Tag Archives: Cedars Sinai

My 2018 Movie Tally: My First As A Dad!

26 Jan

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It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to write my tally for my ’18 blog tonight! Sorry, but I had the Muppet Show theme stuck in my head. Let’s start over…

THREE HOSPITALIZATIONS AND A DUPLEX

2018 was insane. Care for an abridged recap? Adi’s pregnancy was terrible. By March she had to go on Disability due to endless vomiting and dehydration along with twenty other symptoms. In May I was about to go on a “guy’s trip” to Vegas when her water broke and the baby started coming 6 weeks early. A long labor resulted in an emergency c-section. If the next month had been funny, it would have been a true Comedy of Errors, because oh-boy-did-Cedars-Sinai-screw-things-up…we were there for 6 days, sent home for 2, brought back in an emergency for 2 more days, sent home for 4, and then brought back with yet another emergency for 19 more days. And if the details of that are new to you, I truly invite you to read about the nitty gritty right here, it’s not boring.

But wait, there’s more! In the midst of the first hospitalization, we found our wonderful new home, and moved into a scary but wonderful arrangement with her parents. No not living together, but a duplex where we are upstairs and they are downstairs, and it has been a mutual blessing for us all so far….(cue dramatic music)! We moved in just in time for the Jewish High Holidays, and life began to semi-normalize.

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Adi’s nasty pregnancy left her with a few nuggets of poop, as she found out that she would likely require three surgeries to undo the damage of carrying our little terrorist in her womb: one for the worsened carpal tunnel in both her left and right hands, and another for her sinuses. Luckily thus-far it appears she may be able to avoid the sinus surgery, but as of writing this post she has completed the two on her hands.

SO I MARRIED A CLONED NOLTE

We named our adorable baby girl Natalia Rose, and she has blown up the internet ever since. It may be due to her cuteness. But it may also be because people started to realize that I, Boaz Hepner, actually married Nick Nolte. Don’t get the connection? Let me connect the dots in an incontrovertible way.

The following is a photo of Adi (above) and Natalia (below). Can you tell them apart other than from the faded picture quality? I don’t think so. Look, the photos were even both time stamped at 3:27pm, I smell an X-File in the making…clearly “my” baby girl is actually Adi’s clone.

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Now that you obviously agree that Adi gave birth to herself, all you need to see is Natalia’s unique head of hair. Now look at it next to Nick Nolte’s own unique mane.

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Case. Closed.

MOVIEPASS IS DEAD, LONG LIVE MOVIEPASS

But wait, throughout the entire roller-coaster year, there was craziness at the cinema! I don’t exactly mean the movies themselves, but the way to get tickets to the movies went bananas. Entering the year there was the greatest thing for movie-lovers that I imagine I will ever experience, MoviePass. It was like a fleeting dream. The longer time passes the more I start to doubt my own memories as real. “Listen up boys and girls, have I got a product for you! For just 10 dollars a month – you heard me, 10 bucks is all it takes – I’ll let you see any movie you want, day in, day out, no questions asked. Just go to 90% of your local theaters, swipe this magic card, and voilà, your ticket is paid for!” And that wasn’t even an exaggeration, that’s how it worked, and it really did work…..until it didn’t. I knew from Day One of this magical app that it was simply not a sustainable business model, and tried to get everyone and their mother to sign up and enjoy the ride while it lasted; because sure enough by the midpoint of last year the wheels were falling off the cart. In August we switched over to AMC’s own too-good-to-be-true program, and so far other than a small price increase, it has been fantastic. I’m paying 20 bucks a month (okay, double MoviePass but still the cost of under 2 movies) and I’m seeing 3 a week at their many nice theaters. But my favorite thing is that unlike MoviePass, I am booking these tickets and seats in advance. For my entire life I have avoided movies and showtimes that are busy because quite simply there’s always older stuff I haven’t caught yet, and why bother competing for bad seats in a busy theater or finding out it’s sold out when I arrive? (EDITOR’S NOTE: For the many years prior to these subscriptions, I was buying discount passes from each theater to save significant money, but in doing so you have to be in person to buy seats.) But this new program changes everything. I now I use my app, find whatever the heck movie I want that’s conveniently timed, and a few days in advance I can already reserve the best seats in the house. And if I change my mind? I cancel the tickets, it costs me nothing, no harm is done, and the seats are released for someone else. In just the past two weeks we have enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born in sold out AMC Theaters, and yet we had perfect seats and paid zero (beyond our 20 dollar subscription for the month). Oh, and one of them was in the special Dolby theater that costs over 20 bucks per ticket anyway, so that one alone justified its existence for the month. So unless the wheels fall off this sucker, we’re riding it into the sunset. (And you are welcome to read my analysis of those two plus Sinemia that I wrote up last August here).

