Thursday, December 6, 2012
Hospital Notes and Baby Names - White Trash in the Snow Chapter 65 and 66
Welcome back! Two chapters in this week's installment. Finally, the baby has a name. Want to guess what it is? Odds are good that you will be right, but the fun is in the journey. So travel with me into the fictional lives of Cristol Saplin and Wrangler Strauss.
Have I ever told you I love Yogi-isms? Maybe I have. Deja vu all over again.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
At noon Dr. Barten-Curtain came in to check on the new mother.
Cristol had been admitted to the maternity ward, in a private room, and her son was in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Rachael and Tad were both there, talking and low tones, and Rachael got up from a chair and extended both arms, expecting a hug from her friend. Instead, Abigail Barten-Curtain offered her right hand. When their hands clasped, the doctor covered their grip gently with her left hand. It felt intimate, yet professional. It was a tool Dr. ABC picked up as an intern. Back in the days of the Clinton presidency, while working on her “bedside manner,” she noticed that then-President Bill Clinton always looked compassionate and connected even when he met strangers. Studying him, it dawned on her that he had a two-handed-look-you-in-the-eye handshake. Abigail Barten-Curtain put that lesson to use many times a day.
The doctor approached Cristol with a smile. “Congratulations again, Cristol. You did a great job.” Always congratulate, always be as positive a situation could factually merit. “Your baby looks like he’s a little fighter.” Cristol smiled back weakly.
“I’d like to talk with you now, do you want your parents to stay, or would you prefer they wait in the family lounge?”
“Ummm, ---” Cristol looked dazed. Her mother hustled over and took her hand.
“We are very proud of Cristol, too, me and Tad. Yup, yup. Right, Tad? ”
Tad washed a hand over his face and pinched the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. Rachael turned to ABC, “We, umm, we are so proud of our little girl, um, but, yes, Cristol is a strong young woman and she’s got us right here with her, you see? We have a large super-supportive family – actually, five generations of us are gonna help. But she’s strong. Really strong. Perhaps other girls might not be so lucky under these less than ideal circumstances, which, of course, you see it every day in your work Abigail, you see it all the time, I don’t need to tell you about less than ideal circumstances of course, because, we’re just a normal family with challenges like everybody else, some of them, all of them.”
Not for the first time, the doctor observed signs of possible mental illness in the governor’s prattling. Reminding herself that she was a family doctor not a psychiatrist, and fully cognizant of the danger of getting on the wrong side of a Saplin, she tucked her observations and suspicions away in her head, in a box labeled “Poison.” Someday, she might have the courage and the opportunity to talk to Rachael about mental health concerns, but now was not the time.
“So, Cristol, shall we talk?” the doctor asked brightly.
The new mom sat with her arms folded across her empty but still large belly. She nodded slightly. Then her eyes darted from one parent to the other and she bowed her head, looking at no one.
Addressing the patient directly, with only an occasional glancing acknowledgement that Tad and Rachael were present, the doctor went on to review her concerns about the premature delivery, what testing had revealed so far, and what would or could happen over the next few hours, days, and weeks. She started with the basics: Cristol’s water broke in the night, during the 30th week of gestation, and labor ensued. Everyone should all be commended for acting quickly and following instructions. Dr. Barten-Curtain had phoned ahead to tell the staff at the local hospital that her patient was on the way. She told them that Joy Sherman, her patient, had learned through early testing that she was carrying a child with Trisomy 21. The doctor on duty was a family doctor, like herself, and he quickly checked her out and had her transferred to a larger hospital with a neo-natal care unit.
Knowing that Rachael had deep ties to the good people on the board of the local hospital, Dr. Barten-Curtain was quick to add that, “while being a fine general hospital, the valley hospital was simply not large enough to be fully equipped to deal with all the possible complications that could arise in this set of circumstances.” She glanced sideways to see how Rachael took that. Politics! She hated politics – all politics - small town politics like this, and national politics, too.
