Oliver Francis right before my eyes.

And with the deftness of McMahon to Peyton on “Sweetness/Power Sweep/Right” or Theismann to Riggins on “44 Blast” or Kelly to Thomas on “K-Gun/Counter Trey/Weak Side” it was Dr. Siegel to Nurse Michelle on “Ollie’s Trolley/Trap/Strong Side”. Nurse Michelle took Oliver and stepped to Jasmine’s opposite side from me, held him up and I took his VERY FIRST PHOTO which we posted here on the blog yesterday. And then they took him over to what they call a “Giraffe Warmer” to keep him comfortable, clean him up and get the last of the fluid out of his lungs. C-Section babies, because they don’t go through all of the squeezing through the birth canal, come into the world a little lethargic at first with lots more fluid internally.

After weighing him and getting his finger and footprints they wrapped him up and the next thing I knew….It was Nurse Michelle to Daddy on “Hardy and Laurel/Double Wishbone/Fullback Lead” and there he was! Right in my hands! A bundled burrito of our very own but neither Chipotle, Qdoba nor Mighty Taco got NOTHIN’ on Oliver Francis! I held him close so Jasmine could see him, too and then waited patiently as the team worked to close her up. After a few minutes, I could smell the cauterization and I would like to confirm to the best man at our wedding and our great friend, Mr. Travis Johnson (also an incredible Father himself…) that yes, it IS a good smell! It’s not a great smell, but it is a GOOD SMELL! Thanks again, T-John! :)

After a few more minutes, they finished closing and apparently Dr. Siegel gave Jasmine a “potato-fist-dap”? But, I missed that…He came around and shook my hand and I thanked him and then I finally gave our boy up to Jasmine and she was wheeled back to our recovery room and I followed.

It wasn’t long afterward that we got back to the room that Oliver took his first meal and he has been eating and making dirty diapers like a champ. And yes, sports fans…the meconium is in play. Repeat…the meconium is in play. Jasmine spent an additional hour in recovery, but finally we moved up one floor and have been in the same room ever since.

And now, while we are again in that same pale moonlight of the darkness of night, just before my eyelids close, I see a blue flash. And when I turn around and look to the door of our room, I get to see Tony right here with us in the hospital, leaning against the door frame, arms crossed with a smile so bright, like that of a thousand O.R.s…just like he always has been.

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