As the second day of our stay at Cedars rolled around, my wife’s symptoms had slowly subsided. Our substitute OB doctor, Dr. M, made another appearance early on and brought along another colleague, Dr. X, whom he introduced as a specialist in ultrasounds and neonatal care. Yet another ultrasound later, our specialist had determined that the cervix had once again shortened overnight. At this stage, Dr. M recommended a round of steroids. Steroids are typically given during pregnancy to help a babies lungs develop at an accelerated pace when there is a risk of a premature birth. A baby’s lungs aren’t designed to begin the work of breathing until 36-40 weeks, depending on the new math versus the old math approach to what is considered a full term baby. Steroids can speed up the maturation of the lungs and give a preterm baby a better chance of survival with fewer complications. When I asked about the effect of steroids suppressing the immune system, Dr. M denied it, while Dr. X stated that it was true. We had observed that Dr. M was so quick to deny that medications ever had any side-effects, that he was now denying the opinion of his proclaimed specialist and colleague. They went back and forth briefly with Dr. X citing several studies and winning out. When I asked which steroid would be used, Dr M mentioned that it would be dexamethasone or betamethasone. When I asked about studies where dexamethasone had been implicated in brain damage and developmental delays, Dr. M once again stated that it never happens, while Dr. X stated that it was a possibility. Dr. X pointed out however that previous studies had been done with multiple doses of dexamethasone and he would only advocate one dose, which he believed to be much safer. After listening to the facts and the fiction, we decided to hold off on the steroids until our regular doctors were back and I could do a little more research. A note to Dr. M: Don’t challenge your proclaimed expert. Either way, you lose. You either demonstrate that they’re not an expert, or you demonstrate your ignorance by challenging and losing to the person that you’ve just introduced as an expert. Both results don’t instill any confidence in your patients.
By Tuesday, both of my wife’s doctors were back in town and made their appearances at Cedars. Her sonogram doctor, Dr. S, appeared and told us that he expected to be sending us home after the ultrasound. He mentioned that it was better not to stay at the hospital because they tend to look for things to treat. This resonated with the words of a nurse whom I had spoken to earlier that day. She had been at the hospital for its 33 years of existence and stated that she avoids doctors at all costs and would rather do anything than end up at the hospital. Such words coming from a nurse seemed to speak of the mismanagement that she had seen over the years. The message that I took away from both conversations was, “time to go home.” Unfortunately, the ultrasound didn’t bring us the good news that would signal a rapid retreat. Instead, the cervix length had shortened instead of stabilizing. What had been 3.5cm on Friday was now 1.6cm. This meant that it was time for the steroids, as we didn’t want to run the risk of preterm babies with the added burden of more lung complications. We opted for the betamethasone which has been demonstrated to be safer. Dr. S told us to rest and hold tight and he’d be back for a follow-up ultrasound on Sunday and hopefully send us home.
The rest of the week was very much like the beginning of any roller-coaster ride, where you go through a few minor ups and downs until you reach that gradual climb that leads to a final jaw-dropping descent. My wife’s cramping and bleeding episodes would come and go, and for the most part seemed to be on their way out. It was starting to feel more like a car trip through a hilly countryside than a roller-coaster ride at Six Flags. We ventured out a little bit more in our take-out habits and discovered Jerry’s Deli around the corner from Cedars.
By Saturday, we were looking forward to Dr. S’s return on Sunday and an ultrasound result that gave us our return ticket home. The baby’s heart monitors strapped to my wife’s belly gave us the reassuring sounds of two hearts peacefully enjoying their time in the womb. As Saturday night rolled around, the winds changed and we found ourselves once again riding the ups and downs of cramping and spotting. Although I managed a couple of hours of sleep, half hoping that these symptoms would fade away as the others before them had, my wife was unable to sleep. The cramping intensified and mild muscle relaxants and pain killers were having no effect. By morning, with the symptoms increasing, we anxiously awaited Dr. S’s return. He was called in earlier than planned and the ultrasound revealed that the cervix was now .5cm, and my wife was dilated 3.5cm. Now 3.5cm is not very large for a full term baby, but for a 25 week old baby, it was an open barn door. Dr. S made the call and preparations were under way for a C-Section delivery. The tension became magnified as a flurry of nurses went into action. Within 45 minutes, we found ourselves in the operating room.
Our initial hopes for an intimate home water birth had now been officially replaced by a 20-person production in a hospital operating room complete with surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and assorted neonatal assistants. Sitting next to my wife’s head, I watched the entire surgery via an overhead mirror above and behind us on the ceiling. It was only two weeks earlier that I had been watching the same surgical procedure on the Discovery channel, unaware of what was to come. On Sunday, May 3rd, my wife delivered a baby boy, Ethan Kai at 1 pound, 10 ounces and a baby girl, Ana Sophia at 1 pound, 9 ounces. With these twin miracles, our ticket was punched for admission to the Cedar-Sinai’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, hereafter know as the NICU.