Archived Story

A tense, nervous and happy weekend

Published 9:35am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Column: Tim Engstrom, Pothole Prairie

ROCHESTER — Driving to Rochester on Friday evening, I listened to the Minnesota Vikings game on the radio. There was a point in the game when all the defensive starters came out except one: Jasper Brinkley. Soon, maybe it was even the next play, the middle linebacker made a big tackle.

I was thrilled. It gave me a nice boost at a scary time.

For, you see, my newborn son was on his way to Rochester, too, only he received a helicopter ride.

Jasper Jere Engstrom was born at 12:23 p.m. Friday to Lisa and me in The Baby Place at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

Lisa had to be induced because of high blood pressure, so Jasper was born at 36 weeks of pregnancy. He weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces. That is a healthy size, but premie is premie. Like one doctor here in Rochester stated, “What we have is a big premature baby.”

When Jasper was born, he cried just a little, not much, and he was rather floppy, like a plush toy, than twitchy and moving like most babies. For one, the magnesium sulfate given to Mommy for blood pressure was still in his system, making him sluggish. He hasn’t cried since birth. Secondly, he had respiratory distress syndrome. His lungs were cloudy and not quite ready for birth. His color had a pale cast to it, not bright pink. He grunted for air. Thirdly, premie newborns are somewhat in the mode of like it was in the womb, stay still. Fourthly, Jasper has moderately high levels of bilirubin, a jaundice condition.

It was tense in the birthing room, to say the least. I can’t even begin to describe those moments when he was born, except in waves of emotions: joy, pride, nervousness, anxiety, fear. I covered it up and made the effort to be as I have been all along: reassuring.

Doctors in Albert Lea had him in an incubator so he could get oxygen, but with the situation not improving by 5 p.m., they ordered the helicopter. Lisa’s parents arrived from Chicago to watch Forrest, our 5-year-old, and I headed to Rochester.

I arrived at the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Marys Hospital, and Jasper already looked pinker. He had a breathing tube inserted into his lungs and a feeding tube to his tummy. (The feeding tube, though, wasn’t feeding but more or less released gas; you could call it a burp tube.)

It is now Monday as I write this. Jasper has lost weight like newborns typically do, and he is recovering well, thanks to the great nurses and doctors here. A NICU is a warm, positive place to be. Some moms have gone weeks without holding their new babies. Some babies are incredibly tiny.

As far as family goes, it was just me and Jasper for a couple of days. I would sit in the room and talk to him and touch him. Hands make good blankets. My parents visited on Saturday for a few hours.

Sunday was better than Saturday. The breathing tube came out. Then around 11:15 a.m. he opened his eyes wider and they were more active than ever, and we had our little father-son moment. I even got to hold him in my arms. That was humbling and wonderful.

Mommy called with good news. The doctor was discharging her from the hospital. She still had high blood pressure, but being in Rochester would reduce her anxiety. There was one other concern: She had hurt her back and neck giving birth (she is quite the pusher), so she wouldn’t be able to walk the long hallways.

Much of my time with Jasper was me sitting on a chair reading the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, then looking up when one of his monitors made noise or when I felt he needed more touching and talking. Finally, Lisa and her parents arrived around 3 p.m. Sunday.

We helped her hobble from the Fiksdal Motel across the street to the hospital, then into a wheelchair and to the NICU, where Mommy, after waiting for two days, got to hold her baby.

While the respiratory distress syndrome remains a concern, he appears to have recovered mostly from that, though he isn’t crying yet or making much noise except for faint murmers. He is breathing well on his own, though. The magnesium sulfate remains but to levels that don’t affect him. Now doctors are monitoring his progress toward proper feeding, which is an issue for premies.

Mommy has the milk, so I am here all this week pushing Lisa around in a wheelchair and tending to Forrest. By the time you read this, her parents have headed back to Chicago, and Lisa, Forrest and I might have moved into the Ronald McDonald House.

Let’s hope for a swift return home to Albert Lea.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.