It is 59.6 miles from our house to the hospital. I have driven on I-35 countless times with the band, but I now have this particular stretch of road memorized. Carrie leaves in the morning and makes sure she is with the boys as much as possible throughout the day. I get done with work, head home, take a shower, and jump in the car. I want to be there by 7:30 so that I get to do "hands on" with every boy. They have these "hands on" things every three hours and I want to do at least one with them. The road passes relatively quickly. I blast the music on the stereo or return phone calls. I try not to speed although it is difficult not to. Thanks to Carrie's text messages, I know exactly what is going on with the boys and I can't quite explain how anxious I am to just be in the same room with them. I take the final exit and make the right hand turn, and then the left hand turn and finally I pull into the parking lot. My feet seem to glide over the parking lot and through the huge glass doors. I get on the elevator and ride to the NICU floor. I pass Labor and Delivery and through the NICU waiting room which is usually full of expectant families. Grandparents wait with the kids while Mom and Dad are in the back having a baby. It creates a certain type of excitement and there is always a slight adrenalin rush as you pass this part of the hospital. Thankfully, the NICU is a secured area. The people at the desk who buzz you in know us very well. No words are necessary as they let me in and I head up the hallway to the giant sink. The sink is where you scrub your hands up to your elbows. I scrub vigorously. The last thing I want to do is bring the boys some sort of illness via their idiot father. Next to the sink is a cabinet full of hospital gowns. You are required to wear one and I grab the one on the top and throw it over my clothes. Rumor has it that there are maternity gowns in there with holes for milk producing breasts. I always hope I pick one of those at random just for the sheer humor that would certainly come from that. It hasn't happened yet. I then step over to the door that can only be opened from the inside or with the combination code that is required on the outside. I wait until someone notices me, and then I'm let in.
I see Carrie who is generally hovering over one of the boys or just sitting and watching the monitors. Every time I walk in, I see the relief wash over her and there is a look of contentment on her face. This is the time when her whole family gets to be together even if it is in a hospital in a sterile room. We walk from boy to boy looking in on them. Usually the are sleeping quietly, but sometimes they are kicking their legs or waving their hands around. Today, I start with Cash. I try and remember who I started with the time before and do someone different to be fair. Being exactly fair with them has become an obsession with me and I think it has with Carrie also. We don't want to show favoritism even at this early stage.
Cash is on his back and kicking around a bit. He got his PICC line out and is receiving all his nourishment from mother's milk. His air is on a level 2. It is difficult to keep it in his nose. All three of them are always pulling it out, and it has been a full time job for the nurses making sure that the two little prongs are in their little noses. I reach into the incubator and touch his head. He always grabs for my finger or hand and I can't quite explain how good it feels to have them latch onto you with all their might.
Zane is laying in his incubator and is chewing on his air tube. It's no where near his nose. Earlier in the day he managed to pull out his feeding tube. All three of them like to kick and stretch out. I'm sure they enjoy the extra space they now have. Zane has his air level set at 2 also. His PICC line will come very soon.
Cade is back under the blue lights. His bilirubin count was high again, and he will be under there for 24 hours. They have to wear a blindfold during this time and Cade is trying to rip his off. His air is set at 2.5 and he is just a little behind Zane in getting his PICC line out. He is also no fan of his air tube and oftentimes both prongs will be up one nostril as he tries to free himself from the awful contraption.
Now it's time for hands on. We open the incubator and get started. First you take their temperature and they hate this. The thermometer is placed under their arms and it takes a minute to get a good reading. Next we change the diaper. I thought this part would bother me, but it doesn't at all. Dirty diapers mean that the body wearing said diaper is working properly. The boys fuss and yell a bit during this process, but even the nurses remark at how calm our boys are. Today I will hold each boy as they receive their food. I hold the syringe that is connected to the feeding tube and watch the milk go down the line into their little mouths. They like this part and suck on their pacifiers for all they're worth. This is a good sign. I can tell all of them are ready to eat on their own. They are gaining over an ounce a day at this point and they should be eating on their own next week. Next, they wrap Cade up like a football and I hold him for 30 minutes.
