I hovered over the incubator as the men came in to take Jessica’s body away. She was cleaned, the CPAP machine was set to help her breathe and her vitals were in the normal range. She weighed just under a pound, her arms and legs skinny, her head so big for her body. The incubator kept her warm enough not to need a blanket, and the tubes and wires surrounded her tiny body. I was setting up to put a feeding tube in place, using a pediatric endoscope.
I looked over at Viper as the men carried her out, and the tears started falling again. He pulled me into a hug as I pulled off the gloves and sand to the floor, he sat with me and held me as I fell apart. “Jess…”
“We will take care of her, burn her body tomorrow,” he said. “We have to get permits, Moose has a family farm that is remote enough to do it.”
“I can’t go,” I said. Just to drive home the point, the alarm on the monitor for her vitals started going off. I stood to my feet, acknowledging the beep before washing my hands and putting gloves on again. “The first 48 hours are the most dangerous, I have to be here.”
“I know,” he said as he kissed my forehead. “I’ll send help.”
Help came in the form of the women of the club. They came through the door, working around me to finish cleaning and disinfecting the room after what had happened. They mostly let me concentrate, an occasional hug or a glance down at Eve as they worked. Teri knew what I needed, she had seen it before at the clinic with baby Jennifer. “I’m setting up a rotation for an assistant,” she said as she hugged me from behind, so I wouldn’t have to look away from Eve. “The exam table is set up for you to sleep on, one of us will always be here. You’ll have to teach us, but you need your sleep too.”
“Thank you,” I said. The first time I had done this, Jessica was there, and I barely slept for three days. The girls all hugged me, telling me they would take care of Kelly, and help in any way they could.
The ones who stayed were Teri and her daughter Meghan, who had just turned twelve. She was a bright girl, well ahead of her level in school and eager to learn. She had started hanging around with me when we returned from Grenada. She reminded me a lot of Jessica in how she absorbed what I could teach her. She had been helping twice a week, and outside the clinic had completed her certification in CPR and First Aid through her Girl Scout troop. She wanted to be a doctor, to save people, to be an angel just like she had seen me after I saved her father on that back road, and I had promised to help her.
I had already given baby Eve a course of antibiotics, infection being a real danger in a birth at this age. “I need your help with a procedure, Meghan,” I said as I went to the cabinet and removed the equipment I would need. “We have to insert a feeding tube through the wall of her stomach. This will keep her mouth and nose clear, which helps with her breathing.”
“A percutaneous endoscopic gastrosnomy?”
I just smiled. “Someone has been studying.” She nodded, smiling to herself that I had noticed. “Scrub up, you are assisting. Teri, let’s go over your part.” I was going to be busy with the surgical procedure, so I gave Teri what she needed to know about the equipment monitoring her vitals and the CPAP machine. I had alarms set already and showed her how to adjust things if needed. “Monitor only, if you see something deviating let me know.”
Meghan had put on a scrub top and was scrubbing up to her elbows in the sink, rinsing from the fingers to the elbow as I had taught her. After she dried on a sterile towel, I helped her put gloves on before I took her place. When we were both gloved up, I uncovered the tray of instruments and supplies we would be using. The endoscope was already set up, and everything was ready. “Teri, I’m going to put her under for this.”
“She’s already asleep,” Meghan said as she looked over.
“True, but I can’t have her waking up.” I pushed the sedative into her IV, watching her vitals carefully. When I was satisfied, I inserted the flexible endoscope through her mouth, working it down into her stomach as I watched on the monitor.
“Why this and not a normal feeding tube, and why now?”
“She will need this long term, and this method leaves her mouth free of tubes that could interfere with her breathing. When she is stronger, nothing is in the way of her sucking motion as she learns to feed normally,” I said as I reached the desired point. “She needs the nutrients to grow, so doing it early is best. Teri, turn off the lights please.” With things dimmed, the tiny light in the endoscope made it easy to see the point where Eve’s stomach was closest to the skin, on her left side. I marked the point with a marker. “Lights on.”
I took a hollow needle and carefully advanced it through the skin and into her stomach, watching as it came through. I moved it close to the camera, making sure the gripper wire on the endoscope was around the needle’s end. “Now for the wire,” I said. I took the thin wire and passed it through the needle until the bent tip was visible. “Meghan, tighten the grabber wire while I hold this in place.” We watched as she caught the loop.
“Got it,” she said.
