Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Last Nap

The Last Nap

This whole time I feel like I’ve had a sountrack running in the back of my mind.  Back when it was time to take out Michael and Wagner’s breathing tubes it was “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.  Only I sang, “Ex-tubation time! C’mon!  It’s an ex-tubation!” 

Now I keep singing “Last Dance” by Donna Summer.  Only it’s “Last Nap.”

Folks, Wagner came home yesterday (Tuesday).  And Michael will likely follow on Friday.

It feels so weird.  Alta Bates, NICU nursery was like a full time job for me these last three months.  In fact, when I would go home at the end of the day I would joke to the nurses that I was clocking out.  But comparing it to a job is really selling the Alta Bates NICU short.  It’s an amazing place, more like a home than a job.  It’s hard to believe that it’s time to say good-bye.

So in these last few days, I’m trying to soak up every detail, every beeping monitor, every miniature doctor’s implement.  I’ve been reflecting on our last three months here, tallying up the memories and replaying them like one of those montages for the final episode of a sitcom.  You can think of it as a montage to “The Last Dance.”

. . . My first walk into the NICU, slow and shuffling, still tethered to an IV, passing the front desk with all the Christmas cards from Preemies Past, kids now a year old, four years old, twelve years old.   

. . . Our locker in the family room, number 25

. . . Watching our week-old sons suck breast milk from a swab

. . . The purple or peach vinyl bedside rocking chairs

. . . Hearing through the walls, the uncontrollable sobs of a distressed mother

. . . The cinnamon air freshener in the bathroom in the family lounge

. . . Wagner pulling his tubes out

. . . Assembling plastic parts, pumping, washing, sterilizing.  Wanting to skip it, but knowing it’s the only thing I can do for the boys right now

. . . Matt sleeping with his cell phone in his pajamas in case the NICU called

. . . Keisha, the security guard downstairs, Simi and Jackie, the security guards on the 4th floor, Brett, Sonia, & Allison, the security at the NICU desk

. . . Looking out the window at UC Berkeley clock tower

. . . Cracking jokes with the nurses

. . . The day the IV lines came out

. . . The first time either one of them latched on

. . . The doctors patiently explaining the cloudy spots on the x-rays

. . . The countless hours my mother logged at her grandsons’ bedside in the six weeks she stayed with us

. . . Michael pulling his oxygen mask off

. . . Giving the boys kisses on their stomachs as they lay on the isolette tables after surgery

. . . Looking through the halls for a pumping machine

. . . The teddy bear in the tile floor right outside the NICU and the LED-lit constellations in the ceiling panels
. . . The quilted isolette blankets with their three panels

. . . Wagner with little black googles to protect him from the phototherapy lights

. . . Hearing the night nurse call Michael, “Big stuff.”

. . . The heart-shaped temperature sensor

. . . The “turkey bags” the boys were in for the first eleven hours

. . . The little green stickers to label freshly pumped breast milk

. . . Kangaroo care with the boys, me in with one twin, Matt with the other, the two of us on opposite sides of the room, peering at each other through the hospital equipment

. . . The serene silence of the night shift

. . . Getting to know the nurses and learning about their families

. . . The smiles of the nurses after they got their thank-you fudge, thank-you cookies and Rita’s fruit arrangement

. . . Watching the physical therapist work with the boys on the physio ball

. . . Wagner’s “three o’clock special”: the enormous multi-diaper poop that always seemed to turn up at the nurses’ shift change

. . . The room assignment board w/ names on teddy bear magnets

. . . Dr. Kao, helping us pick a pediatrician, “Not him.  He’s too old.”

. . . Nurse after nurse telling us that Michael had “chewed them out”

. . .  The scrapbook pages that the night shift made

. . . Valet parking at the hospital garage

. . . The first time we heard Wagner cry (it was after their tubes came out.  Their throats were sore.  We had heard Michael cry—a lot!—but not Wagner.  When Wags did, Matt, our nurse, Jo Ann, and I all jerked our heads up.  He cried!)

. . . Understanding the boys’ conditions well enough to “give report” to the attending doctor

. . . Our blue parent bracelets

. . . Our photo shoot for Alta Bates (the NICU needed some new stock photos of moms and babies and they asked us to pose for some)

. . . All the times I pinched myself to keep from crying

. . . All the times I took their temperature and changed their diapers through the isolette doors and it seemed perfectly normal

. . . Listening to their little goat noises (the boys make little goat noises in their sleep)

. . . The endless beeping of the monitors in the early days

. . . Nurse after nurse whispering to us in the final days, “They don’t look like preemies.”

. . . The pictures Chiara drew specifically for her brothers’ bedside

. . . Winding my way up the parking garage

. . . Their little toaster heads and Janet the nurse telling me, “Don’t worry.  We’ll fix it.  They won’t go to kindergarten with toaster heads.”

. . . The misty eyes of the parents (us), doctors, and nurses at Wagner’s final discharge.

. . . The little graduation hat the night nurses made, along with the certificate of completion:

This is to certify that Wagner Kovac
On this most special day of March 30, 2010
Does hereby graduate from the NICU having successfully overcome,
With courage and determination, the obstacles that arose.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, Matt and I are going to take that last nap before Michael gets home.

© 2010 Janine Kovac 


  1. What a legacy: A Princeton graduate, A Berkeley graduate, and now, NICU grads! (Michael will get his diploma as soon as he turns in his "No Episodes" homework.)


  2. . . . Hearing the night nurse call Michael, “Big stuff.”

    Matt's impression does this justice!

  3. I was planning to comment by teasing you about how late-90s-wedding-dj your soundtrack is, but by the end of the post I was all teary and just want to comment that we're so happy all is well! Here's to Friday! (And hopefully even some naps after that.) -liz

  4. I didn't see the family picture (taken at the hospital?) the first time I read this entry. The look on the parents faces: so very happy. And on big sister's face: is that awe at life and the wonderful realization that her baby brudders are finally coming home? I choose to think it is.

  5. So happy for you! Tears of joy. You won't even notice the sleep deprivation:-)