Sunday, May 24, 2009

The night shift

I've been taking the night shift this weekend; Carolyn spends the night in the basement while I remain upstairs to keep the home hospital going through the night. In case of emergency I have Carolyn's cell phone number; because the basement is so quiet and isolated from the rest of the house, the telephone really is the only practical way to communicate. So far I haven't broken down and called for help, but it is a three-day weekend.

The night shift at our house poses some unexpected challenges. While I've always had a vague impression of lots of nighttime activity, I haven't had to really grapple with it until now. There's a great deal of arithmetic. Really hard arithmetic.

Here's an example of the kind of story problem I found myself solving last night. Max's pump delivers food at the rate of 43 ccs/hours. He is supposed to get a total dose of 588 ccs and the feed started at 7:30 PM. I was supposed to wake up at 2:00 PM to give him some meds and top up the bag. It's now 4:10 AM and the bag is empty. The pump says that it's delivered 430 ccs. I have a vague sense that it ran out of food around 3:00 AM and has been pumping in air since then. How much more do I need to program the pump to deliver? What about those meds Max was supposed to get at 2:00 AM? Will I remember to delay his next dose two hours so he doesn't get two too close together? Just how guilty should I feel for inflating my son like a basketball? Why didn't I wake up at 2:00?

In short, there's a great deal of division by 43, which is not a natural unit at all. Not to mention fiddling around with the pump in Max's room, which is usually bright and charming, but which is made tenebrous by the extremely late hour.

When Max was in the Georgetown NICU, the nurses encouraged us to have "skin-to-skin" time with him. According to the NICU team, skin-to-skin promoted brain growth and bonding; it may have had benefits for the child too, I don't remember. I'd strip to the waist and they'd hand me Max, clad only in a diaper. We'd sit in a rocking chair, Max held to my chest (and, um, ample tummy). The nurses would only let me take Max out for 20 minutes at a time. But even after such a brief period I would feel totally drugged. There's an ancient part of our brains that is wired to soothe and protect a baby; that primitive cave parent brain would hijack my higher functions completely after just a few minutes of skin-to-skin time. Good-bye seminars, traffic and weather together on the 8s, job evaluations, dinner invitations; hello roasted bison and growling at the dark. Now that we're at home, the cave parent is relegated to taking control only during the night shift; he's there to make sure his son gets everything he needs no matter how tired the modern parent is. The only problem is, the cave parent can't divide by 43.