Twelve hours had passed since Oscar’s initial call to Jim. They arrived at Edwards late evening, admitting Steve to the base hospital through the ER, where Rudy waited for their arrival.
Oscar found the Elgin’s and Josh in the waiting room.
“Where’s my Dad?” Josh asked, anxious for an answer.
Oscar seated himself next to the boy. “Your Dad is in the emergency room with Dr. Wells and Dr. Marchetti. He will be fine, but needs medical attention before you can see him.”
“Will he be alright?” Jim asked.
“He’ll be fine. He’s improved dramatically since we left Germany,” Oscar replied. “How’s Jan? Any word?”
Jim shook his head. “Not since early afternoon. We don’t know what’s happening.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Oscar said. He headed for the nurses station, pulled rank and got the answers he needed.
Returning to the waiting room, “They are still trying to stop labor. The babies heart rates have dropped to a dangerous level, but the doctors believe if they can stop labor, they will stabilize. Jan may be on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy, if everything works out.”
“Bless you, Oscar,” Helen said, standing to give him a hug. “We’ve tried all day to get some answers, but the nurses haven’t been willing to talk.”
“Hey, I’m good for something,” Oscar chuckled.
The four settled in for a long wait, Josh finally falling asleep on the couch. A couple of hours later, Rudy joined them. The adults left the room so Josh wouldn’t wake.
“How is our son?” Helen asked.
“He’s resting comfortably. We had to re-fracture his arm, then insert pins. It’ll be in a cast for a few weeks, then a sling until it’s completely healed. His other injuries were mostly bumps, bruises and scratches. Steve’s in much better shape than Michael first thought. His leg has been repaired.”
“Can we see him?” Jim asked.
“He’s sleeping, but if you want to sit with him, that’s fine. At this point I wouldn’t mention Jan’s condition to him, should he wake.” Rudy wanted Steve to rest, but if he knew the current situation, he’d be out of bed in a heartbeat, fighting anyone who got in his way.
Rudy showed the worried parents to their son’s room, then returned to the waiting room. Oscar relayed the latest information on Jan’s condition to Rudy.
“Rudy, I know you’re not an obstetrician, but you are a medical doctor on top of everything else. What..”
“I don’t know,” Rudy interrupted. “She’s only five months along, and the babies aren’t as fully developed as you’d expect a single baby to be at this time. If they are born healthy, I’ll give them an 80% chance of survival. If they have problems, well, that will diminish the odds of survival.”
Oscar started pacing, “If I hadn’t asked Steve to take this mission.”
“You don’t know that, Oscar. This could have happened regardless. Hindsight is a great thing. Looking back at the past couple of days, I now realize that Jan wasn’t just suffering from stress and anxiety; she really didn’t feel well. If I had noticed that,” Rudy stopped. He felt guilty for not noticing. “Let’s face it, the fact is it happened. It’s no ones fault.”
Oscar nodded, returning to the waiting room. He seated himself on the couch, exhausted.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep when Rudy woke him. “What? Huh?” he said through a yawn. The look on Rudy’s face told him something was wrong. “Jan?”
“Jan’s fine,” Rudy assured him.
Oscar looked around for the Elgin’s, notice Josh was missing. “Where’s Josh?”
“With his mother,” Rudy replied. “Before the doctors stopped labor, Jan gave birth to a baby boy. He’s in critical condition at this time, in ICU, but his doctor expects to upgrade the condition soon.”
“What about the other baby?” Oscar’s gut twisted, fearing the worse.
“The other baby is fine. Apparently it was stubborn and wasn’t ready to face the real world,” Rudy replied. “Jan said that whether it’s a boy or girl, there is no doubt it will have Steve’s temperament.”
“And Steve? Does he know?”
Rudy shook his head, “No, not yet. I’ve kept him sedated for now. Come morning, I’ll let him wake and will take it from there.”
Oscar made his way to Jan’s room. He quietly entered to find mother and son asleep, Jan in her bed; Josh curled in a chair beside her, both holding hands. He placed a gentle kiss on Jan’s forehead, and then retrieved a blanket from the closet to place over Josh. He returned to the waiting room and settled on the couch, wanting to catch a few hours sleep.
