During the two years since my husband Lyle and I had moved our family to Fargo from Bismarck, we had found the most curious guardian angel in a female police officer. I had known Officer Cora Duin since I was a little girl. She is a remarkable woman, a dynamo, the very first uniformed female police officer in Fargo ND. Cora talks fast, never hesitates to laugh with others and at herself, and is also a prolific storyteller. Many who enter into conversation with her will find themselves captive audience as she relates both the exciting and mundane moments in life with flair. My father once said of her, “She’s the only person I’ve ever met who could truly talk and listen at the same time.”
Mom and Dad had also moved their young family to the area from Bismarck when I was only months old. Dennis and Cora Duin were members of our church and quickly became dear friends to my parents. We moved back to Bismarck from Fargo when I was only six years old. The friendship that had been forged was maintained through time and distance. Soon after Lyle and I returned to the area, we began attending the same church I had gone to all of those years ago. Cora took it upon herself to look in on us from time to time, often bringing cookies. The kids were beside themselves with excitement every time “the cop with the cookies” pulled her patrol car into our driveway. They would run out to greet her, as she graciously received their giddy frenzied welcome. It meant everything to me, as well. I felt comfort, security, and joy whenever she surprised us with a visit. The day we came home from the hospital after the birth of our twins, she stopped by with an apple pie, vanilla ice cream, and a gift certificate for Domino’s Pizza. Little did we know this would provide us with sustenance during the days to come as we ran, what seemed like, the marathon of our lives.
Benjamen, our infant son, was in the neonatal intensive care unit following an apnea episode that he experienced later the very next day. Our two eldest, four-year old Maggie, and three-year old Serrah, were in Bismarck with grandparents. Emily, our twenty-month old daughter with down’s was with an Easter Seals respite family. The day after Ben went into the NICU, we said goodbye to our cocker spaniel, Dolly, and Lyle drove baby Max and I to the hospital on his way to work. I had been attending Laleche league before our twins’ birth, and some of the women who had befriended me there, were helping out by sitting with Max in the waiting room while I went in to spend time with Ben and nurse him. “Be sure to get lots of skin to skin contact,” was the sage advice of one woman who came to our rescue during that awful time. I was so thankful for her presence, I didn’t argue. Lyle came back to the hospital after work, washed and gowned up, and spent time with Benjamen as well. By the time we got home, that first day, we were exhausted. We felt terrible for leaving Dolly there for so many hours without being let out. Of course, she acted strangely when we got home, and she was immediately let outside. Dolly was angry with us, and this became undeniably evident when we found, smack dab in the middle of our bed, a small pile of dog poop. Hmmm… No mistaking THAT message. We couldn’t even punish her for it, we felt so bad.
So, for the first couple of days, we lived on apple pie with vanilla ice cream, pizza, and 7up. Not only did we not have enough time to cook, we also hadn’t the money to buy groceries. Lyle had missed days of work, which he wasn’t getting paid for. I was also missing income, being unable to continue daycare after my sixth month of pregnancy. The financial strain was very worrisome and stressful for us. As always, we were too proud to ask for help. The cop with the cookies had come through for us. She may not be aware of what her gesture meant to us, but I believe both of us will be forever grateful to her.
Ben was put through a barrage of tests, and the only hint of evidence that something could possibly be wrong, was the EEG. It showed a couple of minutes of abnormal brain wave activity. This freaked us out. I was scared to death. Wild eyed, “What does that mean?” I asked the doctor. “Well, we really aren’t sure. It could indicate potential for seizures. We’ve started him on Phenobarbital, a small dose to begin with, and then we’ll gradually increase the dose.” More alarm was registuring with every word out of this doctors mouth, and I wasn’t satisfied with his decision, “That sounds pretty heavy-duty. What’s that going to do to him? There have to be risks and side effects.” He patiently answered my question, “He could be drowsy, maybe a little fussier, but that’s about it. It’s a relatively low dose. You’ll be drawing it up with a syringe through a needle, removing the needle, and then squirting the liquid into his mouth. No doubt, it tastes terrible.” I was horrified. We didn’t want our son on this medication. He hadn’t given us a reason. The theory that he “might have had a seizure” was a guess, and that wasn’t good enough. The message was also clear that it wasn’t up for discussion. Our baby wasn’t our baby anymore, and we would have to compliantly jump through all of their hoops in order to bring him home.
I fretted as I nursed Benjamen. God bless the nurse who came to my rescue. She had been present for the conversation with the Doc, and had her own take on the situation, “If you did an EEG on every doctor in this place, half of them would have some abnormal brain wave activity. It really doesn’t mean much. If you’re not comfortable with the Phenobarbital, call your pediatrician when you get home, and wean him off of it.” I’ve no doubt that she was crossing a line and putting herself at risk for saying that to me. This gives me even more reason to put the stock I already do into her superior knowledge, sense, and opinion.
The next hurdle was the infant CPR class required before we could bring Ben home. I entrusted Emily and Maxie to the “sage Leleche league lady,” who was also loaning me her Chevy Blazer so that I could get to the hospital. I wonder if she ever use the words, “Call me if there’s anything you need, ANYTHING at all,” again. I headed to the hospital. Thinking I had found a quicker way there, I got completely lost. Time was running out. I rounded a corner once I was back on track, spun out, hit a car, and completely panicked. I ran into the nearest store and approached the clerk, “I just hit a car outside my son is in the neonatal unit I need to get him home in time for Christmas and I’m late,” I blurted out so fast that both our heads spun. She was very understanding, sympathetic, and possibly slightly frightened, “That’s my car. Don’t worry. Just go.” Oh dear Lord, I knew that I would have to explain this to the poor woman who owned this vehicle, but I couldn’t worry about that right now. I headed, once again, toward that hospital, more cautious now. I got there right after the class started. I received my certificate, and went home to break the news to the “Sage.” “I’ll just tell my husband it was a hit and run.” Sounded good to me. It wasn’t too far from the truth.
Emily went to the neighbors’ for the night, and we took Maxie to the hospital so that we could spend the night in a hospital room with Ben, in order to be sure we knew how to use the heart monitor that he would come home with. Finally we brought our babies home on a snowy Christmas Eve Day. I was thankful that the weather held out. I hadn’t a winter coat that would have fit around the tummy that housed those baby boys. The thin sweater I had sufficed through the warm weather we had enjoyed into the beginning of December. It seemed a lifetime ago that we had spent that sunny Sunday afternoon with our girls, playing in the yard. Mom and Dad brought Maggie and Serrah home and joined us for the Holiday. We were overjoyed at being reunited with our girls. They were so excited to be home, especially with their new baby brothers, two living dolls, to play with. Oh, boy. Lots of ground rules were being put into place as those little girls greedily eyed their infant “dolls.”
We didn’t have much, and yet we had the world. We had more love and appreciation for family, friends, and generous “sage” strangers, than we had ever before. As Emily ate her cheerio’s that morning before my frantic trip to the infant CPR class, I had eaten the last of the apple pie for breakfast. Of all the people who God had sent our way that week, I was most appreciative of that guardian angel, our friend, Officer Cora Duin…. “the cop with the cookies.”