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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

8 Minutes to Hell

I have run as many as eight miles at a time.

I have voluntarily taken part in training regimens which involved thick-necked trainers (still not sure if they were male or female) thrusting me into machines whose use should probably be cause for Congressional hearings on torture.

None of that compares to the ache and shame that comes from finding an eighteen-year old DVD that sounds innocuous enough.  It was called 8 Minute Abs. Thanks to about a decade of considering a walk to the Dairy Queen for the large Blizzard as exercise I found out it could be considered as 8 Minutes to Hell.

"Why don't you try this?" my wife said. She found it in a bargain bin at Wal-mart a few years back and had it sitting under the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello classic "Back to the Beach" in our entertainment center.

I had convinced myself I was on a program. I would run something along the lines of a mile and then walk for probably a couple miles and every once in a while I would do some ab exercise I saw LL Cool J do on Conan. I did not think it through that that was not the only exercise the Cool James that Ladies Love did.

I thought to myself, "I'm a man." What could this silver disc intended for housewives do for someone as masculine as I? How challenging could this be?

Of course these questions came from a person who was never aware he was putting on weight until seeing family pictures where his neck had become his most prominent feature. I did not look like the "Before" picture on Weight Watchers but I could have been used as the second or third picture on the five step program.

Now the DVD is in the player. Sporting the "Mid-life Crisis Workout Uniform" of shorts that are supposed to be baggy but aren't and a faded St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt, I am now ready to hit "Play" on the remote.

The music begins and it sounds like a MUZAK version of the Pointer Sisters classic "Automatic" (look it up). The video fades up to three people in tank tops sitting in what appears to be a vacant lot.  Speaking of vacant that describes the woman in the video who, of course, is blonde and has pasted the kind of smile on her face that would give a forty year old man the impression that she would be his if he bought her a Zima and tried his one dance move to impress her. (Obviously, it has been a while since I was in the single world.)

The two men have the same smiles and are wearing pants tight enough that you can actually see freckles through the material. They certainly are pleased to be laying on mats in a field!

"Hey, Gang!" Our leader seems welcoming enough and I envision 90's housewives taking time out from watching "Young & the Restless" and eating Ho Hos to do a few sit-ups. I think that a man such as myself should cruise through this.

Mr. Tanktop on the DVD has a bubblyness that seems limitless. The only other man I ever described as 'bubbly' was wearing an ascot so this is new ground.

The clock on the screen begins and Tanktop tells me that the movements are "safe and effective and fun" so again I know this will be a snap.

He starts with The Basic Crunch. I lay back and do this nice easy starter and in my mind I mock the women who paid for this supposed workout. I can almost see them in their elastic-banded sweatpants struggling to lean up for forty-five seconds. "Piece of cake," I think. Too many pieces of cake are part of why I am trying this.

Next comes the Right Oblique Crunch. Tanktop says, "This works the 'Love Handles', remember those?" I do not recall anyone really wanting to use anything of that nature for any positive purpose so I am not sure why the term is used. He talks about feeling it tighten up but I am feeling more of a folding sensation. Still, I feel confident that I will make it to the next step.

That of course is the Left Oblique Crunch. In trying to raise up, I realized that while I am left-handed in some things and right-handed in others I am definitely not 'left-obliqued'!  This should not hurt.  I am moving like three inches and feeling like a small ferret is biting me under the rib cage.

Still, it's only eight minutes.  I am home free. Of course then I notice that I am not even to the halfway point as the stellar mid-nineties t.v. graphics show.

Continuing to lay on my back the next step is Toe Touches. Tanktop tells me to raise my legs up and touch the bottom of my feet.  After stretching and straining and beginning to wish him dead,  I hear Tanktop admit that touching the bottom of my feet is physically impossible which makes me hate him... yes I hate him just a little bit more. He keeps telling me I am doing great and I think I may be lightheaded enough to forget that this was recorded during the first term of the Clinton administration so odds are he does not really mean it.

At this moment I am aware that the blood that normally goes to my brain is now locked in my pelvic tilt.

Next he says, "Hands placed under the buttocks" which is not that much fun when and it is time for the Reverse Crunch. It is a maneuver that brings back memories of every enchilada I have ever eaten. It is an exercise that is not as painful as the others but it is also a maneuver that makes me glad that I am alone.  There is no way to avoid the type of sound-smell combo that would drive you out of any exercise class.