The intersection of politics and medicine was one place Abigail Barten-Curtain and her friend Rachael Saplin disagreed. Abortion? Agree to disagree. National health care? In this doctor’s opinion, health care was obviously a right guaranteed under “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s right there – life! But that was the same argument Rachael used to oppose all abortion. Dr. Barten-Curtain found it amazing that people like Rachael oppose a morning after pill on the belief that all life is precious yet they can hold the opposite opinion about a government option to provide life-sustaining care to those who have no insurance. She could not fathom how current day legislators justify allowing the United States to continue to be behind all other developed countries in providing healthcare to its people. If the rumors that Rachael Saplin was a potential running mate for Steve McElwain proved to be correct, this doctor would be having a heart to heart with her old friend.
All of these thoughts blew through the doctor’s consciousness in mere seconds, and she returned to her presentation without any hint of having taken a political detour.
“This hospital has excellent facilities and staff,” Dr. Barten-Curtain said, and went on to list the types of specialists and trained personnel that made up the team of medical professionals working around the clock to give all the babies in the NICU the best care possible.
Baby boy Sherman was 3 lbs 10 oz. - a respectable size for 30 weeks. His chances of survival were good. There was a small hole in his heart, a common condition for DS babies. They would give it time to see if it would clear up on its own. Considering all he had been through, the doctor was very pleased with his general health.
“He is exhausted, as he should be, and right now he’s resting and hooked up to various equipment to assist and monitor him. You can see him in a few minutes.”
Dr. Barten-Curtain, preparing them for what they would see, told them that he could not be removed from the incubator or disconnected from the various apparatus helping him breath, maintain his body temperature, and take in nourishment. His development was behind that of a non-DS baby at this stage, and while any baby born this early would need a lot of support, it was all the more true in his situation. Dr. Barten-Curtain told them to consider the tubes, the mechanical sounds, and the hardware to be inanimate friends, trustworthy and tireless in their devotion to their charge. They were providing the life-sustaining support many of his major systems needed. This little boy would be fighting the odds for a while, with his chances for survival increasing each day. The fact was, at birth, he faced a less than fifty percent chance of survival. But each day he survived, the odds improved.
Physically, they would be able to see that he was small, lacked the fatty deposits of a full term baby, and he was jaundice. His feet were underdeveloped, resulting in a condition known as web toes. This was not painful, nor was it anything that needed attention now. When he begins to walk, in a couple of years, simple surgery would fix them. Then there were the ears. The cartilage in his ears had not formed correctly, and instead of smooth, round ears like his mother, his had a ruffled look. This wasn’t from his extra chromosome. Down Syndrome children have hearing problems, but this condition was something separate and apart from that and nothing needed to be done about it right away. It was more a cosmetic issue than anything else. The greater auditory issues stemmed from DS. Testing would have to be done to determine how much he could hear.
The fear in Cristol’s eyes said she couldn’t handle much more. Dr. Barten-Curtain said quietly, “Cristol, you have a very beautiful baby boy. He is facing challenges, yes. But don’t we all? He looks like a fighter. You can help him with that. He needs to hear your voice, even if he can’t actually hear, he will recognize its vibration and cadence. I’m going to let you reach in and hold him, babies need to be touched. Those are the things you can do. The rest will be up to the staff. This hospital is his first home, and if he were mine, I’d want him in the hands of these professionals, the doctors and nurses right here are the best team in the state. I can personally vouch for them. You have my promise that I will order every possible procedure and appliance to help your baby make it over these hurdles. As I said, your part is just as important. You need to be strong for him; he needs to hear your voice, feel your touch, and have your prayers.
Through the recitation, Cristol sat up with her back leaning against the firm elevated head of the bed. A tear had escaped the far corner of her left eye, and she did nothing to interrupt its path as it slid down the side of her face.
Rachael spoke up. “I got a question. How come you hadn’t told us she was at risk of an early delivery?’
The doctor replied patiently. “Rachael, you’ve had four kids. You know each time is different. Each person is different, too. There was no indication at her last visit that this baby was coming early. The little guy had ideas of his own, bless his heart.”
