The Great Escape
Monday we found out Frankie would be coming home in 7 to 10 days, barring any significant apnea episodes between now and then. Tuesday we learned that the earlier estimate had been whittled down to a firm 5 days: Frankie would be coming home Saturday. When Dr. Blunt came around to talk to us about the good news, I assumed he was primarily there to remind us that all of this could be scuttled by a single, twenty second pause in Frankie's breathing. Virtually all premature babies suffer these momentary lapses, due in large part to inadequate development of their nervous systems. But that comes with time, and almost all preemies quickly outgrow the syndrome known as Apnea of Prematurity. Truthfully, it has been the least worrisome obstacle impeding our escape from the NICU. I've imagined all manner of complications related to the fistula and atresia repairs. I've dreaded the prospect of having to suction stomach acid from Frankie's nose and throat if he suffers from severe reflux. I feared that eating would become torture, and that he'd be in the NICU for months trying to put on enough weight to come home. Even when it became apparent that these worries weren't going to materialize, I had a host of ancillary fears queued up in the wings of my overactive imagination. What if Frankie contracted RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) which, according to the March of Dimes, "is highly infectious and almost all babies get it," and can be fatal if contracted by a preemie? It seemed perfectly reasonable to fear viruses, and staph infections, and the innumerable communicable diseases otherwise-healthy babies are invariably exposed to in open bays like the NICU. What I didn't worry about was apnea of prematurity. Frankie had gone about a week between episodes, and I'd assumed he'd just outgrown the problem. Turns out that wasn't the case. So, when Dr. Blunt stopped by, I naturally assumed it was to inform us that we could be on perpetual hold if Frankie continues to stop breathing every now and again. Not so. Seems there's a loophole in the apnea clause of the NICU discharge policy. As Dr. Blunt put it, "If Frankie keeps this up, we'll send him home on a monitor." After he left, Jill reassured us that it wasn't going to come to that.
So, that was Tuesday. The plan was for Anna and I to "room in" with Frankie on Friday night, apparently so the nurses can make sure we won't kill the boy when they release him into our care. That gave us Wednesday and Thursday to get the house ready for Frankie's arrival. As of Wednesday morning, I still had a front door to stain, a back yard to mow, and enough sweeping and dusting to keep me busy for a couple of days. None of this was made any easier by the unfortunate, embarrassing injury I sustained while loading Frankie's deceptively heavy car seat/stroller combo into the stationwagon. Unfortunate because the timing was tragically perfect, what with Frankie scheduled to arrive within a week and my foisting chores just getting started. Embarrassing because I'd thrown out my back, the archetypal fatherhood injury. Everything about me has begun to reek of paternity. I hobbled my way through Wednesday with Anna running circles around me. We'd both begun to seriously doubt the likelihood that I'd finish the door by Friday morning. Any plans for the backyard were long since abandoned. But we got up early on Thursday, which seemed to bode well. And I think there was a damn good chance I'd have finished that door by dinner time, if not for an unforeseen change of schedule.
Jennifer, Frankie's primary nurse, called us Thursday morning to tell us he'd had another apnea episode Wednesday night. Anna hung up the phone and said, "He's coming home tomorrow." Since Frankie would be sent home with a monitor, there was no reason to keep him in the NICU any longer. So, we "roomed in" last night, and Frankie came home this morning. He's lying in his co-sleeper next to Anna, both of them trying to catch up on lost sleep.