Thankfully, I am allowed to remove my hands from under my buttocks for the Right Side Crunch. This looks simple and easy (as Tanktop keeps mentioning) and I notice that my belly button is maneuvering first six inches to the right and then four inches to the left. My body is officially a Jell-o Jigglers commercial. I can start to feel pain in areas I am not actually supposed to be exercising.

Following the Right Side Crunch they bring us the Left Side Crunch. I wonder how it is possible that even though I never exercise the muscles on the Right or the Left, I am this much weaker on the left.  Three times I lift my elbow across my body and I notice that even though Tanktop never stops talking he is still doing three crunches for every one I do. The only thing drowning out my groaning in pain is the sound of the shame in the back of my head.

Up next is the Push Through. This implies that all I am doing is a simple move of leaning upward with my hands extending downward for a simple crunch. I am not proud that I had the thought that since it had been more than a decade since the DVD was made that I kind of hoped that one or more of the people on the video could possibly be dead.

It's time to put my hands under my buttocks again and I do not have the courage to look at the clock. I assume that this is all some cruel joke that the Eight Minutes is really using some offshoot of the Metric System and that it really translates to three hours and forty-five minutes in American time. I am supposed to extend my legs straight upward to work my lower abdomen. I start to think that after this maneuver that any discussion my wife and I have of more children will be moot.

I do look and see that I have one minute and fifteen seconds to go. It is an incredibly simply Alternating Curl. I just need to raise my right elbow to my left knee and left elbow to my right knee again and again. I think back to the person of my youth who could play three sets of tennis, mow the lawn and then play a baseball game that night.

The me of today hates that guy! Again, why does this hurt my right side a little while my left side is ready to secede from the union?

Finally, in what appears to be a move used to fill the final 30 seconds comes the Curl. It is basically something where you lay your head on the ground then lift it and look at your feet (if you can see them.) Again, there is no way this should be considered exercise. There also is no way that this should hurt. It does though. I start panicking that this somehow is just the warmup to the real workout and that this will be the end for me.

I envision the paramedics arriving to try and save me and seeing the condition I am in and the freeze frame on the t.v. that says "8 Minute Abs" and they just put a blanket over me because there is no hope for this guy. Actually, as we approach the final five seconds Tanktop throws a curveball and says, "Now hold it," expecting me to keep my head up until the end. I fear that I will not be able to speak because I have not done a neck exercise, since....EVER!

Make this stop!  Tanktop says, "Release," and tells his little helpers Good Job and tells me he will see me in 24 hours.

I think to my self that this is what the Geneva convention was set up to avoid. Dick Cheney would think this was over the top. I try and come up with reasons that this DVD was part of an elaborate plot to make us all feel insecure because no human could possibly handle this supposedly "low impact" workout.

Actually, what it did was make me think that I just needed to make one less trip to Arby's every month.  Thank you Tanktop and the Tanktop-ettes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Night Nurse

As a new but somewhat worried dad I put a hopefully sterile gown on over my clothes, waved at the lady at the desk, squeezed out the mystery disinfectant you must put on your hands and strutted into what is known as the NICU.

A woman I have never seen before is standing next to my little guy and gives me the most pleasant of smiles. "Are you Miles' dad?"

I say, "Yes, I'm John."

"Hi John.  I'm Pam." The smile fades, but not completely.  "I do need to talk to you about your son."

As she tells me that Miles is no longer on the fast track to getting out of the hospital because the doctors are concerned he just can not keep his body temperature regulated, an odd thought hits me.

"What a bizarre career."  This is the first and possibly the last time this woman will spend time with me and she gets to deliver the news that our five-day old boy is not ready for the world.  She knows that everything was going as well as can be expected for a guy who decided to break on through to the other side about six weeks early.

She also knows that, since there was never a problem with the cavalcade of nurses who had taken care of Miles  that at some point it will pop into my head that this must be HER FAULT.  She knows it's not and I know it's not but that need to blame someone has to be a part of it when you now envision more tubes and round-the-clock care for your five pound boy.

Until now, my wife and I had been the lucky ones in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Miles was five pounds seven ounces and had passed pretty much every test.

We had listened to these nurses explain to a teenage couple why their four pound boy needs them to be on time for feedings. We did this while she and I rotated in and out for feedings and brought proud grandparents up to help tend to the baby.  The nurse asked if either adolescent had a parent who could help take the load off of them.  The answer was no.

We had watched a nurse desperately try to explain to a couple that they absolutely had to get a prescription filled today but ran into a slight snag.  Neither parent spoke English and the father was trying so hard to understand what his daughter who barely seemed to have enough skin to cover her frail body needed.   This happened as I gazed in wide wonder at my little boy as he opened his eyes and looked at me like he actually knew who I was.