Rachael blinked hard. Did Dr. Barten-Curtain mean to mock her? Or was that blessing sincere?
“Bless his heart? Yeah, you betcha. How come we didn’t know about that hole thing? Shouldn’t you have caught that from the ultrasound?”
Tad put a tentatve hand on her arm. “Rachael, this isn’t the time for –“
“Shut up, Tad.”
Hand on her hip, like a fourth grade school teacher exasperated by an unruly student, Rachael glared at her friend the doctor.
Dr. Bartain –Curtain replied, “Ultrasounds don’t pick that up. But, it’s common with Down Syndrome, and Cristol and I had talked about it.” She looked over at Cristol. “She and I have discussed many things, and I agree with what you were saying before, she’s a strong young woman. You have every right to be proud of her.”
“I am proud of her, so proud.” Rachael nodded. “I remember when I had that amnio for my last pregnancy. I worried about the results right up until you told me everything was okay. If it had turned out differently, if it had been me instead…well, I can’t say I would have handled it as well as Cristol. She’s a remarkable girl.”
“Yes, it’s a wonderful tool we can offer mothers of advanced years so they don’t have to wonder if they are carrying a fetus with DS. But you understand, don’t you, that while Cristol, being only sixteen when she conceived, is not the typical woman who delivers a child with Down Syndrome, but that’s really only a numbers game. There are so many young women having babies that the odds of a Down Syndrome baby for mothers under 35 is only one in 1500 births.”
“What luck,” said Tad. The others ignored him.
“Cristol was lucky. Lucky that she didn’t know the date of her last menstrual cycle. We might not have had an ultrasound and wouldn’t have had reason to continue on and get the amnio. It was a blessing to have been forewarned.
Cristol had remained silent during her mother’s outburst, intimidated by the doctor, her parents, and by being in a hospital bed wearing one of those open back gowns. Still somewhat sedated, sitting on a rubber doughnut, and dreading having to use the bathroom, it suddenly became more than she could handle. Cristol started to cry. “Ruffled ears. Webbed toes. He’s going to be picked on by other kids,” she said through her sobs. She reahed for the small box of hospital tissues and blew her nose..
Dr. ABC smiled again. “I will take you to see him now and you can see how beautiful he is.” The doctor adjusted the bed and helped Cristol get her legs over the side.
“Beautiful? Even with funny ears?” Cristol slid her feet into paper slippers.
“Absolutely! They are cute ears. Anyway, ears are nothing to fret over. Once his hair grows, they’ll be covered up. Most people will never notice. In the NICU he will have a little cap on his head. All the babies do.” She continued to hold her patient by the elbow.
“I guess a boy can have long hair,” Rachael mused out loud. “People are gonna say I have a little hippie-child.”
Cristol stopped shuffling and straightened up. “No, Mom,” she said, turning toward her , “They are going to say you have a little hippie grandson.”
Tad smiled and quickly faked a cough.
“Shut up, Tad,” Rachael said.
Like all parents-to-be, during the months leading up to the baby’s birth, Cristol Saplin and Wrangler Strauss had many discussions about names. Wrangler wanted his son to have his last name, yet he was open to hyphenating Saplin-Strauss if Cristol wanted that. They agreed the names went together well. To his relief, Cristol chose the simplest answer. “I’m going to be Cristol Strauss in another year and a half, so let’s not complicate things. His last name should be Strauss.”
That was news Wrangler wanted to share. “Could I call my dad? While him and me are off doin' stuff together at Christmas? Could I tell him about the baby? Tell him he has a Strauss grandson on the way?”
“No, Wrangler. We agreed. There’s so much that isn’t settled and I need to keep it all under control. I didn’t have to go through all this, you know. Neither did my family. So you have to do what we say.”
Deflated, Wrangler got quiet. “Whatever.”
With the last name was settled, Wrangler was going to pretty much let Cristol have what she liked for first and middle names. Based on her own family, Cristol thought children should be given unusual names that come from experiences, things or places the parents especially liked. Wrangler had no problem with giving the baby a name that would be one of a kind. This was his son, there had never been another. He was special in many ways, and his name should be, too.
