Entry 3

Entry 3

Entry 3
A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 30 2002 2:04 PM

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Chillin' at the Vag
Chillin' at the Vag

I never thought I'd be the kind of guy who lives in a motel. We're from Berkeley, but our surrogate, Jessaca, lives in the Central Valley, which is two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic away from our home. When Percy decided to come early, Jessaca went to the nearest hospital and our daughter has been here in Modesto ever since. Nobody said that having a preemie in the ICU was going to be convenient, so we're trying to figure out how to adjust our lives. We've been staying in the fabulous Vagabond Inn, which during the week is one step up from a typical hookers-and-smack kind of place. On weekends it takes that step right back down. Its main virtue is that it's across the street from the hospital, so on those nights when I can't sleep—which is most of them these days—I can be out of bed and at Percy's incubator within three minutes.

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On that first terrible night in Modesto, as Jessaca was due to deliver in 12 hours and all we wanted to do was escape into sleep, a car alarm in the parking lot rang for three hours until the battery died. We thought about renting an apartment and I visited a few, but there was something about them all that seemed so sad and empty. At least at the Vag they change my towels and make my bed every day. We brought in a mini-fridge and we've made a laundry hamper into a filing cabinet. We're very classy people.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling guilty. My daughter was lying in the hospital with a nasty infection, and I was over at the hotel catching up on my sleep. I feel like I should be next to her 24 hours a day. The social workers keep telling us that the best thing we can do for Percy is take care of ourselves, get some rest, drink plenty of water. I know they're right, but I still feel like I ought to be doing something. But it's easy to overdo it with preemies. They don't like to be stroked, and being talked to and touched at the same time is overstimulating. I want to pet her constantly, and I have to hold myself back so she can relax and use her energy to grow.

The crisis mode is passing now, and Shona and I are settling in for the duration. We take shifts at the hospital so we won't go insane from all the sitting. We joined a local gym and Shona's working a fair amount, telecommuting back to the Bay Area. I started back to work a few days ago, and it's actually kind of relaxing to be at the firehouse instead of the hospital.

Living in a motel in Modesto has its advantages. We've created a little island for ourselves centered entirely on the baby. There's nothing for us to do here but be at her bedside, and I think that just by being nearby we're making big steps in bonding with her. I'm starting to know what kind of kid she is. She gets antsy 20 minutes before feeding time, and afterward she always has a period of quiet alertness, where she opens her eyes and checks out the scene. The nurses say babies this small can distinguish only between light and dark, but I think she can recognize me.

Percy's lab cultures came back yesterday. She's got gram positive infections in both her scalp line and on her arm where they poked her for an arterial blood gas. We had a new nurse who was unfamiliar with Percy and said, "Boy, she's a feisty one!" but the downward change from a few days ago is dramatic. It's like something has been dimmed inside her. I guess it's good news that she has an infection. This is something they expected and know how to treat. I was terrified that her cultures would come back normal and the doctor would give me one of those "we just don't know what the problem is" answers that I've come to hate so much over the last couple of years. I'm hoping that by tomorrow her antibiotics will have run their course and she'll be back to screaming and ripping out her lines.

Last night my parents came to visit and we went to dinner at Modesto's best restaurant (no comment), a little Italian place in the back corner of a strip mall. When the waiter told us that the special was a 16-ounce steak, I could see everyone thinking about the meat in comparison to Percy. What a triumph: My daughter's bigger than a steak! She's probably even a steak and a baked potato at this point. It's strange to be able to just leave and go to dinner like this. There's a whole team of doctors and nurses dedicated to taking care of my little girl. I don't have to worry about when to feed her, she doesn't wake me up crying. Last night we hung out with her until midnight, then went back to the Vag and caught the last hour of Top Gun on television. When we finally get her home I'm not going to know how to raise a baby without the assistance of vital-sign monitors and my own personal nurse practitioner.

Zac Unger is a firefighter in Oakland, Calif. His daughter was born three months premature and is in the neonatal ICU.