Another Year, Another Candle

The message, “Happy Birthday Father Blair,” was carefully scribed on a cookie and perched on the cake that my parents brought to our house last Sunday. As their well-meaning Engrish announced 48 hours early, today is my 28th birthday, marking yet another year of my existence on the planet. And what a year it’s been.

I was halfway through my classes a year ago, clueless as to whether my work was going to pay off in the end. I was rightfully proud of my postbac grades up to that point, but my undergrad record was still dismal and nothing could be done about it. The MCAT was too far away to be a top priority, but too close — and too important — not to add to my list of anxieties. Yeah, I was under a lot of stress. I was also happy, so much happier than I had been in previous years. It felt good to be busy again, but I’d been busy before; the difference was that I was finally taking care of myself, had finally found what I wanted and was working full speed to reach for my dreams. It was a daily struggle with textbook, problem sets, and exams, but it was a struggle I relished. Don’t get me wrong; it’s also nice to take a break from it all, and right now I’m being kept busy for entirely different reasons. I’m still as happy as ever. But there are days when I wish I was once again waist-deep in my coursework. I’m sure I’ll wonder what the hell I was thinking in another year.

A year ago, Kim and I had talked about starting a family, but (obviously) hadn’t actually started one yet. I’d be lying if I said it was an easy choice for me to make, and I pontificated on the subject in October. I’m still a little scared and uncomfortable with parenthood. I’ve always been excited about it, though, and I’m starting to understand why it’s just so cool to be a dad. Emerson shows little flashes of herself throughout the day, and those are the moments I remember when she’s asleep or when she surprises me in the middle of a diaper change. Sometimes I look at her and imagine her as a child, adult, mother. I find myself eager to see how she develops but hoping she could stay this small and innocent for just a while longer. I’m going to have a hard time coming home and having to study with her just outside the door. As a matter of fact, I’m less worried about my workload as a medical student than my ability to be a good father while also being a medical student. She’s going to be nine months old when I start, and I predict that I’m going to be a lot more interested in teaching and playing with her than I will be in the minutiae of human anatomy. At the same time, I think I’ll be consumed with my studies and extremely motivated to be a top student. This will be a challenge, to be sure, but I’m sort of looking forward to it.

My friends would probably say that I’m far too concerned with my age, and that I’m too young to feel old. Maybe they’re right. The truth is that I don’t feel old at all, but I am rather scared at the increasing speed of time. I can’t believe that I’ll be almost 29 when I finally start medical school, that I spent so many years spinning my wheels when I could’ve swallowed my pride and changed paths much earlier. I’m happy with the way things are now but I do regret the risks I never took, the choices I chose not to make over the years. I think this past year is evidence of what can happen when I learn to merely acknowledge the fear of the unknown, to take risks and choose the paths that aren’t always safeley lighted.

The Wine Next Door

Tonight’s wine: Dr vytorin generic. Konstantin Frank 2004 Johannisburg Riesling, Semi-Dry. For those keeping track, I tasted Frank’s dry version of this varietal a couple of weeks ago. This wine is, like many Rieslings, a pale yellow color in the glass. The nose is predominantly fruity and floral, reminding me of lush canned peaches with just a dash of a brighter, crisper taste, perhaps a sweet citrus, with a backdrop of honeysuckle. It’s rather easy to take large sips of this wine, which rolls around the tongue with a weight and texture that again reminds me of canned fruit. There are bursts of bright, sweet fruit on the palate; I’m reminded of the tongue-tingling crispness of an Asian pear and the nectar of ripe peaches. The finish is short-lived, faintly sweet but also floral, perfume-like, and reminiscent of grapefruit. There is a pleasant level of acidity throughout.

This is a nice, fruity wine, good for lightly spicy food or on its own (my personal favorite “pairing”). It’s not very complex, and there’s no discernable mineral character to it. But its fruitiness is gentle, rather than cloying, its sweetness balanced by the traditional tang of a good Riesling. It presents itself pleasantly and makes a graceful exit from the palate, doing so without pretense or any discernable fault. Of the two Frank Rieslings, this one is certainly better.