Steve slowly woke, disoriented. He spotted Rudy hovering a few feet away, checking over his chart. Rudy looked up, pleased to see his patient awake.
"Morning," Rudy said, while checking Steve's vitals.
"Where am I?" Steve asked.
"Edwards," Rudy replied. "You were found early yesterday and flown back here after a quick stop in Germany. You'll be fine." Rudy anxiously awaited the coming question, trying to figure out how best to answer.
"Is Jan at home?" Steve asked. He didn't expect her to be at his side, since she needs her rest.
Rudy pulled up a chair and sat next to Steve. "No, she's not. Jan's here at the hospital as a patient."
"What?" Steve struggled to sit but a wave of dizziness forced him back on the pillow. "Why? What's wrong? Tell me."
"Jan went into labor early yesterday morning," Rudy started. Steve's eyes went wide in horror.
"Jan is fine, Steve. So are the babies. Let me explain," Rudy replied, trying to calm Steve. "As I said, Jan went into labor early yesterday. She was brought here by ambulance and admitted. The doctors fought long and hard to stop labor but were unable to prevent the birth of your son, who is fine. The labor stopped afterward. At this time Jan and the second baby are fine."
With mixed emotions, Steve lay on his pillow puzzling out the situation. "Can I see her? Can I go to her?"
"Yes, but in a wheelchair. I don't want you on your feet yet," Rudy replied. He retreated from the room, returning a moment later with a wheelchair. He helped Steve into it, making sure not to bang Steve's arm on anything. Rudy rolled the new father down the hall to Jan's room.
Jan lay in bed with Josh sitting at her side holder her hand, having mixed feelings about her situation. She knew the baby was doing well, the doctor having given her a progress report a little more than an hour ago, but he had to remain in the incubator hooked to various machines and she wasn't permitted out of bed. The morning physical told her the remaining baby was stable and doing well. It was still stubborn, having its back turned to the ultrasound and legs crossed. Jan smiled briefly at the thought of the stubborn child. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," she called.
A moment later, Rudy wheeled Steve into the room. Steve's heart leaped at the sight of his wife. Rudy positioned Steve's chair near the bed, then suggested that he and Josh go down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Reluctantly, Josh allowed himself to be led from the room.
The couple wept together out of joy and sorrow, Steve holding Jan's hand in his own. As the minutes passed, they collected themselves and laughed nervously.
"No more missions for you, Colonel Austin," Jan scolded. "I can't take much more excitement in my life."
Steve shook his head adamantly, "I haven't told him yet, but I'm swearing off all missions until our children are at least a year old." He didn't think Oscar would go for it, but was determined not to do another mission until the second baby is born.
Jan smiled, "Don't worry, I won't allow you out the door. Now, we have a decision to make. Our son needs a name."
"Our son," Steve said, tears of joy filling his eyes. He quickly wiped them away, "I consider Josh to be my son, but there's something in the way you said 'our son'."
"I know," Jan said. "It sounds different. Now as to a name, we had narrowed it down prior to your leaving, but Josh had added a name from which I like the middle one, Matthew."
"Jonathan Matthew Austin," Steve said, letting the sound settle on their ears. "Jon, Jonnie, Matt, Matty, J.M.," Steve added. He wanted to make sure the name wouldn't cause his son any grief in the future. "What do you think?"
"I like it," Jan said. "Jonathan Matthew Austin. Yes, I do like it."
"Well then, Jonathan Matthew it is," Steve announced. "I hope Josh likes it."
"I'm sure he will," Jan replied.
The couple sat for the next hour, sometimes in silence, sometimes in conversation. Rudy returned with Josh, figuring the couple had enough time to themselves.
Josh gave his Dad a hug. "I'm so glad you're home. We were so worried when Uncle Rudy said you were missing."
Steve returned the hug, best he could with his right arm, "It was the thoughts of you, your Mom and the babies that kept me going. I knew I had to come home."
Josh pulled away, and then seated himself next to his mother.
"Josh, how does Jonathan Matthew sound as a name for your brother?" Jan asked.
