Today is my son Matthew's 30th birthday. It is also the birthdate of Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King.
I almost lost Matt right there at the beginning. It was a packed house that night in Labor & Delivery at University Hospital in Columbus, Ohio -- the busiest night they had ever seen -- and the staffing standards back then would get a hospital shut down and sued today. Back then, the fetal monitors ("state of the art!") involved taking a lead with a sharp threaded point and screwing it into the baby's scalp.
As awful as that sounds it saved his young life. We were ignored by the unbelievably overwhelmed staff. As I was an employee of the hospital (I worked as an aide in neurosurgery), I was given the briefest of briefings, told what to watch for, and left alone. "Call us if something doesn't look right," the nurse said, and disappeared.
Very early on in the process, it was clear that there was something wrong with the monitor or something wrong with the baby. It was the latter. I pushed the button, while coaching my then wife (it would be five years before she became my ex-wife). Nothing. I looked out past our curtains in the moaning, crying semi-chaos of the larger room and everybody's light was lit. No nurses to be seen.
I walked out into the hall and every room light was lit. I tracked down a nurse, told her the problem and was promised a doctor. I returned to the room. Seven times I repeated this process over the next forty-five minutes to the same result. (I was a much more patient man back then, besides these were representatives of my employer.) The readings on the monitor continued to deteriorate.
Finally, I went out and literally grabbed the head shift nurse by the arm and said the following, or words to the effect:
"The baby is dying. If you don't get me a doctor down here in the next five minutes, I'm going to be doing and saying things that I will regret later on. As a matter of fact, I'm going to start tearing this f-king place apart. So get me a doctor and get me one now." For emphasis, I picked up a phone book and bounced it off the wall.
She believed me, and the doctor appeared in less than two minutes.
With a glance at the monitor and some brief examination, the doctor muttered the word, "meconium" and some half-audible instructions to the nurse and left to prepare to deliver my son. They wheeled my wife out about 90 seconds later into the delivery room that looked like an abattoir. Shortly thereafter, with much effort, agony and joy, my son was born. He had passed, and ingested into his lungs, meconium, the first baby stool that isn't supposed to come out until after birth.
Post-partum, he went through breathing problems, then severe jaundice, but recovered. The doctor later admitted that my son was in "deep distress" and that the timing had been critical. If I hadn't demanded attention, he might have died, or failing that, been severely brain damaged.
It was the proudest moment of my life up to then. I was reprimanded for my conduct later, by the head nurses of L&D and Neuro. I told them the same thing: "Don't give me a monitor if you don't want me to watch it. Fire my ass. I've got my son. I'll call that a win."
I wasn't even written up. They didn't want to defend that ground.
But here's the entire point. Sometimes you are put in a position where all the regular ways of doing things are inadequate to the threat.
Sometimes you have to act regardless of consequences, because the consequences of the failure to act outside the norms is worse, far worse.
There's a lesson there, on this, the anniversary of the birthdate shared by Robert E. Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr. and my son and on the eve of a date which will in later years be viewed as yet another anniversary. Whether that anniversary is viewed for good or ill in the future is impossible to say at the moment.
But I know this.
Had I been a "pragmatist," had I been constrained by fear of losing my job, or just a desire to use the normal channels to achieve a desired result because that was what was expected or had always worked before, my son would have been dead at the very beginning of his life.
But I acted, and he lived. He's lived for thirty years now, this morning. He's been married (twice) had a son of his own (twice) and gone to war (twice). He has saved lives and he has taken them. He has grown into a better man than I ever was, I think. I am immensely proud of him.
But I also thank the Lord that I was there for him, at the beginning, to give him the chance at life that had I been more conventional, more "pragmatic," would have been denied him. I am proud that I acted outside the expected norms when it became necessary.
I don't know how many other fathers would have acted the way I did to achieve the same result. What do you think? Maybe, uh, three percent?