Right after we finished Baby's first photo shoot, Dawn and I had an appointment to tour the birthing facilities at Hackensack Medical Center, the hospital with which our doctor was affiliated. We rushed right over and joined a fairly large parade of pregnant women heading from the parking garage into the hospital. It's either an amazing coincidence or a powerful case of selective attention, but I find that just about everyone else on the planet is pregnant now that Dawn is.
We began our tour by finding a huge line for the information desk in the lobby. Dawn said that when she called, she was told to meet in the lobby; but while there were plenty of pregnant women around, there was no official hospital person telling us where to go. We waited on line for a short bit, but as far as Dawn's concerned, lines are things that happen to other people, so we quickly ended up walking purposefully down a corridor, following directions Dawn had overheard. Along the way we picked up another woman, hugely pregnant--my expert guess is she was between three and nine months pregnant--and the man who was with her. (I note at this point that I don't know what to call these men. They are almost certainly in most cases the father, but not necessarily; they could just as easily be the grandfather or the uncle or the friend of the family or the cab driver. There's no way to tell paternity just by looking. I think this may explain a lot of the problems of the human race.) He was short and greying, with a big nose bent around to one side, and he complained incessantly, starting in the lobby about the parking garage.
``You'd think a big hospital like this would have a working elevator in the parking garage,'' he said scornfully. ``And couldn't they put up a sign to tell us where to go? You'd think they could put up a sign. What's the matter, they couldn't afford to get more people working at the information desk?'' And so on.
Soon, we came to an elevator, in front of which was standing another vastly pregnant woman and a sheepish man.
``All the baby stuff is on the second floor,'' she told us, and then the elevator arrived and we all got on. Just before the door closed, she held it for another woman and her belly and her man. ``Anyone with a distended uterus,'' she said, ``second floor.'' Although my wife's uterus is not distended, not yet. She's just a little bloated, as is normal--it's from the slowing down of her digestive system, which allows better absorption of nutrients for the developing baby.
Once on the second floor, we came to another information desk, this one having to do with babies only. The woman who held the elevator door wasn't there for our tour, though, she was there for a breastfeeding class, so she and the man with her went their separate ways, him looking a little depressed. Of course he was depressed--in a short while, someone would be coming to take away his toys. (Here's an old joke for you: How are a woman's breasts like model trains? They're both supposed to be for the kids but the father ends up playing with them. Ha ha.)
The woman at this information desk didn't seem to know much of anything. She did try to call down to the information desk in the lobby, but apparently they were so busy, they wouldn't even answer the phone. It seemed clear, though, that Dawn had overheard the wrong directions, so we had to go back three spaces and wait in the lobby again. Which we did.
I have to admit that at this point, it was as if a pregnant woman had peed on the fire of my confidence in this hospital. If they can't figure out how to get us to our tour, how will they ever manage to keep tabs on all those babies? ``We're sorry, we can't seem to find your daughter. She's probably in the Stymie Herkheimer Conference Room, though. I'll call down.''
Eventually, though, we did find our way to the conference room in which the tour was to begin. There we found a room like a very small movie theater, the seats full of pregnant women and just plain men, while a matronly woman stood in the front and went on and on in an even voice about all of the hospital's birthing facilities. I was happy to note that almost all of the women there were very pregnant--some of them were so pregnant, they had kids already. Now, I think that's a little late to be reviewing hospitals, but different strokes for different folks, I guess. Anyway, it made me happy to see that Dawn and I were ahead of the game. This may very well end up being the only final exam for which I started studying early.
Basically, the system works in this way: The hospital has what they now refer to as LDR rooms. The letters ``LDR'' stand for, as you might imagine, ``Labor'' (eek!), ``Delivery'' (ook!), and ``Recovery'' (sigh). All of this is now done in one room, where even a few years ago it was done in several, like a Marx Brothers routine. In most movies, it's still done this way, especially if you can get Robin Williams in. Since we can't get Robin Williams or Groucho, we just get the one room and the one bed. The bed is a technologically advanced model which can convert from a regular bed for laying in during labor to a delivery bed until the baby pops out and then back to a regular bed for the woman's recovery, which I think consists of swearing up and down that she will never ever have sex again. I believe the technical term for this advanced bed is Craftmatic Adjustable, but I might have misheard the nice lady.