Cristol explained to Wrangler how her parents had chosen names for her and her siblings. The name “Field” had been Tad’s idea. It came from Tad’s high school passion and success in track and field. He had hoped it would inspire his son to follow in his dad’s footsteps, figuratively and literally. Rachael had suggested he be named “Track” instead, because she, too, enjoyed running during high school and that was “her sport.” The newlyweds resolved their disagreement by compromise. If it was a girl, she would be Track, and if they had a boy, Field.
Many times, Field had said that he hated his name. Why, he asked, couldn’t he have some normal name - Jason or Troy or Drew. Whenever he complained about his name to his sister, Cristol had no sympathy. “Hey, it could have been worse. If Mom’d had her way, or if you’d been a girl, people might think mom and dad’s named you for drug use instead of sports. If they’d had a crystal ball they might have called you ‘Snort’.” She told Wrangler this story they both laughed and promised not to let their kid have a horrible, dumb name – nothing that would get them teased or be embarrassing.
Cristol liked her own name. She liked how it sounded. She liked the curly capital “C” she had designed for her signature while doodling in seventh grade classes. And she liked that it had been chosen for its personal meaning to her mom. With Field having been named by Tad, her father had agreed that the next baby name would be of Rachael’s choosing. Cristol Springs, the brand of bottled water her mother carried when she went running, rejuvenated her, and kept her going even when she wanted to give up. She thought it made a pretty name for her daughter.
Recently, after that explanation had been included in a magazine interview, she was contacted by the Cristol Springs company and asked to be a spokesperson. She jumped at the chance, and the deal was almost signed when counsel to the Governor’s Office got wind of it and hit the roof. It was against state ethics laws to profit personally from holding the office of Governor. Arguing full out that she was becoming a star in her own right, and that the product endorsement came from being a runner and a mom, neither of which were elected position, Rachael was furious when she couldn’t persuade the attorney to agree with her. She offered Cristol to the company as a spokesperson, a move that circumvented the law while still bringing in the money, but Cristol Springs declined the offer. Having to pass up the money, she told the family that, the way her popularity was soaring, it was only a matter of time before there would be enough endorsements to make a lot more than that, then she would leave office and “take the money.” Even if it meant resigning. After all, she was “not doin’ this for nuttin.”
When it came to their third child, Tad and Rachael had different ideas once again. Finding themselves at a stalemate, they flipped a coin.
Maple was named for a little town in New York State where, three generations ago, Rachael’s great-grandfather had labored in a railroad repair shop and her great-grandmother ran a bakery. On a Maple tree shaded street in Maple City they raised Rachael’s grandmother. Grandmother Sherman’s annual summer visits to the Heats invariably included the retelling of childhood stories about vaudeville shows at the opera house, fishing pennies out of the big fountain in the park, and watching circus animals being unloaded from train cars and paraded down Main Street. The Maple City of Grandma’s memory was everything Azzolla was not and had never been. It was green and lush through long spring and summer days, in autumn the maples blazed with color until Halloween winds brought showers of red, orange and yellow leaves which adults raked into piles that children jumped into or buried themselves in during games of hide and seek.
Azzolla’s seasons were pre-winter, winter and post-winter, and a quick summer fling. Rachael loved the idea of living where winter was served up with the Thanksgiving turkey and danced out of town with leprechauns in March. A place where children had equal opportunity to put to use the ice skates, sleds and skis Santa brought, then exchanged them for roller skates, jump ropes and bicycles. It sounded like heaven.
Tad got to name their third daughter since his wife had named two of the other three. He liked the name Pride, because he was proud of his snowmobile championship. He liked Succession as a middle name, but when Maple tried to pronounce it she kept getting stuck on the first syllable and Tad saw the potential for trouble. “Suck.,,Suck… Suck –seck…Suck-sex…” Tad decided Independence was a better middle name.
In a moment of generosity, he suggested that this child have two middle names. Then the name Rachael liked could be used, too. This is how their fourth child came to be named Pride Independence Grace/ Grace had a religious meaning, God’s unmerited favor.