Josh sat thoughtfully, playing the name through his mind. A smile played across his face, he nodded, "I like it."
"Well then, we'll say hello to Jon as soon as the doctor's permit us," Steve said.
Rudy, having stayed in the background, announced it was time for Steve to return to his room. Steve balked, but Rudy insisted and won, wheeling him out of the room after Steve said good-bye to his wife.
As they rolled down the hall, "I've spoken with the pediatrician," Rudy started, "You can visit later on this afternoon."
Steve beamed, "Wonderful! By the way, where are my parents?"
"They should be along shortly. I sent them home late last night to get some sleep," Rudy replied. Helen and Jim had looked worn out, but didn't want to leave. Rudy finally drove them out, insisting they get a good night's sleep before returning in the morning. "Oscar had to return to Washington, but will be out to visit as soon as he can, possibly the weekend."
"So, my nephew is Jonathan Matthew, eh? It's a good name," Rudy said. "Now if we just knew whether the next baby is a boy or a girl."
Rudy settled Steve into bed with the help of a nurse. Steve fell asleep a short time after, smiling at the thought of his newborn son.
Helen and Jim arrived shortly before noon, having slept much later than planned. They first checked in Steve’s room; found it empty, so they headed for Jan’s room.
Jim knocked lightly in case the new mother was sleeping, entering when beckoned.
Helen gave her son a big hug, “I thought we’d find you in here,” she said.
“How is everyone doing?” Jim asked, while retrieving a chair for his wife. He then pulled up a chair for himself.
“I’m feeling much better,” Steve replied. “Rudy has a few repairs he wants to do, then he’ll release me.”
Jan chimed in, “And as long as I continue to improve, I’ll be permitted to return home by the end of the week; bed rest for the most part.”
“And our grandson?” Helen asked expectantly.
“Jonathan Matthew is doing fine,” Steve replied, beaming from ear to ear. “I get to visit him later today.”
“I hope to see him soon,” Jan added.
“Me too!” said Josh.
Steve filled his parents in on the earlier conversation with the pediatrician, who said that if Jon continues to improve, he might be ready to go home in a month or so.
“Ideally, the doctor would prefer he stay here until Jan came to term, but we told him we’ll cross that bridge later,” Steve finished.
Josh, who had been deep in thought, started chuckling.
“What’s so funny, munchkin?” Jan asked.
“Well, Jon is a twin, yet his birthday will be months sooner than the other. Jon was born on May 18th, and the other baby isn’t due until September.” He continued chuckling, thinking about the timing.
“You are too smart, kid,” Steve said. “I have a hunch you’re thinking of the other situation your Mother and I will have to explain.”
Josh nodded, “Two babies, four months apart.”
Everyone laughed, realizing the situation. “I guess we’ll have a lot of explaining to do,” Steve commented.
The visit continued until Jan tired and required a nap. Helen and Jim bade farewell, dragging Josh from the room. They planned on taking him home for a few hours. Steve returned to his room for a short nap as well, awaiting the chance to see his son for the first time.
Shortly before 5, a knock at the door awakened Steve. Dr. Cromwell, Jon’s pediatrician, entered the room. “Sorry to wake you, Colonel.”
“Call me Steve,” he said through a yawn.
The doctor pulled up a chair to the bed, seating himself. “I just wanted to prepare you for your visit. Many parents find it disturbing to see their child hooked up to so many machines and having tubes running everywhere.”
Steve nodded, “I know. My own doctor has already filled me in on what to expect. He even said that although I’ll be prepared, it still might be a shock.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear you’ve accepted it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been through this with new parents. Today you won’t be able to hold him; that will come some time down the road. You will be able to hold his hand, or actually, let him hold your finger. Talk to him; he needs to hear your voice.” The doctor had been concerned that the little one had yet to hear his parents.
Steve smiled, “I have a lot to tell my son.”
The doctor arranged for Steve to be taken to see his son. Within an hour, Steve sat next to the incubator, shocked at the sight. Prepared or not, the doctor was right; Jon seemed to have an electrode or tube coming from every part of his body. He heart sunk at the sight. He watched Jon sleep, willing him to live, to recover.