Four Weeks

For the most part, Emerson’s got one mode of self expression: Eyes tightly shut and bulging from their sockets, mouth wide open and wailing. There are some more gratifying moments, though. It happens every once in a while. Lying in my arms, eyes open, Emmy will raise her head slightly and gaze at me as if she has something to say. Sometimes I see a hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth, maybe a little joyful twinkle in her eyes. Other times, her mouth is slightly open and round, with those same bright brown eyes open in wonder. Sometimes her brow will raise, as if she were questioning my latest gesture; other times it will furrow, as if deep in thought or (more likely) disturbed by something. In these rare moments, slowly becoming more common, I see flashes of the real Emerson. There are the faint clicks of firing neurons, connections being made, the foundations of her humanity being laid one experience at a time. I’m drawn to her in those moments, the handful of times where I feel like I’m really making an impact in her short and precious life. I look forward to the days when she’s hit that critical intellectual mass; when I’ll learn more about her personality, satisfy and stoke her intellect and sense of wonder. Then again, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll look back and wonder how it happened so quickly.

Bath Time

Like all good parents, we bathed Emerson in the kitchen sink last night. Her first bath was actually less traumatic than I expected, and it was nice to have a clean baby again. Of course, she promptly filled her diaper within a half hour of being toweled dry.

Boo Hoo, no Hoo

Forgot to mention something yesterday. I received a rejection letter postmarked 11/30 from UVA. I have plenty of acceptances at this point, so I don’t have much right to be upset, but I’m still disappointed. I was hoping to interview at all of my state schools, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be.

Delicate

The majority of Emerson’s umbilical cord fell out last night, and the rest of it came out earlier today Full Report. She now has a little semi-inside-out navel, and I expect it to be fully “normal” in a few more days. I came home more than once last week to what I swore was a vastly larger baby; I’m sure she’s growing, but I’m a bit surprised to see just how quickly (yet subtly) it’s happening. She’s still so delicate, so helpless; of course, her lungs are anything but when she’s upset.

Tonight’s wine: 2003 Trimbach Riesling. Have you noticed a preponderance of Rieslings in these reviews? I have. Anyway, this wine is from the Alsace region of France, which is located along the northeast border (butting up against Germany, perhaps my favorite producer of Rieslings). Riesling makes up a fair portion of Alsace’s varietal output, although one can also find a good Gewurztraminer or Sylvaner. The Trimbach I brought out tonight is a plain old AOC varietal, sort of the base-level wine available from the region. Nevertheless, even the basic can fetch a decent price over here; this bottle sold for about $16.

This wine is a light-to-medium yellow in the glass, with a faint grapefruit aroma when poured cold that shifts gently to notes of other ripe, nectary citrus fruits and hints of cantaloupe as the temperature warms by a few degrees. There’s also a surprising bit of alcohol in the nose, although it is not a big detractor. A mouthful of this wine is crisp without being overly tart. I’m reminded again of juicy citrus, perhaps mostly lime, mixed with cantaloupe. There’s also a classic Riesling mineral character that lingers into the slightly dry, slighty sweet finish. The finish itself is pleasant and segues quite nicely to another tip of the glass.

I really like this wine, although it has very little in common with Finger Lakes varietals of the same name. There’s something about the Alsatian terroir that imparts this refreshing, crisp taste to the wine, something elegant and delicate. Terry Thiese spoke of the “stones” that are featured in German Rieslings, and the same character is found here. What is so tantalizing is the balance between the mineral and the fruit, two seemingly incongruous notes that work together playfully on the tongue. I would pair this wine with any manner of light food, but I would prefer (as I do with most good wines) just to enjoy it alone.

One last comment: Some Grand Cru Rieslings from Alsace actually improve with age. I don’t know whether the same applies to this AOC wine, but it tasted just fine “fresh.”

Stealthily Tart

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve become accustomed to Emerson’s cries. For the first couple of days, I must admit that the sound of her voice would aggravate me after a few minutes. I put my best face forward, of course, since most of her cries came while we were becoming acquainted with breastfeeding and its challenges. It was frustrating enough to know that an ostensibly natural process could be so difficult, never mind the fact that a fussy baby only compounded the challenge. Now that Emmy’s been with us for 10 days, the crying no longer makes me nervous. In fact, I wouldn’t call it comforting, but I now respond with quiet patience and not desperation. After checking the diaper, making sure she’s been fed recently, and keeping her warm, I’m confident enough to just provide comfort and wait for the wailing to subside.