Days after the birth certificate was filed they realized that their baby’s initials spelled out PIGS. As she grew, her older sisters and brother enthusiastically fulfilling the role of siblings to be cruel and to pick on each other, subjecting Pride to obnoxious oinking sounds whenever they wanted to drive her away or make her mad.
In recent months, reporters had been curious about all the Saplin children’s names. The stories of origin were politically acceptable except for Pride’s name. Reporters had been told by Governor Saplin that the name speaks of the great pride she feels in being an America and the hard fought independence that American citizens enjoy. Rachael was revising history in order to have an explanation palatable to the rest of the states in the union in case she was tapped by the Republican vice presidential candidate. With her sights were on bigger things now, what once worked for her within the state, was now a potential detraction. No problem, she rationalized, as she came up with the new reason she and Tad had named Pride Independence Grace only six years before. Who would be any the wiser? “And,” she told Tad, “You have never been a member of the secessionist party. From today forward, you rip up that card, and you say you made a mistake when you put the checkmark on the registration form. Got that?”
He got it. There was truth, and then there were Rachael’s facts. It was how they lived, and he could live with that.
Wrangler and Cristol came up with some wild names. Ideas were rejected one after another. Knowing it was a boy should have made it easier, concentrating only on appropriately masculine names. But the process was not easy in any sense. “Hunter,” a suggestion from Wrangler, was “too common” for Cristol. “Night” was in the running for a while, an idea that came from the long dark days of little sun that provided an appropriate cover for these difficult days in their lives. Wrangler liked “Puck” for a while. But Cristol mentioned it to a nurse who was drawing blood and he asked if they were into Shakespeare. When the male nurse explained the connection, the name got crossed off Cristol’s list. She didn’t want anyone thinking she and Wrangler were Shakespere-loving elitists.
Wrangler, Jr., Jerrie’s only entry into the contest, was summarily rejected. “That’s so lame,” Cristol said.
Rachael campaigned for naming him “Maverick.” Both of the kids liked it for a while, until one Sunday morning when the three of them and Maple were each finding their own breakfast and working around each other in the spacious kitchen. The living room and kitchen televisions were simultaneously broadcasting “Meet the Press” and today’s guest was that politician – the really old one - that Rachael talked about all the time.
“Kids,” Rachael said, chewing a bite of toaster pastry ,”There’s Maverick McElwain. That’s the one I want the baby named after. I’ll betcha he’s gonna be our next President.” Eyes glued to the TV, she didn’t see the look of horror on Cristol’s face.
Cristol took one look and shook her head. “No way.” She made a face, as if she were disposing of a dirty diaper. “You’re kidding me, right? He’s creepy!”
“Looks like he has the mumps,” Wrangler observed. He’d settled onto on the sofa with a plate of scrambled eggs. Meals in the Saplin house were do-it-yourself. If Wrangler made it, there was either a microwave or a grill involved. Microwaved scrambled eggs with microwaved moose sausage had become his Sunday morning routine. Holding a forkful of eggs aloft, he went on, “Not gonna name my kid after a mumpy-looking guy.”
“He’s not your kid, he’s our kid,” Cristol corrected, then with a mischievous look in her eye, she turned to Rachael. “We could name the baby Mumpy if that guy lets you run for VP with him.”
“Mumpy! “ Pride giggled.”
“ Or Sleepy, or Dopey.” was Wrangler’s surprisingly quick interjection.
“Or Creepy!” It was Maple. Her words were accompanied by a propulsion of slightly chewed corn flakes. Everyone under eighteen found it uproariously funny.
“Maple!” It wasn’t clear whether her mother’s reprimand was speaking with her mouth full or for the disrespect being shown the senator. On a scale of one to ten her scowl was an eleven.