As we were heading back down to my wife's room my father-in-law and I walked past three nurses working on a child that seemed to fit into one of the women's hands hoping that their efforts would not end with having to deliver the worst news anyone could deliver.  From there we were able to go and look at the pictures we took of Grandpa and Grandson on the digital camera.

Seeing these people who had this calling to work in this environment go from nurturing care-givers to teachers of clueless parents to life-and-death situations and then back made me wonder just what made them think this pendulum of emotion and effort would be the way they wanted to spend their lives.

Yes, we did freak out on the drive to the hospital that this was all happening too soon and there would be problems.  However, until night number five of the Miles Pearson Era, our biggest issue was family and friends riding us because we had not posted enough pictures to Facebook.

My wife had gotten to go home on Wednesday and we had established a nice rotation of driving back and forth to the hospital.  I was even able to watch most of the Cardinals Playoff games.  (I still can't believe their run to the World Championship but even that kind of pales in comparison.   I say that despite the fact that had Miles been born on time I probably would have pitched that we name him after World Series MVP David Freese.)  But I digress.

So, on Thursday night I headed back to the hospital with freshly pumped breast milk for a feeding.  I was a little sleepy but I had gotten used to this process enough that I thought this would be kind of a short visit and I would actually get a good night's sleep and come back first thing and we would start thinking that Miles would come home.

That was until Pam had to tell me the news.

She explained that when Miles was outside the electric blanket they use to keep him warm that he simply could not hold his Body Temperature.  This is not anywhere near the most serious thing the other babies and their parents endured but this was MY little guy so nothing existed outside this little six foot space.

Pam told me that if this did not improve that Miles would have to go back in the isolette.  The isolette is a giant plastic case that kind of looks like a sneeze guard at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  It is where he started and of course it was maybe the biggest step toward knowing he was healthy when he got out of it.

Therefore, the news that he might have to go back in there smacked me around like a flurry from Muhammad Ali.  (Sorry for all the Sports references but until I entered family life I was pretty one-dimensional.)

Pam was the perfect mixture of letting me know this was important and assuring me that this was something they had handled and that Miles would handle.  Now she had to handle the fragile psyche of a father who had no clue how this should all go.

She gave me the basics of what to say my wife so I could keep her from freaking out when I called her.  She then could tell that I needed a task so she put me to work.

Until now, my role had been to feed Miles and change him and then get the heck out of the way so the nurse in charge could go about her business.  My only area of expertise was feeding him and making odd faces at him.

"Go with that," she said.  Again, she knew that our situation was still nowhere near the most dangerous or scary or even sad.  In fact, the baby next to Miles had parents who lived three hours away and did not have the money to come more than every couple of weeks.  They also had no help outside this group of nurses who brought the extra care.

However, Pam knew that the only thing that I saw was our guy in his little striped stocking cap and IV running into his toes.  She knew that I would be pretty much a zombie going home so she gave me tasks to do.

She explained that hearing my voice and feeling me touch him would be a big help.  She offered no guarantees but, even though she probably knew that her job would be easier without me in her way she made sure I felt valuable to the process.

I do not know if she heard me singing, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 to Miles or heard the endless stream of "Seinfeld", "Caddyshack" and "Saturday Night Live" references I threw at Miles.  I know that she told me that watching the little monitors would only drive me nuts.

I also know that she did have at least one or two other babies she had to keep an eye on but it never felt like she left.  For about two hours I memorized every inch of my son and took in every breath and heard every beep on the monitors that were there to tell us he was okay.

Pam finally kicked me out when she saw me actually using my fingers to pry my eyes open.  "You need to get out of here and be ready for a big day tomorrow.   Your wife will need you to help her through things if he is back in the isolette."  Again, she knew I needed a task.

The next day Miles was was back in his case.   Another amazing nurse was there to give us hope and explain everything to us.  We looked around and saw scared parents and tiny babies.  Those people were also getting support from women in brightly colored scrubs.  Again, I thought, "Where do people like this come from?"   How is it possible that there is more than one person like Pam.

I only saw Pam one more time.  Luckily, I got to drive Miles home (about ten miles an hour below the speed limit) five days later.  I know that Miles might be another baby in a blur of tiny toes and fingers and tubes and charts that help decide what different babies have in their futures.

All I know is that when, for one night, life punched me in the gut and knocked me down Pam picked me up and made sure I knew that all those tiny parts were going to work together and turn Miles into more than just my little guy.