Tonight, during an especially long crying session, I decided it was time to get back to my wines. Tonight’s selection: Dr. Konstantin Frank 2004 Dry Riesling. I bought this wine for Thanksgiving (yeah, yeah, trying to get rid of wine collection…sue me) but never got around to opening it. Frank is widely credited for bringing vinifera stock to New York from Europe and for creating a truly world-class wine from the Finger Lakes. This wine is a pale yellow color in the glass and has a nose reminiscent of mandarin orange, with perhaps a touch of mineral, though not as much as I remember from true German Rieslings. There’s also a bit of sliced apple, the kind you might find in a pie. When rolled around the tongue, this wine is somewhat thin with a gentle tartness. There are flavors of citrus and apple, with just a bit of effervescence and mineral character to balance out the fruit. The finish is intriguing, a long-lasting evolution from mineral fruit to an long-lasting and subtle tartness that withstands several lip-smacks. That part was quite entertaining and unique; I haven’t had something with quite this finish.

I’m not sure what to make of this wine. It’s certainly worth the money, and I appreciate its flavor subtleties. There’s a lot to like, but to me, this wine only really stands out in the finish; everything else is just solid, quite good but not mind-bending great. Why, then, has this wine earned so many accolades? Perhaps because it’s so competent at everything, a notable feat for any wine. I’ll take that, but I wouldn’t say this is any better than the outstanding Wiemer I had a few weeks ago. They’re different tastes, suited for different tables. I would pair this wine with something very light. I feel that this wine is rather delicate in nature — take that for what it is, whether you find that attractive or annoying — and stronger cuisine might overpower the little details that make this wine notable.

Oh, about Thanksgiving: We had a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a 1998 Alain Jaume. I did not have the time to give this wine a proper tasting, but it was a good pairing with the turkey. A nice red fruity nose, with a very rounded tannin that rounded out the tobacco- and plum-laced body. It would have been nice to spend a few quiet moments with a glass of this wine, but that was not to be.

A Heroine and a Princess

Guys, let’s get one thing straight: Women are the most powerful beings on earth. If you don’t believe me, wait until you become a father.

(Warning: This story is perfectly family friendly, but it may be a little explicit for some.)

We headed to the hospital two Wednesdays ago (11/16) to start the induction process. We were registered by 7:30 that evening, and Kim got her dose of Cervidil at around 10. The idea was to let the Cervidil do its work overnight, hopefully leading to a cervix somewhat more dilated than Kim’s 1cm. Thursday morning came with no change, so Pitocin — synthetic oxytocin, the hormone associated with uterine contractions among other things — was begun and we proceeded to wait. Nothing happened until our obstetrician ruptured Kim’s water at about 1:30 that afternoon. We suspected something was happening when Kim’s contractions finally started to grow painful, and by 4:30 an epidural line was keeping her comfortable. Progress was slow, however, and Kim was only 3-4cm dilated by 7:00 that evening. That’s much smaller than we were hoping, but it was progress; we estimated that Kim would be ready to push by 2:00 am or so. I went home and grabbed a quick shower, then came back to spend the night at the hospital with Kim. We settled in for a nap, hoping that we’d wake up ready to push.

I was pulled back into consciousness just before 1:00 am; apparently Kim’s contractions were getting much stronger, and the epidural can only take away the pain. The pressure was increasing and Kim felt like she had to push, but we called a nurse to make sure. The verdict: only 6-7cm. For the next three hours, I let Kim strangle my hand as she rode through contraction after contraction (at two-minute intervals) trying her hardest not to push. Finally, at 4:30 am on Friday, Kim was nearly completely dilated at 10cm.

The first attempt went relatively well: Hold breath, push for 10 seconds; repeat two more times. This went on every two minutes for three hours, by which time Kim was at the ragged end. Gasping for breath, her legs were constantly shaking from the effort and she was no longer able to hold her breath for even five seconds. On the bright side, I could make out the very top of our baby’s head when Kim’s doctor used her fingers to expand Kim’s birth canal and inspect her progress. The doctor and nurse on call rolled Kim to her side, which gave her lungs more room to expand. We pushed for another hour. Towards the end, Kim’s obstetrician (who had stayed up with us since Thursday morning) had brought out the suction device and attempted to help with the baby’s progress. On both of those occasions, the top of the baby’s head was within an inch of exiting the birth canal. She just wasn’t close enough, however, and we’d all run out of options.

