Monday, August 15, 2005

Ethan Part 12: Home at Last

Parents to arrange follow up neuro & eye exam in 1 month. Basic baby care reviewed. Discharged to parents.

- Ethan's medical record, 1 month old

The days in the CCN seemed to drag more than the NICU days had. Ethan was healthy, from all we could see. He was eating voraciously, gaining weight, and needed no medications. Every day we visited for hours, and every day we asked: "When can we take him home?" The doctors continued to be cautious. They didn't want to discharge him too soon, just in case he developed more problems. It was driving us crazy.

By the time he was 3 and a half weeks old, he had passed the magic "5 pound" mark. We thought it was time for him to be discharged. But then a day went by. And another. The doctors just wanted to be extra safe. They weren't quite sure he was ready yet.

One Sunday morning we went to the hospital very early. We hoped to meet up with the doctor on call, and sell our case that Ethan was ready to go home. The pediatrician on call from the group was Dr. B, one of the doctors that we hadn't met yet. When he saw us on our way in, he looked at Jete and smiled. "Hi! What are you doing here?"

Jete recognized Dr. B and introduced me by his first name. Coincidentally, he was a family friend who had known Jete for a few years. Since Jete hadn't learned all the doctors' names, he hadn't realized that Dr. B was one of Ethan's pediatricians.

Jete told Dr. B that Ethan was our son. He explained our frustration, that we were ready for him to go home and we wanted to know when that could happen. Dr. B seemed comfortable once he realized he knew us. He said he'd review Ethan's chart and see what he could do.

We went to visit with Ethan while Dr. B reviewed the chart. He came to Ethan's bedside and put the chart down. "Are you ready to take him home?" We both nodded. "Well, I think he's ready. You can take him home today."

We were shocked. We didn't think he'd discharge him so quickly. On a Sunday. We thought there'd be paperwork, some other red tape holding things up for a few more days. We were so used to waiting, we couldn't believe it was as simple as that.

He explained that everything seemed in order, that Ethan was stable and obviously thriving. He could tell we were dedicated to doing all of the care ourselves when we came to visit him. There was no reason we couldn't do all of that at home now.

There were a few loose ends to tie up. The hospital required a car seat test for all babies leaving the NICU/CCN areas. And of course, there was a more important task to complete. Ethan still hadn't had his baby pictures taken. We told the nurse, and she made a call to the photographer to come up as soon as possible.

Jete and I headed out. We got a quick lunch, knowing this would be the last meal we would eat together, just the two of us, for quite a while. We ran home and got Ethan's car seat, still packed away, and an outfit for his first official pictures.

When we got back to the hospital, the photographer was waiting for us. She was very nice, and took almost a dozen different shots. Ethan cooperated throughout the whole experience. He kept his eyes wide open, staring at the camera, never crying.

The car seat test involved strapping Ethan into his seat and hooking him up to the oxygen monitors. If at any point the monitors went below a certain point, it indicated he wasn't ready to travel yet. We strapped him in, and had to use an extra towel to pad his head. He looked very tiny once he was in the seat. He had seemed so big to us. Then again, compared to how he started, he was.

Ethan passed the test with flying colors. He actually napped comfortably in the seat, which we took as a good sign. Finally, the nurse turned off the monitors, looked at us, and said, "He's all yours."

The nurses handed us tons of papers to take home. The NICU number. The pediatricians' number. The breastfeeding hotline. Pamphlets on post-partum depression. Shaken baby syndrome. Instructions to schedule appointments with all of the specialists in the next month. I didn't care about any of it. I shoved the papers in a bag, and packed the rest of Ethan's onesies and blankets from below his bed. I grabbed the blue teddy bear we had placed in the corner of his bassinet. Soon, this bed would belong to someone else's baby.

Jete put Ethan's hat on and covered him snugly with blankets in his seat. We said goodbye to the nurses. It seemed like everyone was wishing us well. They cut off the hospital band from Ethan's foot, and cut the matching bands from my arm and Jete's arm. The formerly cross secretary at the main desk smiled as we left the unit. The doors closed behind us. There was no turning back.

We walked to the front door of the hospital. It was snowing outside, so Jete went to get the car while I waited inside with Ethan on a bench. A woman walked by and recognized me. We had gone to high school together and she worked in the hospital. Was this my baby? I pulled the blanket down so she could see better. She oohed and ahhed, congratulations, he was very cute. I didn't explain where we were coming from. I let her assume we were just a regular couple taking our baby home for the first time.

After she left, I looked down at him, still sleeping. He looked normal. I wonder if she could tell what he had been through?

Jete pulled up and loaded Ethan in the car. I rode in the backseat with him. We didn't want him to be alone. I watched him for ages. On one level, I couldn't believe they actually let us take him home. Were we ready to take care of him by ourselves? Would he miss the hospital? Would he be afraid?

I looked out the window and tried to memorize everything. The snow, the cars, the people on the street. Ethan was exactly one month old today. His first mini-birthday. And he was finally coming home.


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