Cristol was enjoying all of it. The relaxed and carefree atmosphere of this particular morning was a welcome relief to the stiflingly serious life she had been leading. Tension permeated the house even when Wrangler and Cristol were the only ones home. On that morning, both enjoyed themselves and each other as they indulged in the harmless levity of pseudo-suggesting and rejecting nonsense names. She sat down next to Wrangler, still limber enough to tuck one leg underneath. He reached out to support her as she settled in, balancing her plate of eggs.
“I know, how about ‘Huge’? Because that’s how I feel.” She looked down at the XXL nightshirt she was wearing, and ran a loving hand maternally across her midsection.
Wranger feined deep consideration. “That’d be tough on a boy,” he said, stabbing a chunk of sausage with his fork. “Obviously, I could live up to that, but who knows if my son--.”
“Ewwwwe, TMI.” Maple plopped on one of the sofas; cornflakes and milk sloshed out of her bowl.
“Careful!” Rachael scolded. No one paid any attention. They were having too much fun.
Cristol gave her boyfriend a playful punch. “That’s what got us in this mess in the first place.”
While the kids were finding it all humorous, Rachael battled jealousy. She didn’t want to think about whether her future son-in-law was huge or not. At this strange time in her life, a time when her daughter was getting more sex than she was, she didn’t need it rubbed in her face. When the microwave signaled that her mug of water was hot, and she grabbed a teabag and headed back to her room. The other three didn’t even notice.
Someone came up with the idea of calling him “Secret” (“for obvious reasons”) and nicknaming him “Cret.” Maple expanded on the suggestion:“That could be so cool. You could keep the name a secret, too. Never show the birth certificate. Tell everyone his name is Cret. A double secret.”
“Hmmm,” Cristol was twirling a piece of hair around her finger as she thought. “I kinda like the name Cret. We’d be the only ones who would know what it meant, and that could be mad fun.”
“Besides,” she continued, “It begins with the same letter as my name. I like names that begin with ‘C’, it’s a pretty letter.” Wrangler thought that was about the lamest reason to pick a name he’d ever heard, but he was wise enough to stay quiet and appear occupied with chasing remnants of egg around the plate with his index finger.
A few minutes later they rejected the name “Secret” and the name “Chet” because Maple foresaw the potential for an embarrassing, sexually suggestive tabloid headline announcing his very existence “The SeCret Comes Out”. The double entendre hinting of homosexuality was anathema to Wrangler. Though he was pretty sure he had never met a homosexual, and that if he did, it would be fine, “because they are just people, too,” he was equally sure Azzolla would be a tough place to be gay or to be thought of as gay.
Cristol took a new approach. “Okay, Wrangler, what do you think of when I say the words ‘challenging’ ‘sophomore year’ ‘a hard lesson’ and ‘I wish this wasn’t happening’?” Wrangler thought only a second.“Calculus.” It was the bane of his existence in the world of sophomore level on line studies.
“ooooo – ‘Calc’, I like that.”
Actually, they both liked it.
The hospital bracelet read “Boy – Sherman” and the nurses on the unit lovingly called the little tyke Sherman. Sherman was a heartbreaker, the sweetheart of the NCU, without exception, he was adored by everyone.
The first time Cristol heard him called ‘Sherman’ she thought it sounded like an old man’s name. Then, as she heard the name used again and again, always with abundant affection, she grew to like it. Without much resistance, Wrangler agreed with her - God willing, the itty bitty newborn would not only survive but live to be an old man befitting his name. Besides, it sounded nice with Strauss. Both of them were happy with the full moniker “Calc Sherman Strauss,” and inside the covers of her school folders, Cristol practiced writing it with fancy c’s and s’s.
The naming of Calc represented a victory for the young couple in their constant battle to become a family separate from their parents. All the parents had suggested baby names, but the young couple had been determined to make the decision without caving to pressure from anyone. No double middle names, a suggestion from Rachael in an attempt to still get “Maverick” into the line up. No Wrangler junior. And no Jerry – one of Jerrie’s suggestions. In every way, they were sending the message that this was their baby, not the grandparent’s baby, not either family’s baby, not an up-for-adoption baby. Theirs to name, theirs to raise. Period. End of story.
Or, so they thought.