Dr. Snippy

Disclaimer:  This post describes a grim yet arguably amusing medical procedure I underwent in August.  The phrase ‘TMI’ may be applicable.   Feel free to read something else instead.

I don’t talk politics with strangers.  It’s a rule that seemed especially applicable to the physician who was about to apply sharp instruments to my nether regions.  I needed a procedure to eliminate my ability to sire more children.  He had a lot to get off his chest.

The procedure, billboarded as a fifteen minute no-brainer, took almost three times that long.  The discomfort level was off the charts, in more ways than one.stirrups

First the setting:  A small room near Atlanta’s Piedmont hospital.  I’m wearing only a t-shirt, seated at the edge of a cushioned table.  Put your legs up here, he says, referring to what appear to be two man-stirrups situated at the edge of the table.  Lay back.

I’ve heard women talk scornfully about doctor’s-office stirrups.  This was my first encounter with these enforcers of vulnerability.

Scoot toward the edge of the table.

Dr. Snippy is an affable, distinguished looking white guy with a southern accent, probably in his late sixties.  He disappears below my line of sight, spots his target and casually yet affirmatively grips me like a like a pitcher grips a slider.  My eyes widen and my breath shortens.

So what do you do for a living?  Barely breathing, I answer that I’m in the news business.

He says he knows a guy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  But then adds that he really doesn’t like the AJC.  It’s a complaint I used to hear a lot from conservatives, back when the AJC’s editorial page was more liberal than not.  The AJC now touts its “balanced views” and I don’t hear the gripe as much anymore.

I catch my breath:   “You know, the AJC’s editorial page isn’t really leftist anymore.”  He ignores my input, then abruptly adjusts his grip.  I feel a twist, not good.  He hears a faint gasp.  I need to find the vas, he says, referring to the two veins that need to be severed.  I’m thinking:   He promised anaesthesia.  Where is it?

I think this country is headed completely in the wrong direction, he says.  He backs away by disclaiming that he’s not talking about Democrats or Republicans.  He doesn’t want to offend.  But he’s clearly not a happy camper.  There are a few people in particular who seem bent on destroying this country.

This will pinch.  He is sticking a needle into one of the most sensitive parts of my body, and it’s an act of mercy.

The anaesthesia kicks in, and Dr. Snippy ramps up his rant.   He doesn’t like the media much, it turns out.  But my wife watches Bill O’Reilly every night.  And if she doesn’t watch it, she records it. 

This firms up my hypothesis that the gentleman with the sharp instruments between my legs is unhappy with the liberal media.  I vow to clam up, which isn’t difficult.  Despite the anaesthesia, I’m still feeling a lot of tugging and twisting down there.  The sensation is not conducive to conversation.

ScalpelSuddenly, I feel something very sharp cutting into the flesh.  Quite audibly, I emit a “gah!”

Oh, you felt that, eh?  All right.  Dr. Snippy preps another injection, then continues his work.  The fifteen minutes he promised have come and gone.  My hands are now in a full sweat.

He tells me he’s originally from Memphis.  He was there when Dr. King was assassinated, and tells a story about hearing the APB in his car radio for King’s killer. Dr. Snippy, it turns out, was driving a car and wearing clothes that fit the description of James Earl Ray, forcing him to garage his car at his mother’s house and lay low.

He segues into his family’s acquaintance with George Nickopolous, the physician who went to trial for providing drugs to Elvis Presley.  “Trailer trash,” he says, describing Elvis.

Do you know Memphis used to be called the cleanest city in America? he asks, mixing nostalgia and a whiff of anger over the evolution of his hometown.

I lay down the unkind bait:  “When was that?  In the 1950s?”  I ask, thinking:  Segregation, baby.  Those were the days, huh?

That’s right!  he answers.

Normally, that’s my cue to rant about the ’50s and why they really weren’t the good old days.  Men are often accused of allowing other parts of their bodies to do the thinking for them.  In this instance, the brain thankfully yields.  I keep quiet.

