Monday, January 19, 2009

19 January

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?


Anonymous said...

Mike, I would have acted the same way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mike for sharing that very personal and moving story with us, Mike. The larger lesson is equally moving and we should all take that lesson to heart. My salutations to Matthew. Slainte!!

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting on my son to be born as I write this (a week overdue already) and I worry about the same things. I also worry about where we are headed as a country and what I am bringing my son into as we await the crowning of our new "obamessiah" and all the "civility" we will have shoved down our throats. I keep seeing that illustration where the black booted thugs are kicking the front door in while saying "we're from the government, we're here to help" with guns drawn. I can hardly wait...

Luke (alias "Lines With Chrome") said...

Happy birthday to you son... and to America's greatest example of Christian knighthood, "Marse Robert", PBUH.

What a wonderful story about "scaring the white people". Glad you didn't try to "work within the system" that night and went all "Malcolm X" on their butts.

triptyx said...

Incredibly well stated sir. And you are absolutely right - sometimes, the consequences of one's actions, while unpleasant, will most certainly will be less than the consequences of not acting.

And damn anyone who creates or enables the situation in which that statement must be true.

You most certainly did the right thing. My best to your son.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been watching the Prag’s vs Threeper’s fight. Its been entertaining. I’ve also been reading THE FOUNDER’S SECOND AMENTMENT, ORIGINS OF THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS by Stephen P. Halbrook. There are many parallels between the Threepers and the Founding Fathers to include preparations for a fight. Although they support the 2A, seems the Prag’s have forgotten the first enumerated right. It appears in the Declaration of Independence “…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” This right, in defense of the second amendment, flies in the face of US CODE: Title 18,2383: Rebellion or insurrection. After more incremental pragmatic adjustments to the second amendment by sworn representatives and the courts, might the next big pragmatic “fight” be whether or not Title 18,2383 is constitutional? That would be “entertaining”, also.

tom said...

Send him a Happy Birthday from rural Texas.

Good name, as well:

Matthew 10:34--Think not that I am come to
send peace on earth: I came not to send peace,
but a sword.

Weaver said...

I'm sad to admit it but you are right, only 3 percent. The question I keep thinking of is 3 percent enough? Your story brought back a very similar memory. I was in a bit tougher situation being a two stripe airman in a base hospital. I never received any reprimand but I was most certainly a 3 percenter back then. I am most certainly a lot wiser some 30 years later and now realize how important it is to be part of that 3 percent. Yes, I think 3 percent is enough. In fact it's more than enough becasue the poor bastards have us surrounded.

Anonymous said...

brought tears to my eyes. No big deal, I cry easily. Every display of true love, indomitable will, unconquerable courage, or the odd convenience store grand opening. ;)
been there where you described, more that once. Am considered "not a team player" by fucking near everyone I know. I threatened to dismantle McKeesport Memorial Hospital "brick by brick" in 1965. For much the same shit. I wasn't knowledgeable about such things as child birth or Hell, anything related health, but even I knew something was wrong. He is now a major in the U.S.A.F.

Not many of us "assholes" (get over it, you know that's the way the timid see us) around. We are easy to marginalize. Until actual physics applies.

Anonymous said...

Well said all around.

Anonymous said...

Mike: I am so happy to see that your son made it. And I am proud of your actions too.

A couple of months ago my father was hospitalized with a serious lung infection that needed antibiotic treatment hourly. Well, the facility that he is supposed to be getting the treatment at is worse than careless: Every single hour, and I mean EVERY SINGLE hour, I had to SUMMON the nurse, and it takes at least 3 repeated calls to get them to come in and administer the treatment. When I couldn't be at the facility, my father, still weak from the illness, had to GET UP FROM HIS BED and summon the nurses himself. I complained to the nurse in charge. They promised me they will be more vigilant. BULLSHIT. Same fucking thing happened the next day. I finally took the argument down to the administrator. When he denied responsibility and sent me back to talk to the nurse in charge, I just stood there and cussed his ass out.
I told him that he had hired a pack of shit to run the facility, and since there were many other Chinese speaking patients there who didn't understand English and couldn't communicate without a translator, I told the admin that I will interview all of them, and compile an entire draft of all the neglect and BS that goes on in that facility and press charges. I told him I will do my best to get the law involved and shut the place down for good.
Yep, he got it. He understood what I was talking about. He first told me they got my father's medications mixed up at the pharmacy and they will fix it ASAP. I told him I wanted him to CALL THE PHARMACY right there and now, and stood right over him as he called them. I even ordered him to give me the address and name of the pharmacy because I will include it in my lawsuit if it is appropriate.
Yes indeed, my father's medical treatment became much more positive after that. We got his treatment completed with no further complications.

And yes, pragmatism didn't work out, at all. In fact, all they were going to give me was stupid excuses and procrastination if I hadn't spoken up like that.


Anonymous said...

Mike, glad you did what you did. Matt's a good guy and I'm sorry he's leaving the 101st for another, lesser unit soon.

Dan K.

Anonymous said...

Qi Ji, I don't speak Chinese either, but I damn sure understand "Don't fuck with me" in any language. Good for you. Glad your dad's ok.

Frank said...

Heck fire, I had to pull a 44 magnum with a 10 1/2" barrel on some college kids the night my eldest child was born. My mom was driving us down the mountain to the hospital. My wife was in the back seat in heavy labor. We made it to town, and these kids in a yellow Volkswagon Beetle thought it would be fun to hold back the big Chrysler with the flashers on (that would be us!). We tried to go around in the left lane, they swerved to block us. We went for the right lane, again, they swerved and blocked us. I rolled down the power window, stretched way out, leveled the handgun, cocked the hammer...they swerved into the Pizza Hut parking lot and let us go by. They hoisted their beer bottles out of their windows, like it was some kind of big party. The just didn't know what a 3 percenter will do for hearth, home, and family. My son is now 28, with a boy of his own. Thank God, we made it. He was delivered 12 minutes after our arrival at the ER.