Paul Andersen: The man who saved our son
My wife’s belly was out to here! She seemed to have swallowed a watermelon seed that grew to full-size in her abdomen. Even stretched to the point of popping, she said she wanted to go home and clean our apartment.
Jack Caskey, our birth doctor, advised against it. Jack wasn’t against housekeeping, but he suggested that my wife, Lu, stay at the hospital where a checkup had registered a note of urgency.
“Let Paul clean the apartment,” he offered.
Lu stayed, and I went home to pace nervously, pushing the vacuum cleaner back and forth across the living room until it had worn a channel into the carpet.
When the hospital called and told me Lu would undergo an emergency C-section, I jumped on my bike and raced across town. Lance Armstrong could not have matched the riding skills I displayed on that cross-town sprint, and I wasn’t even blood-doping.
A bike? Sure, it was faster than a car, and I needed the exertion to tone down my nerves. I knew Lu and our cherished fetus were in Jack’s good hands, but the expectant father needed a dose of cycle-therapy before the big delivery.
At the hospital, where my wife was feeling internal pressures from her overdue baby, Jack was comforting and assuring. He smiled with that great bedside manner for which thousands of parents like us share extreme gratitude.
We feel it now more than ever in the wake of Jack’s death, and especially after reading his beautiful obituary in The Aspen Times last week. My wife and I feel it whenever we think of our son, Tait, which we do regularly and with great appreciation for the gift of life that Jack so skillfully provided.
Had it not been for Jack Caskey’s quick thinking on that day, almost 25 years ago, we might not be enjoying this reflective opportunity. Jack delivered Tait from a dry womb. He emerged looking more like a mummy than a Gerber baby. His skin was crinkled, and his tiny features were pinched.
Thanks to excellent care at Aspen Valley Hospital, Tait quickly hydrated and gained the desired cherubic appearance. How resilient we humans are! How prone we are to survive! Our son, however, had another challenge. He was too weak to nurse.
The breast pump provided his milk, which we administered through a straw the size of a strand of angel hair pasta. We taped the straw to one of our little fingers, inserted it into his mouth, and watched him greedily suck down the precious milk of life.
Meanwhile, Lu’s breasts had engorged until she resembled Dolly Parton, a novel experience that we viewed with head-shaking wonder. Lu was so awed by her mammalian development that when Jack came in for a checkup, she unbuttoned her hospital gown, threw it open, and said, “Jack, look what happened!”
Jack blushed, discreetly averted his gaze, and smiled that serene smile that we will always appreciate.
“Yes,” he said, “that’s natural, and it will go down. Just keep up the pumping and everything will be back to normal.”
Except that nothing was ever back to normal — not with a new baby in our lives, and not with those water balloon-like boobs configuring my wife’s appearance to extreme bimbo proportions. Normalcy had nothing to do with the new world we inhabited as neophyte parents.
When it finally came time for Lu to leave the hospital, we said our goodbyes to the nursing staff and expressed our deepest gratitude to Jack who felt like our dear old uncle, but with far more intimacy than any uncle could ever have.
Back at the apartment, where the vacuum swath still parted the carpet, we tried to settle in with our baby. At this point, I realized that we had forgotten something critical that I’m certain the hospital had intended to hand us as we walked out the door.
Where was the manual for this new child, the instruction booklet, the tutorial? Over time, we realized we had to figure it all out for ourselves. And that became the grand adventure of a rich family life.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tony Vagneur: Although hard to find these days, true root cellars are art, and can still be useful today.