The Vienna story

Sep 17, 2009, 5:08 AM | Updated: Jan 12, 2011, 7:40 pm

It’s a hiccup. It’s a can of pop.

I would assume that these are two things almost everyone sees once a day. I know it’s impossible for you to go a week without witnessing someone annoyed by the hiccups or at least noticing a can of pop somewhere, even if you’re not the one drinking it.

Hiccups and cans of pop always makes me think of my daughter. I think all loving parents have triggers that sparks thoughts of their kids. I’m willing to bet I’m one of the few that has a hiccup and a pop can trigger.

I’m writing this Wednesday night before I ask you to donate to the KTAR Radiothon for PCH. Imagine not giving and then needing PCH in the next year. What if you don’t have kids but you give anyway? Imagine how you’d feel when you find out someone at work had to rush their child to PCH knowing that you’ve already done what you can to help.

There are different areas of any children’s hospital. I can walk right into a NICU and tell you what every monitor means, what every wire does, and know what every expression on the parents face is saying…because I lived it.

My motivation for asking you to help: a hiccup and a can of pop.

Remember the crazy worries everyone had as we went into the new millenium? Y2K the name given to the millenium bug. I think it was the late Peter Jennings who did a 24-hour live ABC broadcast highlighting different time zones as they hit the year 2000 to see what problems they encountered. While the world was either going crazy in fear or drunk with excitement for the ball to drop ending 1999, Jennifer and I never made it to the party.

On 12/31/99, the complications began.

Jennifer is an unbelievably organized person. Thank God she is. Despite the fact we were living in Alabama, she brought her entire medical records with her for our Christmas trip home to Ohio just in case there was a problem during her 21st week of pregnency. There was.

The doctor at the hospital was going to perform an exam and stopped. The nurse over his shoulder gasped. The exam hadn’t begun yet. The doctor looked up from his position at Jennifer’s southern tier. I’ve had never seen the color of a man’s face change before.

“There’s a problem. Your amniotic sack is already two-thirds of the way down your birth canal. The next two hours are going to be very scary for you as we take you through the hospital. Every part of your body is going to be poked and proded. If you have any fear of needles, you’ll need to get over it. You must stay calm. You could start having contractions any minute.”

Jennifer asked about the baby. “The baby will be fine if it stays in you.” She asked what if the baby came early (even though we didn’t know the sex, we never said “it” when refering to our child). “I told you we need you to stay calm. Let’s not worry about the baby coming now and focus on how we can never have that conversation.”

In order to push her amniotic sac back into her uterous, she laid in bed…upside down. No, I don’t mean completely in a vertical position, but the foot of the bed was about 18 inches higher than the headboard. She laid at a 30 degree angle. All day. Every day. For 3 weeks.

She was on straight bed rest. She wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom. When she had to go, she did it in a bed pan, while laying upside down. Jennifer has torn cartilidge in the left side of her rib cage so she can’t lay on her left side for any decent period of time. One week before she went to the hospital, she had fallen at the house and actually bruised her right hip. It wasn’t too bad, it only hurt when she layed on it. When she layed on her back, she would have small contractions. As you could guess, she couldn’t lay on her stomach.

I never thought anyone would ever challenge my father as my hero. Jennifer joined him atop the pedastal.

After a few days, they found an infection in Jennifer’s birth canal and said that if it continued, they would need to induce labor. “Your wife should be fine. She has a 95% chance of surviving.” They didn’t say this in front of Jennifer. We were in the hallway.

“If the inspection spreads, we’ll take the baby.”

“What’s the chances of survival?”

“After 24 weeks, if the baby’s a girl, 20% without defects.”

“I’m not concerned with what someone else considers a defective baby. What about before 24 weeks?”

“The baby would not survive.”

Have you ever thought about trying to talk trash to a doctor? Have you ever wanted to explain that since you’re a stubborn fool that you assume your child is too? Who is someone else to tell you what your child could accomplish? He was only being blunt after a week of me begging him to do so.

I lived in the hospital with her for a week. Once she was stable, I returned to work in Alabama. I used to do an afternoon talk show. I would leave after the show every Thursday and return to Ohio and stay in Jennifer’s room for the weekend. Every Sunday night I would drive back to Alabama.

On Tuesday, January 18th, she called me at 3:30 a.m.

“My water has broken, I might be headed into surgery.”

“Surgery? No one ever said anything about surgery!”

“The cord is wrapping around the baby’s neck and they can’t stop the contractions.”

“I love you.” “I know. I love you too.”

I got the call at 4:30 a.m. from her doctor and he explained that she would need to go into surgery. I showered and left.

It was around 10 that morning when I was south of Louisville. I called my Mom’s cell, Dad answered.

“You’re a father, son. Vienna was born a little after 8. Jennifer’s very sore but she’s OK.”

“and Vienna, Dad?”