A nurse stopped by, switching the nametag from ‘Boy Austin’ to his new given name.
“How is he doing?” Steve asked.
The nurse smiled, “He’s a strong willed baby, Colonel. With each vital check, he either stays the same or improves.”
Steve looked back to his son in time to see Jon’s eyes open. Steve smiled; his son has bright blue eyes. Jon turned his head, now facing Steve.
“Hi there Jon. I’m your daddy,” Steve said while putting his hand in through the incubator portal. He placed a finger close to the little hand, encouraging Jon to take hold of it; Steve wasn’t disappointed. Two events occurred at the moment Jon grasped his father’s finger. The first being Steve breaking into tears at the feel of his son’s tiny grasps. The second at pleased the nurse standing behind father and son. The monitors showed Jon’s vital signs improving.
Steve sat staring into his son’s eyes for the next hour, talking to the baby all the while, their gaze unwavering. Jon’s grip began to loosen as he fell asleep. Steve sat a while longer, then returned to his room.
By the end of the week, Steve had returned home. Rudy decided the minor repairs to the arm could wait since Steve wouldn’t be going into the field anytime in the foreseeable future.
Steve and Josh worked together, setting up a bedroom for Jan on the first floor since she wouldn’t be climbing stairs upon her return. Josh found an old toy with a bell and placed it on the bedside table. Steve moved a TV into the room, along with a radio and telephone. He chose the guest room with a view of the backyard.
Josh and Jim moved all the birdfeeders so they’d be in view of Jan’s room. Steve moved the birdbaths as well, since Jan enjoyed the birds’ antics while drinking and bathing.
Helen put the final touches on the room, adding a vase of flowers and a few of Jan’s favorite magazines.
Steve made daily jaunts to the hospital, visiting with Jan and spending one hour a day with Jon.
Shortly before her release, Jan was taken to the nursery to see her son for the first time, breaking into tears at the sight of her tiny child hooked up to so many different machines. Steve had warned her in advance, but knew it wouldn’t help since he, too, had been shocked on the first visit.
Jan sat next to the incubator, letting Jon grasp her finger. She sang quietly to him, keeping his attention the entire time. Once he drifted off to sleep, Steve wheeled Jan back to her room.
“They’re home!” Josh announced, running for the front door. He stood on the front porch underneath a ‘Welcome Home’ sign, waiting to help his Mom with the front stairs.
Steve helped Jan out of the car, and then guided her up the sidewalk.
“Hey Munchkin!” Jan said, carefully hugging her son. “Help me inside please.”
Josh helped her up the stairs while Steve grabbed the bags from the car.
“We set up the guest room for you, it has a TV, radio, phone and a view of the backyard and Grandpa and I moved the birdfeeders so you can watch the birds and Dad moved the birdbath and Grandma, and I put a toy with a bell, ” Josh said.
“Whoa there Josh,” Steve said, following them down the hall, bags in hand. “Mom’s not going anywhere so you don’t have to give her a one minute rundown on all activities during the past few days.”
“Sorry Mom,” Josh said with a lopsided grin. “I just missed you.”
“I missed you too, Josh. You know what I’d like right now? A tall glass of lemonade; would you grab one for me?”
“Sure,” Josh replied, bolting down the hall to the kitchen.
Steve helped Jan settle into bed, insisting on unpacking everything himself. “By the time this is over, you are going to hate having me around,” he teased.
“Oh I doubt that,” Jan replied while positioning the pillows so she could sit upright.
Josh brought the glass, placing it on the bedside table. “Anything else I can do?”
“Yes, there is. You can crawl up here and give your Mother a hug, then a guided tour of the birds out at the feeders,” Jan replied. Several birds had gathered outside, only a couple of which she recognized.
As Josh complied with his Mother’s wishes, Steve went in search of his own parents, both of who had settled into the kitchen.
“What’s for lunch?” he asked, seating himself at the table. The moment he entered the house, he could smell a mixture of aromas coming from the kitchen.
“Leftovers,” Helen replied.
Steve feigned disappointment. “What about that wonderful smell?”
Jim chuckled, “That’s supper in the oven.”