There’s still more tugging, and he’s muttering to himself in frustration.  He begins to tell me that my junk strays from the typical anatomical road map he expects to see; hence, our extended quality time together.  He’s improvising, and he’s a little annoyed.  Most of these are easy.  But every now and then, we get one like this.   

Lucky me.

He works quietly for a moment, then brings up the racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

Of course, I’m not prejudiced.  But it’s just human nature.  People are always going to be that way.  There’s nothing you can do about it, he laments, while apparently making a new incision.

I’m not feeling chatty.  My gut, and points south, tells me to keep quiet.

I want to argue.  I weigh my circumstances.  I pipe up anyway.

“I have to disagree with that,” I finally say.  I go on to opine that prejudice is mostly taught, both within family and cultural structures.  “I don’t think it’s naturally occurring,” I say with shortened breath. “Children of different races get along just fine until somebody tells them they shouldn’t.”

Maybe so, says my physician, who is as anxious to end our encounter together as I am.  Once again, I feel the sharp pain of my flesh being cut.  “Gah!” I exclaim again.  It appears he’s searching for a shortcut.

You felt that, eh?  Well, I’m not gonna — his voice trails off in frustration.  He has an exit strategy and is disinclined to administer a third dose of novocaine.

“Just do what you gotta do,” I say, bracing for more.  I crave a bullet to bite.  There’s another sharp pain, then another, then it stops.  By this time, my legs and hands are locked in tension and my whole body is in a sweat.

Almost done, he finally says.  He seems to be stitching.  He applies some kind of burning liquid, then a couple of band-aids.  There’s rapid-fire talk of ice-packs, inactivity, follow-up appointments, a prescription for a painkiller.  His goodbye is very hurried.  It’s Friday, and it’s lunchtime.

I walk slowly to the exit, “a little warm and quite astonished,” as Kipling wrote in The Elephant’s Child.  I see the wife in the waiting room. “Are you OK?” she asks, smiling sweetly.

I start laughing, enjoying the rapid transition to hindsight.

The things we do for love.

 

 

 

Life and death

I like to joke that I’m pushing 70.  It makes my mid-fifties feel more middle-aged and less geriatric.  Yet my 70s will be to my younger kids what middle age will be to most of their friends:  The age of their parents when they’re leaving high school.

The family, March 2014

Clint, Yvonne, Jez and me, March 2014

It’s the central tenet of what makes a “geriatric dad” different than the rest of them, and that’s mortality.

It’s also the reason I haven’t written in this space.  It’s not a “fun” topic.  It’s a very daunting one, and it bluntly reads like this:  I’m not going to last long enough to be a great dad to Clint and Yvonne for nearly as long as I’d like.

It’s a dark but undeniable perspective on what is the otherwise joyous project of parenthood.  At this moment, I can’t understate how buoyant it is to be a part of life’s milestones for these two kids.  There is nothing more exhilarating than shaping a young life for the better, watching those traits emerge that you know are directly the result of your and your partner’s influence (with, perhaps, a bit of help from our DNA — nature v. nurture is a whole ‘nother subject).

Clint will be four in November.  Yvonne will be two in October.  Yvonne’s use of language, all but nonexistent a few weeks ago, is hilariously emerging from her tiny adorable mouth.  Every day with her seems to mark a developmental breakthrough.

Clint’s growth has become more subtle on the day-to-day, but it also reveals glimmers of sophistication that are eye-opening in a kid not yet four years old.

Plus, there’s the love thing, a two-way street that is also a whole ‘nother subject.   It’s also another reason I haven’t posted on this site.  It’s terribly important, but I’m not sure I can write about love.  But I hope to give it a shot.

Being a dad to these two kids is a moment-to-moment management challenge, but it is even more rewarding than I remember it from the first time I did this in the 80s.  At this moment, my age is irrelevant because I have no health issues and abundant stamina.

