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01/12/2005

Crybaby

I smile when Charlie cries.

He doesn't cry much. When we change his diaper and the cold air hits his bottom, he yowls. When we haven't anticipated his hunger in enough time to speedily deliver the goods, he grunts, frets, and makes little stuttery noises that make him sound like a tiny pissed-off sheep. When we bathe him, he sounds the alarm and people all over town anxiously scan the skies for a glimpse of the Luftwaffe, clutching their ration coupons in a white-knuckled fist as they file into the goddamn bomb shelters.

And I'm right there smiling.

When Charlie had his infection in the NICU, the sign the nurses noticed was that he wasn't protesting vigorously when they checked his vital signs — which were normal — or changed his diaper. "He's normally downright pissy about it," one of them told me later, "so I could tell he wasn't himself."

And indeed he was not. Charlie had sepsis, a blood infection caused by Enterobacter, a strain of bacteria that live in the intestine. The mortality rate among low birth weight infants infected with Gram-negative bacteria like Enterobacter is in the neighborhood of 36%.

Without a fever, without much else to go on, his decreased activity was the only real sign that he was ill. The NICU nurses are generally assigned to the babies they've worked with and know well, a practice called primary nursing. They knew Charlie normally yells, and noticed when he didn't. This knowledge of our son, the knowledge that he dislikes being inconvenienced and registers his displeasure accordingly, quite possibly saved his life.

The day before we left the hospital, the doctor who was treating Charlie during his infection stopped by to say goodbye. We reminisced a bit about the good times — "Hey, remember when you told us you didn't have a crystal ball?...Yeah. You remember. Fucker." Yes, we sighed with nostalgia over those golden moments, those halcyon days. And then he said to us, in a tone of some wonder, "You know, Charlie was really knocking on the pearly gates."

Knocking. On the fucking. Pearly gates.

I love to hear our baby cry. It fills me with relief and joy to know he's unhappy with his bottom exposed, to watch him wind up for a yell as I pour warm water over his naked chest, to hear his cranky lamb sounds as he "eh eh eh"s before his bottle. I'm grateful for every mutter, thrilled by every snit, because they're normal. He's normal. In these moments he is very much himself, and I am very much in love.

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