“Oh, okay then.” Steve rummaged through the fridge, putting together a sandwich from last night’s meatloaf. He returned to the table and munched on the sandwich while relaying the latest information on Jon’s condition.
By mid-afternoon Jan had fallen asleep, so Josh took the opportunity to refill the birdfeeders. Steve joined him, helping as Josh instructed him on what food goes into which feeder. Upon completion of the task, the two settled onto the back deck.
“Will Mom be okay?” Josh said, looking to Steve for the answer.
“As long as she does what the doctor says, yes, she’ll be fine,” Steve replied.
“What about the baby?”
“Which one?” Steve asked.
“Well, both of them I guess.” Josh was more concerned about Jon than the unborn child. He had the chance to see the baby once and was scared for the tiny baby in the incubator.
“Jon is doing well, considering how early he was born. He’s gaining weight and hasn’t had any difficulties. The doctor said we may get to bring him home in a month or two.” Steve wanted to bring Jon home as soon as possible, to make the experience more real, but he knew that not only Jon needed time to grow, but also Jan needed time with the next baby.
“Josh, you do know that when the babies are home there will be a lot of work. You may not get as much attention and you are used to, but that doesn’t mean we love you any less,” Steve said. He and Jan were concerned on how Josh would handle having the babies’ home. Although Josh has been excited like everyone else, they knew that he was used to being the center of attention. The couple decided that two Saturdays a month would be an all-day outing for Steve and Josh, with Josh choosing the activities.
“I know,” Josh said. “What about the other baby?”
“We’ll have to wait and see. The doctor said everything looks good, and the fact that it’s the only one left means it won’t have to compete for anything,” Steve said. “So, like I said, as long as your Mom does what she’s supposed to do, the baby should be fine.”
“I’ll help the best I can, Dad. School is out in a week so I’ll be home all day after that,” Josh said. “I know you promised I could go to Space Camp this year, but I’ve decided to wait until next summer.”
“Are you sure?” Josh had been talking about Space Camp since the previous summer and was surprised he was willing to give it up now.
“I’m sure. You, Mom and the baby are more important. Space Camp will be there next year,” Josh said.
“Josh, you are way too mature for your age, you do know that, don’t you?”
Josh tilted his head to the side and flashed a lopsided grin. “I know, but I won’t let it go to my head.”
By the eight month Jan had tired of the pregnancy. She wanted it over with as soon as possible.
Jon had yet to come home, having given everyone a scare when he was a month old. He started loosing weight for no apparent reason and had stopped thriving. The doctors ran every conceivable test and could not find a reason for the change. A week later, he started gaining weight again and returned to good health. At that point the doctors decided to keep him until the mid-August or possibly the beginning of September.
Although the anxious parents were disappointed, they also understood the reasoning, supporting the doctor’s decision. They had waited this long, they could wait just a little bit longer.
One evening, after Josh had gone to bed, Jan broached the subject of Max. “I think it’s time we tell Josh about Max.”
Steve had been snuggling with Jan in her room for most of the evening, trying to keep her company and in good spirits. “Are you sure? I know we agreed on taking Max in, but do you think it’s the right time?”
“Most definitely,” Jan said. “In a month or so this house is going to be turned topsy-turvy. Josh will need a friend to stay by his side.”
“As long as you think it’s the right time, I’ll make the arrangements with Rudy.”
“Please do. It’ll be best to introduce Max now before both babies arrive home,” Jan said.
Steve had been massaging Jan’s belly when he suddenly pulled his hand back, startled.
“Oof,” Jan said. “The little one is active tonight.” She reached over and grabbed Steve’s hand, placing it back on her belly.
“Sorry,” he grinned. “The kick just caught me off guard.”
Jan laughed. “At least it was just your hand that got kicked. Imagine how I feel.”
Steve chuckled as well. “I’d rather now, thank you very much.”
Shortly before midnight, Jan drifted off to sleep. Steve pulled the covers up to Jan’s mid-section, turned off the lights and closed the door.
Knowing Rudy would still be up, he retired to the bedroom and placed the call. After three short rings, the phone was answered. “Rudy, it’s Steve. Let’s talk about Max.”
To be continued in "Going Home"