I remember April 28, 2004 very well.
10:30am I had an appointment at the birthing center. Since Lila, who wasn't yet Lila, was almost two weeks late in arriving, Kathryn, the midwife, went through all my options.I could wait or be induced or try membrane stripping or castor oil.
So I had my membranes stripped and went home.
Jen was there too. She surprised me a couple days earlier, showing up at our door. She called just as she parked by the building, and when she knocked, we were chatting on the phone.
"Oh no!" I told her. "There's someone at the door. I don't feel like dealing with people, so I think I'll just ignore it."
When Jen planned her surprised, she considered that maybe she'd arrive and I woudn't be home. Or perhaps I would have already gone into labor. Or any other number of things. She never once considered, that she'd be standing five feet away with me refusing to open the door.
Keep in mind, I was forty-two weeks pregnant. That's almost ten months. Ten months, I tell you, is a very long time, and those last two weeks being the two longest of my life. I felt heavy, moved like an elephant and none of my clothes fit. Well, ok, a pair of bright red extra large Old Navy sweat pants and Noah's baggy black t-shirt that hugged my belly. I wore that as my uniform for days and when I got home, I didn't bother wearing anything at all.
So you can understand why I didn't feel like lumbering over to my pants and shirt, cumberously pulling them on to answer the door for who knows who.
Jen knocked again. She still had me on the phone and even suggested that perhaps if someone there was knocking twice, it was important. I couldn't see what was so important. She knocked again and again. That's when I started to get nervous. No one in the entire history of my living in that apartment ever knocked more than twice.
"Can I call you back?" I asked her. "I'm getting freaked out, and I want Noah to be on the phone with me when I answer it." Perhaps it was pregnancy paranoia talking, but there it was.
When I finally did it, I burst out laughing. I couldn't have asked for a better surprise.
So Jen was there that day I had my membranes stripped. Noah, too. Afterwards, Noah went back to work, feeling relieved that I'd be with Jen, my best friend and a nurse, if labor should begin.By 4:30pm, we sat on a stoop on Henry street eating ice cream from Louie G's (now closed). I drank mine as a castor oil shake, recipe provided by Yuliya the midwife.I went into labor a few hours later.
Today, the day before Lila's fourth birthday, will also be a memorable one.
It's been a crazy day. I woke up early. Noah still wasn't feeling better from his coral injury. He was hurting badly and stuff had started to seep from the wound. I took Lila to school then stopped by Bubbles Laundromat to talk to Donna. Donna, in addition to owning the laundromat, cuts hair. I am in dire need of a haircut. By 10:30am, the day was already extremely hot and sweaty.
I told her what happened to Noah. It was her suggestion that we go to the hospital in Panama or David just to have it checked out. "Everyone I know," she said "in my years living here has ended up with problems after going to the local hospital." She doesn't even bother with them anymore, goes straight to David. I have also heard my fair share of tales of bungled medicine from this hospital.
Then she told me where to rent crutches and where to find the nearest Aeroperlas office. The soonest flight to David with a seat for Noah leaves Friday morning. No way were we going to wait that long. His other choice would be tomorrow at 5pm. So I went to the airport to talk to the Air Panama people. There was a seat, and he left this afternoon at 4:30.
In between these things, I restocked our groceries, stopped by the farmacia for more bandages and agua oxigenada, ran into Vicky -- the local yoga instructor -- and promised her I'd bake a pecan pie for a charity bake sale and stopped by the hospital to rent crutches. Then I came home to once again clean and dress Noah's wound and get him packed for his trip. I also e-mailed a few family members to let them know what was happening.
We stopped by Lila's school to pick her up on the way to the airport where we waved until Noah disappeared through the airplane door before heading over to Golden Grill for a pre-birthday ice cream cone. She always chooses chocolate.
Now that I'm home, Lila has had dinner, watched a kid's show, shared popcorn with me. We sang happy birthday over one of the cupcakes we made last night, read stories to each other and now she is in bed. Now, I have nothing in particular to do and the worry has begun to settle in.
It's difficult being so far away from Noah, knowing there is nothing more I can do. I can only wait for a call from either him or Melissa to update me. She's picking him up at the airport and taking him to the Paitilla emergency room tonight. There, I assume, they'll x-ray his foot to see if anything is broken or if any bits of coral have been left in the wound. Based on conversations with both Jen and my parents (my online, on-phone medical consultants), it sounds like the wound has become infected. Perhaps they will reopen it to clean it out.
People here don't think of this as a big deal. All the gringo transplants fly to another city when they need a doctor. Melissa, the woman Lila and I visited the other day at Playa Mango, leaves for Paitilla Medical Center in a few days to have her third baby. Keren, the owner of Lila's Tangerine School, takes her two month old baby to David for his check ups and vaccinations. Marieke went there when she had dengue fever, and Miss Mandy (one of Lila's teachers) traveled when she had a kidney infection. It's just what people do.
I, however, am not used to this. In Brooklyn, we walked literally two minutes to get to the LICH emergency room. I've been there three times. Once to get a piece of glass out of my foot. Another time to get a raisin out of Lila's nose. The third time when Lila cut her finger badly on a can of beans she fished out of the recycling bin. In Brooklyn, people trust that doctors know what they're doing. Here, you just hope you either don't have anything serious or that they can patch you up just long enough to catch the next flight out.
I'm sad Noah won't be here tomorrow for Lila's birthday, although I suppose it is possible he'll finish with the hospital tonight and be ready to fly back tomorrow. I don't know.
I'm relieved Noah is with Melissa and Fred in Panama. Thank god for the two of them! They are family by marriage, but true family and friend by action. When I called Melissa to let her know Noah was headed to Panama, her immediate reaction was to ask which airport and what time would he arrive. She then called Fred's mom, Norma -- who has also had an enormous hand in making our time in Panama so comfortable -- to ask where she should take him upon arrival. Words cannot express how thankful I am for them. Without them, I would never have just put Noah on an airplane to fly off to some other city and deal with this on his own.
It would have meant dragging Lila along. She would have spent her birthday sitting in a hospital or flying back and forth. I'm not even sure how much help I could have been to Noah under those circumstances. There are a few people here I would trust enough to leave Lila for a night or two, But I don't know any of them that well, and besides, that would mean we wouldn't be with her on her birthday.
It hits me that this is the crux of being a true ex-pat, although I can't say I consider myself to be one quite yet. Things are great when all is well, but in an emergency, you're lost and forced to figure things out mostly on your own. You have to trust people you barely know to help you navigate a system that feels infinitely strange and illogical. This all leaves me feeling vulnerable, very vulnerable. But I suppose the sense of comfort when in Brooklyn was somewhat of an illusion too. Because you never know where life takes you.
All in all, I will remember this day well. I suppose the day I went into labor I was equally nervous, although obviously for different reasons. But it all turned out well. With Noah's foot, I am still waiting to see what will happen.
I'll let you know.