“Carefully pull back the endoscope while I feed the wire. Don’t pull, you ease it past any obstructions,” I said. I watched as she pulled it back through the esophagus and out. Letting go of the wire, I picked up the feeding tube. A thin tube, it had a soft round bumper on the end. I hooked the wire through holes on the narrow end of the tube, twisting it and wrapping it with surgical tape. “Now for the fun part. Guide the tube into her mouth until it disappears.” She helped guide it as I went down to the needle, pulling gently on the wire to bring the tube down. When I felt the tube hit the needle, I increased the pressure, pulling the tube through the opening in her stomach wall and out the incision. When the bumper was seated against her stomach wall, I clamped then cut off the end of the tube and slipped on a bumper, rolling it until it was against her skin. I covered the whole area with a sterile bandage. “Done!”
“That was SO cool!” Meghan was beaming, she loved it when she got to see things up close. I smiled as her mother hugged her from behind, she was proud of her. I had told her several times she had the interest and aptitude to be a doctor someday, and she was seeing it.
“Teri, I need eight ounces of formula prepared and put in the machine. The formula is on the counter over there.” The two fixed it up, then loaded it into the feeding machine. I flushed the tubing before attaching it to the tube we had just installed. I set the feed rate, it would give her a continuous supply of food that wouldn’t challenge her small stomach. Her vitals were good, the sedative already starting to wear off.
The days started to blur as we went through her first few weeks of life. I rarely left the room, sleeping on the exam table, showering in the attached bathroom. Snake became my primary backup, relieved by Teri, Meghan, Katie or Taser, always one of them in the room with me. The longest I was gone was when I was giving Kelly her checks in the room down the hall, and even then, I was nervous. I used a baby monitor to hear any problems immediately. She was doing well, her blood pressure was under control and between Viper and the girls, she was kept company. She even came in to see Eve once, in a wheelchair to her protests.
That little girl had the whole club behind her as she fought to live and grow.
Snake was amazing, as always. He made sure I was fed, forced me to take naps, and quickly learned how to care for the premature baby Jessica had asked us to raise for her. She still couldn’t leave the incubator, but that didn’t stop him from being a doting father. He would hold her hand and talk to her when she was awake and tell her stories of her brave parents.
Carson was dead, and we never got to give him a proper goodbye. Snake and the boys had returned, and after Church discussion, we decided retribution was too dangerous. Instead, we had Snake drive down to Chicago and call from a pay phone in the Geno’s East pizzeria while he was waiting for our huge take-out order of deep dish. He reprised his Alpha routine, telling him that we would not meet his terms, and we would remember what he did to Carson. I was too busy to worry about revenge right now, and we had to focus on Eve.
It was eight weeks before she was strong enough to leave the incubator for a short time. I had a rocker brought in and put it next to the incubator. “Shirt off,” I told Snake as I opened the side access panel. His grandparents, Viper and Kelly, were in the room, a very pregnant Kelly in a wheelchair.
Eve had just been changed and was awake and active. I could smell how nervous Snake was as I carefully lifted her, Meghan next to me making sure the tubes and wires didn’t get tangled.
I had made Snake shower, so he smelled clean and fresh. His face showed his love and amazement as I moved her to his chest, rotating so her tummy was against his skin and her head was on his shoulder. He held her with one hand under her diaper, the other curled around her back as he gently rocked the chair. She snuggled in to his warmth as I covered them with a blanket, and he sung to her softly until she fell asleep. I was in tears, I couldn’t ask for a better father. Meghan took some photos, along with a proud Grandpa.
“She’s so beautiful,” he said as I took her back from him and set her back in the incubator. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and Kelly’s hands were over her belly bump as her boy kicked her strongly.
“Tomorrow it’s Grandma’s turn,” I said. Kelly only had four weeks left to reach thirty-eight, which was considered a full term. With her blood pressure starting to become difficult to control, her obstetrician wanted to perform a C-section at that point to be safe. Viper was crying more than anyone, the tough biker President persona crumbled when his tiny granddaughter looked at him with those big eyes.
“How long until the breathing mask goes away,” Kelly asked.
“Another week or two, I’ve been reducing the overpressure as her chest gets stronger. We’re also starting to work on oral feeding. If she continues her improvement, she’ll be in a crib soon.”
“Can I breastfeed her?”
“After the first few days, when your milk comes in. Your body will adjust to the demand of feeding both children.” She wasn’t a werewolf, but human breast milk was better for Eve than formula. Kelly was insistent on raising the two babies together, and I was happy to have the help.
We talked a little longer, then Viper wheeled his wife out of the room. I sat in Snake’s lap, letting him rock me as I kissed his chest. “I love you,” I said.
“I love you too. You’re an amazing mother and doctor, Vivian.” He kissed my hair. “Sleep, I’ll watch her.”
So I did.