And then you do the math.  I do it all the time, and so do my friends.  It’s the proverbial elephant in the room when the dad has the gnarly grey hair and jowly face of a young grandpa.   It’s a face that’s certainly appropriate for the dad of Bill and Leigh, my kids in their 20s.  It’s more complicated as the dad of toddlers.

People frequently have children because they want to enrich their own lives, but ultimately it’s not about the parents.  It’s supposed to be about the kids.  The dark issues surrounding my age are about the degree to which I will be able to do for them what my parents did for me.  It didn’t end when I graduated from high school.  My mom and dad were great parents to me after I left the nest.  They were also much more fun once they stopped disciplining me and we grew much closer after I reached full maturity.

The math tells me I may shortchange Clint and Yvonne in that aspect of my job.  And yes, I knew that going into the project.  I justify it because the world is better off with Clint and Yvonne in it, even though their dad isn’t likely to be around as long as he’d like.

And there’s really not a damn thing I can do about it, except try to make it a quality experience for as long as I can.

 

 

Prince Buster

Though I’d never do it, I can understand the temptation to give a grandiose name to a new offspring.  Nicknames are inevitable.  Some folks simply choose to embed them into their legal appellations.

For example, my nephew’s name is Khalin Tiger.  “Khalin means King, which he is,” explained my sister.  I know a couple of people who put King into their offspring’s name, with nothing more than regal motivation.  One of Jez’s cousins has a son whose middle name is Danger.  Again, the reasoning seems self-evident:  This kid needs a badass name, erego we will name him Danger.

Makes perfect sense to me.  It’s far better than Strange, which was the middle name of Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.

Attending to Prince Buster's throne

Clint has a pretty traditional name, but our latest nickname for him is Prince Buster.

It’s a name with multiple meanings.  Prince explains his frequently-commanding presence.  Typically, it’s benevolent.  But he has his occasional moments of tyranny.  Buster is an old-school male nickname, something my dad used for me occasionally.  It’s also a noun that describes what Clint does, from time to time, to my balls (figuratively, of course.  He does it to his mother, too.  It’s OK.  It goes with parent territory).

Prince Buster is also, of course, “the King of Bluebeat,” a Jamaican trailblazer whose music helped launch popular ska and reggae in the 1950s and 60s.  He wrote stuff like “One Step Beyond” (covered by Madness), “Whine and Grind” (covered by the English Beat) and “Gangsters” (covered by the Specials).

Until my daughter Leigh grew to nearly six feet tall, I called her “Squirt” for much of her childhood.

If I phone the wife during the day and she reports on the activities of “Prince Buster,” it’s an instant signal that the offspring is having an especially rambunctious day.

Prince Buster may not stick.  Odds are, it won’t be long before his mother and I opt to simply call him Clint, his given monosyllabic name, which has its own badass quality.  But it’s less descriptive than Prince Buster.

Instant cousin

Clint is the baby with the giant head

Clint has a somewhat unexpected cousin.  Not only a first-cousin, but one who is a mere seven weeks younger and lives one zip code away.  This is the most exciting thing possible.  And the story contains no small amount of drama.

Jez’s brother, Chris, and his partner John have been trying to adopt a baby for about 18 months.  They signed up with an agency.  The put up a web site.  They got a lot of nibbles from moms who, for various reasons, were pregnant but didn’t want to keep the child.

Typically, the moms would contact them, string them along a bit, then flake off into oblivion.  Occasionally, they’d try to extract cash from Chris and John:  “Well, I can’t afford prenatal care.”  “I’m about to lose my home.”  “I can’t pay my cell phone bill.  It’d be a damned shame if I was homeless and unable to call you to tell you to come pick up my baby.”

Chris and John had learned to stay skeptical when a potential birth mom called, while at the same time, treating her like long-distance royalty.

Chris and John had gone to Maryland for Christmas.  They had tickets to travel to Africa in late December.  They were on the brink of making the international flight when a birth mom sent an email to John.  Because the sender and subject were cryptic, John didn’t immediately open it when he spotted it on his Blackberry.