The obstetrician gave us the news quickly but gently: “Kim, I know you’re giving it everything you’ve got, and we’ve all tried so hard to make this work…. But we just aren’t as far along as we should be. We can’t risk the baby’s health, so we’re going to go for a C-section.” It only took a moment for the news to sink in, and it hit rather hard. Kim’s head dropped to the pillow, too exhausted to cry, but the disappointment was palpable. The doctor called for the C-section at 8:30 am; by 8:35, I was sitting by Kim’s head in the OR and the obstetrician had just made her first cut. What happened next is still a bit of a blur, but I very distinctly remember standing up just as the incision was made in Kim’s uterus and our baby was pulled out. She let out a lusty cry, a welcome end to 36 hours of work and perhaps the most beautiful sound we’d heard in our lives.

Emerson, meet the world. World, Emerson. Born on November 18, 2005, at 8:40 am. 6 pounds, 13 ounces, 20.5 inches, 9 and 9 on Apgar.

It’s hard to describe everything we saw and felt in those last moments. Like the anxiety I felt as I waited outside the OR while Kim was prepped and draped. Or, before that, the combination of relief and disappointment as the anesthesiologist rushed in to deliver a bolus prior to surgery. Even before that, there was the restlesness mixed with exhaustion and helplessness as I sat by Kim for 36 hours, holding her hand and trying to be useful. I did everything I could, but in the end, I know that Kim did all of the real work. It’s one thing to stay awake and play the moral backboard; it’s entirely different to be a mother. I have no words to describe what Kim must have endured, what mountains she climbed to deliver Emerson to her mom and dad. It was an awe-inspiring, life-changing experience, one I’m not likely to forget.

Emmy’s been out here for nine days now, and we’re slowly settling into a pattern. The first couple of days were just blurs; crying, diaper changing, feeding attempts, pain management, and trying very hard to get in an hour or two of sleep when we could. Kim’s incision is healing nicely, which takes the pain mostly out of the equation; everything else has remained the same. I never thought that four hours was a lot of sleep, but these days it’s the exception. And once again, despite my best efforts, nothing I do can compare to Kim’s patience and reserve. She’s the one who feeds Emerson 8-12 times a day, while somehow balancing the demands of her own body and all of the regular stresses of normal life. I can only take away so much of that workload. I feel guilty whenever I sleep through a feeding, or fall asleep before one is over. I feel like I can’t form as tight a bond with Emerson, and in somes ways I can’t; in other ways, I realize this is only a temporary thing. But once again, I’m reminded of the power that women hold in this world. I could never have done something so beautiful in my life.

Despite the lack of sleep and occasional frustration, we’re both very happy new parents. I’m working on posting some new photos, but as you might have guessed, there are a lot to process. Stay tuned! (I also can’t believe I have to work tomorrow, but I suppose it was bound to happen at some point.)

Cleaning Up the List

I mailed a pile of letters on Monday. Two of them had deposit checks for Georgetown and Wake Forest. One of them had a withdrawal letter from Drexel. I really liked Drexel when I visited the school, but I don’t believe that it is good enough to justify moving Kim and our any-day-now baby so far away from the rest of our family. I also sent withdrawal letters to all but three of the schools that have received my complete application. That leaves two schools that haven’t received a secondary from me; I doubt that I’ll complete them. So as of today, I’m holding acceptances to four schools. I imagine the list will be narrowed down before I make my final decision, but that could take a little while.

A So-So Merlot

Tonight’s wine is a Bogle merlot, 2001 vintage. This is another “value” wine; I think my parents brought it over one weekend.

This wine is a dark red-purple color in the glass. The nose is predominantly oaky with some earthy undertones, though it only develops after a bit of swirling. A sip of this wine immediately presents a healthy mouthful of tannins, paired with a strange and somewhat unpleasant alkaline tang. In fact, that mouth-screwing flavor seems to take over any other character to this wine; it’s very hard to discern much else. After a lot of tasting, I detected a bit of fruitiness; perhaps a bit of tart plum, with a vanilla/oaky finish. I know that vanilla is generally how one characterizes the flavor imparted by oak barrels during the aging process, but some wines seem to exaggerate this trait; this is one of them, I think.

If there wasn’t so much tannin in this wine, it would be a decent table offering for everyday use. As it is, though, I’m not impressed. It looks like this wine is available for $10 or so; it’s probably worth that price, but not much more.

Note: A second glass was more eager to present its fruity notes. There’s definitely some plum in there, which is actually quite good; however, it takes quite a while for the fruitiness to develop, by which time the alkaline nature comes on strong. Still not ecstatic about this wine.