This is when the entire world outside that room ceases to exist. Cade opens his eyes and looks at me. He yawns and then closes them. You can feel him relax as he goes to sleep. However, he is fighting it. He tries hard to open his eyes and look up at me. He does this over and over, but sleep is calling. Simply being alive wears these boys out. I stare down at his little face. This is our kid. Ours. Mine and Carrie's. This little helpless human being is ours. I say this over and over to myself. I still haven't quite wrapped my mind around it.
After Cade goes back into his unit, we move onto Zane and Cash and do the same things. They both try to look up at me for a while, but soon the desire to sleep is too overwhelming. Cash gets so relaxed he has a heart rate drop that sends me into a panic that I can't describe. He remembers to breathe on his own and the moment passes quickly.
After all the boys are safely tucked back into their little units, Carrie and I go back and forth from one to another checking and re-checking their tubes. We stare at the monitors and watch their heart rates, oxygen levels, blood pressure ect. on the screen.
Now comes the difficult time. It's time to leave. The boys do the most growing when the are asleep. They've had a big day including being held by both Mom and Dad. There is really nothing left for us to do. We talk to the nurses a bit and say goodbye to our boys. We tell them how much we love them and how we can't wait to take them home.
We walk outside the door and put our gowns in the little hamper that is right by the sink. I look at Carrie and try to gauge how bad she is feeling. The very first time she left the hospital without them was a very very rough night. She has gotten a bit more used to it at this point, but it is never easy.
We have both told ourselves and each other that they are in the best place for them. They need to be here. They need the monitors, the wires, the tubes, and the around the clock care. We tell ourselves that our house is not equipped for them. We remind each other how lucky we are that they are all doing so well. Things could be so much worse. Our boys could be having real serious problems, and the fact is, they aren't. We talk about how great the nurses are and how secure we feel. We tell ourselves that this time will pass quickly. We talk about the day we get to take them home. The day. The best day is coming.
It doesn't matter.
In the end, a mother is leaving her babies. No amount of positive thinking and rationalization can change this. A mother and a father are getting in a vehicle and leaving their boys. They are leaving them in the care of others and driving 60 miles away. This goes against nature. This is not supposed to happen.
I don't say anything when Carrie is sad. Even I don't possess the words to make her feel any better. A mother being away from her babies is about the most unnatural thing in the world. It goes against the stars and the gravitational force of the earth and moon. The earth itself doesn't spin quite right. The wind blows a bit off kilter and the force of the universe seems completely at odds with itself.
We get into the car and we reach for the hand of the other. Tonight Carrie is driving. We head South back to Austin. Back to the empty house that isn't even yet aware that it is empty. Back to the dog who knows something is up.
Carrie curses as she passes the member of the Texas Highway Patrol.
He is instantly behind us with his lights on.
The speed limit is 70 on I35 in Texas. At night however, it is posted 65. This rule is never followed. Carrie was doing 75 when she passed the officer.
We pull to the side of the road.
Mike: Do we do it?
Carrie: Do what?
Mike: Play the triplet card.
The officer comes to my side and we immediately hand him Carrie's license and proof of insurance.
Officer: Good evening. I pulled you over for speeding. It's 65 at night here and I clocked you at 75, Where are you headed?
Mike: We are headed home to Austin.
Officer: From where?
Mike: We have three babies in intensive care in Temple.
Mike: We had triplets two weeks ago. We drive back and forth to visit them. I guess we were in a bit of a hurry to get back home.
He walks to the front of the car and checks the stickers in the window. He looks at the front plate and comes back to us.
Officer: I'll get you your warning and you can be on your way. It will just take a minute.
The officer returns after a few minutes.
Officer: Did you know that your license plate in back is covered up a bit? You can't see the Texas part of your plate.
Mike: I'm sorry sir. I will take that cover off as soon as we get home.
Officer: Sounds good. I have issued you a warning. This won't go on your record. You have a safe night and good luck with those babies.
Mike: Thank you officer.
Carrie: Thank you.
We drive into the night and celebrate the bullet we just dodged.
Thanks little guys.