John and Chris ate dinner.  During some after-dinner downtime, John browsed through his Blackberry and had the “eureka” moment when he read the woman’s message:  I just had a baby.  Come and get her.  The text:

  • So i delivered yesterday and have come to the final decision that placing [the baby] for adoption is what i want to do and you guys are perfect for her. I will talk with your agency as soon as possible so that you can come get her tomorrow. She is perfect and beautiful with a head full of wild hair. Weight 7 pounds. If you guys have moved on and found another baby i understand. i never questioned placing her for adoption it was just a hard process for me to face.

At that moment, flights along the east coast were jacked up due to snowy weather.  Chris and John found a flight to Nashville, then drove to Ehrlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, where the mom was about to be discharged.  When they arrived, the mom was firm:  This baby is all yours.

That afternoon, the hospital discharged the birth mom.  The adoption paperwork hadn’t been completed, so the birth mom kept legal possession as they exited the hospital building.  Then they headed to separate vehicles.  Chris and John walked to their SUV with the infant.

Sara, John and Chris

They had help from their friend Shannon, who had driven their SUV from Decatur to Chattanooga.  She equipped the vehicle with a car seat.

Chris and John were allowed to take possession of the newborn, but weren’t allowed to leave Tennessee.  State law requires an extended in-state transition, and allows a birth mother ten days to change her mind.

Chris and John and the infant checked into a hotel suite.  They made an appointment to see a pediatrician.  They crash-coursed in the care and feeding of an infant.  They got plenty of advice from other mothers, including Chris’s sister.  They talked to  lawyers in Tennessee and Georgia.  And they counted down the days.

Friday, they brought home their baby girl.

They named her Sara Grace.  Shannon had returned to Decatur and spent an abundance of time fixing up the nursery and taking down the Christmas tree that was slowly petrifying in their living room.  Jez contributed our co-sleeper, which is a bassinet constructed to sit alongside the parental bed.   Clint has already outgrown it.

We visited John and Chris over the weekend.  Their proper, well-appointed Decatur dude bungalow is suddenly filled with the trappings of parenthood.  And at center stage, sleeping most of the time, is Sara Grace.

Sara Grace is tiny and beautiful.

The legal minutiae of adoption continues, but Tuesday the birth mom’s window of revocation closed.  Chris and John began celebrating their status as the parents of Sara Grace. 

It’s a great day.

Test of wills

Parenthood is a lifelong test of wills.  OK, it’s more than that obviously.  It’s fun.  It’s an adventure.  It’s rewarding.  I know that.  But on a day to day basis, it’s a test of wills.  And it begins at a very young age.

Like all infants, Clint cries.  Sometimes he howls.  On rare occasions, he does so almost inconsolably — at least for thankfully finite periods of time.

Mostly, I can figure out what Clint wants when he cries.  The primal needs are examined first:  Positioning, the need for food, posterior hygiene.  Beyond that, it becomes a guessing game.  Following that, I have to determine whether it’s in my best interest — and his, of course —  to knuckle under to his infantile tyranny.

I know two things.  One, he’s too young to be manipulative.  But I know the time will come when he begins to test his parents.  It’ll happen after he and his parents have established habits.  If our habit is to jump up and find a way to soothe the complaining infant, we’ll carry that habit into an age where he comes to realize that he can make things happen by pestiferous behavior.

But I also know that God, and His good buddy Darwin, have crafted high-volume infant vocals to inflict maximum discomfort on human ears.

When the child rips a deep-lunged bellow, his mother responds with instant panic.  As the “experienced” partner, I consider it my role to immediately consider the option of denying.   Whatever he wants — as long as it’s not a safety issue — is often best ignored, at least at the outset.   This makes me appear to be distant, unconcerned and cold.  I’m not.  But I find a certain amount of chill to be an effective parenting tool, particularly as we develop habits.

However, it’s an ineffective marital tool, made even more so in circumstances wherein the infant and the mother tag-team the father.

