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12/07/2004

A funny thing happened on the way home from Connecticut (part...um, whatever)

Something was making me itch all over. I suspect it was the magnesium sulfate, a bag of which dangled over my bed like a pinata (if, in fact, pinatas prevent seizures — note to self: sift through journal articles). My mouth was parched and I felt jittery but exhausted. A blood pressure cuff clenched the flesh above my right elbow, taking its measurements automatically every ten minutes or so. I had a hep lock in my left hand. My calves, ankles, and feet were encased in pulsating boots to discourage the formation of blood clots. A Foley catheter drained my bladder into a bag hanging at the foot of my bed.

When he came in from the NICU, Paul, still uncomfortably jumpsuited, brought two Polaroids of the baby, a tiny creature sprawled on his back, skinny arms and legs splayed, face inscrutable behind the tubes, head mostly obscured by a tacky knitted hat. Now I have a confession to make, and I hope it won't upset my friends here who've had babies earlier than I did: I was relieved to the point of tears to see that he wasn't very red. Early babies can have a dark and angry red color to their skin, a fact I've always found distressing. As a rule, I admit I don't find preemies beautiful. Ours was no different. I couldn't make sense of the photos — couldn't yet make sense of the day that had passed — and I didn't look for long.

Somewhere along the line we named the baby Charlie. It had been near the top of the list for the few weeks we'd allowed ourselves to discuss names; it was Paul's favorite, a family name on his side. In the moment I was so grateful to him for his steadfast sanity that it seemed like the most obvious, fitting choice. His middle name comes from my side of the family — my grandmother's maiden name, my aunt's middle — and is awfully close to Batman.

I asked about seeing the baby in person, a request that was summarily denied. I wasn't allowed to get up, not even to get in a wheelchair — some boring business about seizures again, which made me feel very impatient. When I wasn't clawing at my own flesh in an attempt to neutralize the itch, or shifting fitfully to make sure the catheter was still firmly plugged in, I was impotently trying to get my dry mouth to mutter a string of profanity.

I'm pretty sure I was delightful.

The nurse brought me a basin and a toothbrush. After brushing, I felt closer to human than I had all day. She brought a set of scrubs for Paul to wear, and extra pillows and sheets for the pull-out chair next to my bed. I know how I managed to sleep; I was doped to the cottony gills with pain medication and what the nurses affectionately called "the mag." I don't know how Paul did it. I know he didn't sleep much, because every time I woke, my face damp from crying as I slept, he was ready to pat my outstretched, hep-locked hand.

I didn't dream at all.

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