So the woman goes straight to the LDR room upon arrival in the hospital. Presumably, she delivers there, and the baby is whisked efficiently over to a warming table in the room and cleaned and disinfected and hopefully scented with lemon before it is returned to the mother for breastfeeding or general cuddling. After the woman is as recovered as she's going to get--without major psychological intervention, that is--she's taken to her semi-private or private room where she'll stay for about a day. The baby can stay with her overnight, if she wants, except for a brief moment at midnight when they take the baby away for weighing and a quick mental programming to vote Republican. Again, I might have misheard the nice lady.
That much explained, the matronly woman validated our parking stubs and took us up to tour the nursery and the LDR rooms. Only ten people at a time were allowed in the LDR room, and the nice lady had kept track of the order in which everyone arrived, so the rest of us had ample time to view the nursery through the glass windows covered with nose prints. The nursery was almost entirely empty, since most of the babies were in the rooms with their parents, but there was one very proud father standing inside the nursery with a baby in a little shopping cart. When he saw us, he smiled and wheeled the cart over to the window for us to see.
``It's a girl,'' he mouthed through the window, ``My second. Her name is Maria.'' I just met a girl named Maria. He was so happy. She was so hairy.
We also got to look through the windows at the natal intensive care unit, for the babies that come out too early or come out otherwise too sick to be in the nursery. Some of them were very small. Off to one side we saw a father bottle-feeding his baby, who was wearing a little knitted cap. Even I was touched. I was happy to see that the nurses were sitting with some of the little ones, with their hand reached in to touch them, so the babies wouldn't feel lonely and afraid. I remembered that Dyan's baby Chelsea had been in one of these for a bit, and I wished them all well.
I'd say overall, even after the bad first impression I got, I came out in favor of the hospital. There were only three things that worried me: First, that the baby be allowed to stay with Dawn overnight. It doesn't seem right to me that a baby should spend its first night all by itself. But, of course, we found out that the baby could indeed stay with her, so that was all right.
Second, I was concerned about this so-called ``semi-private'' room. Allow me to digress into a rant for a moment.
I'd like to find out who came up with the idea of the semi-private room and beat them with a stick. There are many famous and brilliant doctors in history, from Hippocrates to Dr. Jonas Salk, and if you rated them on a scale, say, from one to ten, those two worthy fellows would rate a ten; and the guy who thought up semi-private rooms, or any non-private room for that matter, would fall at about negative one billion. As far as I'm concerned, the concept of a non-private room is about as anti-life, anti-health, anti-comfort, anti-recovery, antediluvian, evil, awful, obnoxious, unpleasant, and just plain nasty a thing ever to become standard healthcare practice. Give me leeches, give me electroshock therapy, give me dancing around the fire and invoking the gods; but you can take non-private hospital rooms and keep them to yourself. To me, the non-private hospital room is the ultimate manifestation of economics over people. We are not cows to be herded. My wife is not a brood mare to be penned with the other mares. Humans are not goats or chickens, to be packed as many to the square foot as possible. And when it comes to healthcare especially, I should think that people would be treated with much more compassion. As if being hospitalized isn't bad enough, as if undergoing surgery or a difficult delivery isn't already traumatizing to such a large degree; as if it already isn't so bad, we need to make it worse by not allowing people to deal with it in private, by parading each other's pain and suffering past each other for our entire hospital stay. A private room, to my mind, is almost as important for proper recovery as is a sterile operating room.
But we can't be assured we'll get a private room. The best you can do is request one after delivery, and if there's one free, then you can have it. And naturally this privilege is not covered by insurance, because they can't make any money from keeping you comfortable, happy and healthy. The only hope we have is that there were two private rooms available during the tour; so we hope that there is often a private room available. I'll spring for the extra money. It's worth it to me.
Anyway, the third thing that worried me: I can't stay with Dawn and the baby overnight. Our friends Craig and Kim delivered Isaac in a hospital which allowed Craig to stay with them at night, and I'd like that, too. After all, it's my baby as much as it is hers--at least I think it is, and so far Dawn's gone along with it. I can't see standing there saying, ``What a beautiful bouncy baby boy--whups, gotta go,'' and driving on home to watch Letterman. Somehow, I think this is going to be bigger than that. And after it's over, I'm supposed to go home to an empty bed and sit until nine o'clock the next morning. That just doesn't feel right.
And anyway, what will I do with myself for a whole night by myself? I hardly ever have to spend a night alone. How can I possibly keep myself occupied?
``I think maybe me and the boys will go out and smoke some weed and go to one of them nudie bars,'' I told Dawn as we walked through the parking garage to our car. But she called my bluff.
``You'll just stay home and watch TV,'' she said. Then she added, ``But you won't be alone. My mother will need a place to stay, so she'll be with you.''
My screams echoed throughout the garage, bouncing from car to car.