Parenthood is a lifelong test of wills.  Marriage is a lifelong compromise.

The swaddle

Loaf of Challah (L), and Clint (R)

The swaddle is an amazing thing.  One of the best things about a properly-executed swaddle is that it makes the infant look like a loaf of Challah bread.  My sister Christina baked the loaf on the left; the wife delivered the bun (on the right) from her own oven.

My sister made the bread with utter disregard to the stylings of the swaddle.  When it emerged from the oven, Jez and I noticed a similarity, and a camera was produced.

Before November 2010, I’d heard the term swaddle used in the Biblical sense, and nowhere else.

“The angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). 

But this month I learned that the swaddle is a technique used to wrap and, more importantly, give comfort to a newborn.  I don’t know how I raised two newborns in the 80s without being hip to the swaddle.  It probably would have saved his parents a lot of grief — not to mention, our un-swaddled newborns.

(Update:  I’m informed by the ex- that she swaddled our 80s newborns regularly, and that I’m a dumbass.  OK, she didn’t really say that.  But she kinda did, and I accept the characterization as accurate.)

Essentially, the swaddle is the neonatal version of a straitjacket.  The child is laid on a cloth.  The arms are pinned to the side, and the cloth is wrapped around him to keep him immobilized.  The theory is that it mimics the tight space of the womb.

It took me a full week to perfect the swaddle.  Nurses at Piedmont Hospital tried to teach it.  It looked easy.  But I didn’t really figure it out until I grasped the fact that the swaddle was designed to immobilize the child’s limbs.

I didn’t master the technique until watching the DVD of “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” made by a pediatrician named Harvey Karp, who clearly learned his TV stylings from Fred Rogers.  (My 80s infants loved them some Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  Consequently, I did too.  So that’s not a put down.)

Karp’s video demonstrates the swaddle, which legions of Youtube uploaders have mimicked.

There are now, on the market, specifically designed bits of cloth designed to maximize swaddling capability.  Our friends Tally and Brad gave us one.  Its design closely mimics that of an old-school straitjacket, minus the buckles.  We use it regularly.  Its camouflage print makes it all the more fetching.

Many people take comfort from Scripture.  I take mine knowing that the baby Jesus was, in all probability, like any other newborn, a howling banshee who needed the occasional swaddle.

Can’t get enough

“Are you getting any sleep?”

It’s the question I always liked to ask parents of newborns.  I’d ask based on my own experience with newborns.  It’s well known they like to eat regularly, regardless of the hour.

I’m writing this at 4:40am.  I’ve been up nearly an hour.  I’ve concluded that my best shot at getting out for a morning run will come between now and the next feeding, likely to take place about 6am.

Barry White, Soul Legend

“Are you getting any sleep” is somewhat equivalent to “do you come here often?”  It’s an unclever conversation starter.  It’s the question new parents answer over and over again.  Last year, I interviewed the Convention and Visitors Bureau president in Augusta, a guy named Barry White.  I resisted the urge to joke about his name.  Instead, I asked him how many would-be comedians instantly start in with “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” upon introduction.  “Constantly,” he said, unamused.

Though less annoying, the “sleep?” question is just as obvious.  The answer is:  It’s sporadic, especially for the breastfeeding wife.

Barry White, Augusta

Clint begins to yammer for chow like clockwork, every two to three hours, day and night.  Because she has the built-in equipment, Jez handles all the feedings.   I’ll irregularly roll out of bed to handle burping, diaper changing and rocking-back-to-sleep duties.

The interruptions don’t seem to affect my stamina the following day.  However, Jez’s 24-hour joined-at-the-teat regimen is exhausting, just to watch.

Like most old guys, I find that I need less sleep than I used to.  If I’ve gone to bed early — it was 9:30 last night — I’m perfectly comfortable rolling out of bed at 4am, especially if it leads to a cup of coffee followed by a run through the neighborhood.

Which I’m gonna do now, before the boy wakes up again.

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