(very long pause from a man who doesn’t get emotional)

“She wasn’t breathing. She’s not doing well. She’s in intensive care. She’s one pound.”

I missed the birth of my daughter and wasn’t there when my wife went through the scariest moment of her life. No matter what happens in my life, I will never live down that regret. Obviously, you can’t see this but this is where there’s a long pause from me typing through tears and struggling to see the monitor…

It takes 6 hours and 45 minutes to get from Huntsville, Alabama, to Dayton, Ohio. Over 7 when you hit Nashville at morning rush hour and Louisville at the little extra lunch time push. I left Huntsville at 5 a.m. I arrived at the hospital a little shy of noon. If you’re a fine officer of the law, this would not be a good time to admit that I left on Central time and arrived on Eastern time. If you were on I-65 or I-71 that day, I’m sorry.

I sprinted through the parking garage. Jennifer’s nurse saw me running and wrapped my daddy bracelet on my wrist. “Who do you want to see first?” I still don’t know why I said this but I said, “Jennifer, I’ve known her longer and there’s not much I can do for Vienna.”

Jennifer cried like I’ve never seen her when I arrived. It was a painful cry. She hadn’t been allowed to move much for three weeks. She was on heavy pain medication because the surgery was more complicated than your average C-Section. It was a hollow cry because she didn’t have the energy or focus to have normal feelings in the cry, yet the emotions couldn’t be restrained by drugs and pain.

“Did you see her?”

“I came to see you.”

“Go see your daughter.”

I walked into the area with the letters “NICU” over my head. I later found out they stand for neo-natal intensive care unit. I had to put on a hospital gown over my clothes. Stand in front of a sink. Wash my hands. Sing my ABC’s twice while scrubbing my hands. It’s ironic to stand in line behind adults singing ABC’s before you approach your child.

I approached “C” pod. Third isolete on the left. Vienna was a dark blood red. Her skin wasn’t thick enough after only 24 of the required 40 weeks of pregnency to hide her veins. There was a feeding tube in her nose giving her 1cc of Jennifer’s pumped milk every two hours. Her eyes were fused. She had an IV her hand. She had a wire attached to her foot. She had four wires attached to different spots on her chest. My daughter looked like someone’s science experiment.

Take off your wedding ring if you’re married. Now put all five fingers in the ring and slide it up your hand, around your wrist, keep going past your elbow. Yes, I’m asking you to put your entire wedding ring around your shoulder. Can’t do it? Vienna did it with mine and it wasn’t a tight fit. There was plenty of room between her armpit and my ring. You haven’t seen small until you see your ring dangling off your daughter’s shoulder.

I was allowed to touch her, but I could only do it after putting a slick substance on my finger and gently patting her skin, never stroking her. That first time I reached my hand in her isolete, she reached up her hand and closed it on my finger. The last time I cried like that was in the third grade when I had to tell my parents I hid in the bathroom at school because I didn’t want to go to Library after losing my checked out book.

After I pulled my hand out, I asked why I needed the slick substance and the strict rules of touching Vienna.

“All of her organs are pre-mature. She’s supposed to be in your wife for another four months. Her skin is an organ. It’s not ready to protect her yet. If you stroke her, the moisture on your hand could peel her skin off like a banana. It would be very difficult for her to survive if that happened.”

A few days later I was watching Vienna and she began a wild stomach convulsion. I freaked and ran to get her nurse. I was told to relax. Vienna had the hiccups. Have you ever seen a one pound baby with the hiccups? I think it’s the most violent thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a volcanic event in a package smaller than your hand.

All babies lose weight after they’re born. Vienna went down to 14 ounces. She weighed 2 ounces more than my morning Mountain Dew. I can’t look at anyone with the hiccups or a can of pop without having a funny sense of my daughter’s accomplishments.

Vienna had a staff infection, e-coli, a hole in heart, jaundice, and came very close to losing her sight. Finally at two months old, she was ready for her first baby portrait.

At one point during the 3 1/2 months she was in the hospital she got moved off the jet ventilation system. I thought this was great news. It wasn’t. She was moved off of it because she could survive without it even though it was better for her to be on it. The hospital had to make a decision about need for another child because they didn’t have enough jet ventilation systems. My daughter had to have equipment she needed rationed. It was then I decided I would give what I could to that hospital in Ohio.

Although I still give, I don’t want to ever hear the same thing happen to your child, at your hospital. I don’t want your co-worker’s pregnant wife told that the NICU is full. Please help me raise money for PCH today. Call your spouse now. Decide what you can give and click this LINK

It’s not for me or my story. It’s for the next story that is yet to be written.

After the longest blog I’ve ever written in my life, I need to stop writing and put Vienna to bed. She’s nine now and in that 20% of successful births at 24 weeks.

I figured you’d like to see a picture.

I can’t figure what looks more different, Vienna or the duck.

Doug Franz

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The Vienna story