Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Case of the Shattered Bowl

Middle of the night, there's a "pop", followed by a crash, from the kitchen. My wife and I investigate and discover that my wife's favorite glass bowl (about 10 inches across) has apparently shattered spontaneously. What we find is half the bowl (a literal, precise half) sitting on top of the counter, as if it had been sliced by a lazer. The other half has dropped off the counter and shattered into two dozen large fragments; a couple of hundred tiny shards; and a quarter million nearly microscopic dust flakes. I have seen glasses shatter into 'a million pieces' before, but I have never seen anything like these dust flakes. Instead of the usual random shards in a variety of jagged shapes, this dust consists of nearly flat, impossibly thin flakes of glass that are nearly impossible to see. The kitchen floor consists of a pattern of square tiles, so I use the grid to systematically clear each tile, and the surrounding grout so as not to miss anything. It takes four passes to wipe each tile: first a wet cloth to pull up glass, then a dry towel to wipe up the water and remaining glass fragments; then repeat because there are still a hundred flakes glinting up at me; then repeat again because while I can no longer see anything on the floor, I can hear and feel the grit under the wet towel, and see the glass glinting off the dry towel, even though I have already cleaned this individual title twice; and a fourth pass to make sure, which comes up with more glass more often than not. Working methodically, it takes me an hour and a half to clean the kitchen floor, and another 20 minutes to clean the counter just to be sure, though I only see a single shard on the counter other than the surviving half. (My conclusion is that the bowl broke cleanly in half, and the single minute shard has splashed back up onto the counter from the floor when the other half fell and shattered.) I have to discard my socks because they have picked up glass flakes even though I am only walking on the 'clean' tiles; I elect to wash my pants in the laundry room sink, and wash the sink, then run the pants throw the washer on their own, followed by an empty cycle, rather than throw those out, but I admit to being a bit nervous about the glass contamination spreading. I am keenly aware that if any of these flakes make it into our food, they would slowly slice one open as the piece traveled through the digestive system and be essentially undetectable. (The perfect murder weapon, I'm thinking.) Or if a piece sticks to my hands and I pick up my baby… I spend a long time washing up.

So can someone explain the physics of this to me? I have to admit that it has shaken my faith in the universe to have a glass bowl we have used for years suddenly up and explode. There was no one in the kitchen, and while I can imagine a scenario where an improperly stacked bowl could fall unexpectedly after everyone had left the room, this was clearly not the case here: My wife had left the bowl sitting empty by itself on the counter, where half of it remained perfectly preserved – nothing I know of could slice it so evenly in half, and there was nothing within a meter of the bowl anyway. It is just bizarre and unsettling.


The baby is now ten weeks old, and smiling regularly, and clearly working her way up to a laugh. This is excellent timing, as it coincides with the worst of colic and the start of extended awake times, so without the reward of the occasional smile, a lot of parents might find babies sufficiently annoying that not smiling became a significant factor in natural selection… But for us Kasia is a pure joy, and worth the total disruption of our lives. Were Kasia our first child, I would no doubt be complaining here about the horrors of colic, but compared to Tigana's constant 24/7 screaming at that age, Kasia's colic seems pretty mild. Indeed, we were starting to worry that Kasia is too lethargic, since she seems to sleep quite a bit and lie around quietly a lot of the time she is awake, until we actually kept track and were able to reassure ourselves that she was falling within normal parameters. But even when Kasia does cry, we can often settle her fairly quickly, once the initial problem (hungry, wet, bored, sleepy) has been dealt with – she has an "off" switch, which Tigana lacked. With Tigana, once she started crying it would just keep escalating until she passed out. With Kasia, if she doesn't get fed immediately when she starts crying, she will often stop, look around, and not seeing mom, say "okay, I'll call back in 15 minutes." The call backs become increasingly desperate on those rare occasions I haven't been able to come up with an appropriate response, but the fact that a baby could pause at all between requests was a major revelation to us.

Kasia's biggest problems currently are gas pains (forcing Mary to stop eating 90% of her favorite foods, since everything apparently causes gas in babies –e.g., chocolate) and a second case of the sniffles. She seems to breath normally all day, but between 4AM and 6AM she is so sniffly that she has trouble breathing and we have to stand in the shower with her. It is fascinating how excited one gets from finally pulling a load of mucus out of a baby's nose. "Hey, I got more snot!" is now a commonly shouted joyous exclamation in our house.

I fortunately am on parental leave until late March, so it is relatively easy for me to cope. Mary is finding it harder, having to continue to teach, though she is down to teaching a single course a couple of times a week. Tigana, (coming up on her 6th birthday), is taking the intrusion of her younger sister into her previously self-centered universe far better than we could have hoped. Tigana never complains about Kasia's screaming, is gentle and caring with Kasia, and seems genuinely pleased to have a little sister.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Baby Back in Hospital

My newborn has been sick with a cold. This is significantly worse than it sounds. Babies under two months old don't know they can breath through their mouths, so when their noses block up, they simply stop breathing. I thought Mary and I were coping reasonably well by taking the baby in shifts and pumping saline solution up her nose as required, but when we took her in for her six week checkup, the doctor immediately sent Kasia to hospital.

Seeing one's infant connected to various monitors is unsettling, even when the doctors confirm that the RSV virus (a more serious condition that often masquerades as a cold) is not present. My daughter is so tiny, she seems completely dwarfed by the monitors. The pulse/oxygen level reader, for example, that normally hooks over the end of an adult's finger, completely covers my daughter's foot. And the readings themselves are both more reassuring (when the readings are what they should be) and more terrifying (whenever they aren't) than simply watching the baby snuffling at home. The monitors are alarmed to go off if the levels reach scary highs or lows, summoning the nurses, but the parent's are supposed to stay with their baby to keep track of pre-alarm trends and to administer the saline drops as appropriate. Naturally, my wife ended up with the more brutal night shift, since she had to breast feed every two hours, while I got to go home with my older daughter to a more or less normal night's sleep; but I did what I could with a single bottle feed to give my wife at least one four hour complete break mid-day.

So here I am on shift one afternoon, pacing with Kasia in my arms, when Kasia's readings start to show distress: her breathing starts to be too rapid, indicating a problem getting air in, and her pulse rate starts to shoot up, indicating either panic over oxygen deprivation, or a reaction to the drug they were giving her to open her airways. The trend is slow enough, and common enough, that at first I do not react, beyond trying to calm Kasia by pacing a bit faster, adding a bit of a jiggle to my hold on her, and patting her on her back, all of which usually sends her back to sleep. Instead, she starts to cry louder, and the monitors reveal a rapidly worsening trend. I redouble my efforts, but within seconds Kasia reaches crisis levels – the alarms go off, the nurse rushes in, and my heart stops in sudden dread as my daughter's pulse exceeds 220/minute.

The nurse takes one look at me, and starts to leave. I sputter something incoherent about the readings along the lines of "Do something!" and thrust my dying baby in her general direction. The nurse pauses, and with professional politeness says, "I take it your wife didn't explain to you that the monitors work by detecting sound and movement – your baby's reading's are fine; you're just making them go off the scale by pacing, jiggling and patting…"

Well, duh!

But for a minute there, I was one panicked Dad as my daughter's life flashed before my eyes.