Okay, enough with the foreplay, it’s time to talk about the movies I saw last year, let’s rev up those engines and count those numbers!

SHUT UP ALREADY AND SHOW ME THE NUMBERS

In my previous tally I had plummeted to an all-time low. In 2016 for my first time ever, I went under 100 movies, and saw only 86. I vowed to never let it happen again, and make it a blemish, an aberration in the history of Boaz. But then 2017 happened, and I saw one LESS flick, with a measly 85 as my final number. This was becoming a new pattern as I was bringing life into this world (okay fiiiiine, Adi was self-actualizing the life of her clone into this world, but dammit I was being supportive in my new role as pater familias and I needed my daughter to respect me as the insanely movie obsessed man I am). The year came to a close, and as always I had no idea where I stood as I pulled my bag of ticket stubs out of my drawer to do my annual count (yes that’s how I actually do it)! Like the 3rd act of any sports movie, I knew I could not be victorious, the odds were stacked against me; I had even spent an entire month in the hospital seeing nothing but my annual birthday movie. My most frequent movie companion was vomiting for 7 plus months and often unwilling (okay fiiiiine, unable) to go out. Previous “winners” of being my movie companion (some would meanly call them losers, it’s all a matter of perspective I suppose) had moved away to DC (Josh Baron), Nor Cal (David Mittelman) and even frequent commutes to Vegas (Jared Rubin). I was obviously about to find I had gone even lower than ever…

But wait, what’s this? I had somehow beaten the numbers of each of the last few years, and managed to see…106 movies! I can’t tell you how, it makes no sense to me, but just like the unlimited MoviePass plan fever-dream, apparently, there’s proof – it really happened. So enough is enough, let’s break down the numbers, let’s see who I saw the most with, and let’s analyze the highs and the lows!

My final tally for 2018 in theaters – 106

THE BREAKDOWN

Who I saw the most with:

  1. Adi – 83 movies (previous year 58). If there’s any proof that no good deed goes unpunished, this would be it. I got/forced/begged/manipulated my pregnant wife in the first half of the year, and a then-mother of a newborn in the second half, to see 25 more movies this dramatic past year than the prior one! And let me tell you people, I do not ever take her to a movie she doesn’t want to see. Yes I’m the movie obsessed one, but she actually does want to see the vast majority of movies out there, especially if it doesn’t cost anything extra to see it – thus an added benefit to the subscription models of MoviePass (God rest its soul) and AMC Stubs A-List (yaaaay for now…).What were some of the highlights? Hard to pinpoint when there were 83 to choose from. Let’s go with the day we spent watching a ridiculously great triple feature, where the genres zigzagged all over the map. It began with Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that was so damn good, and so beloved by all audiences and critics alike, that it was widely considered a shoo-in for winning the Best Documentary Oscar….so naturally it wasn’t even nominated, because that would be too easy. It brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes as I still have proof of how wonderful Fred Rogers and his show were. I was a little boy and loved to help my mother tend to her LA based English garden. I loved watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. So with my mother’s help no doubt, I sent him a letter asking if he would ever make an episode about gardening for me to watch. Soon after, when I was not even 4 years old, I received a personal letter by the iconic man himself making me feel special for each detail I had written. This was signed by him, and as cynical as I am about celebrities these days, yes I am confident the letter was really from him. But that’s not even the best part. 15 months later, I received another letter in the mail, this person identified herself as his secretary, and was letting me know that Fred Rogers remembered my letter, and was creating an episode about gardening, that would air later that year, and they wanted to make sure I knew. Who does something like this anymore??? Who would see a child’s letter to their show that has millions upon millions of viewers, responds to it personally, and then cultivate (in the non-digital age no less, with no way to easily keep track of these things), an environment that then took yet more time to tell that same child about the episode? I was not an 18-39 demographic. I was not a Nielsen viewer. I provided no way for them to make any money. I was a child, they were on PBS, and they cared. I cried happy tears watching that wonderful documentary about that beautiful man.
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Writing this story inspired me to drive to my parent’s house, rummage through my old files, and eventually find these letters which I now present to you below:mr. rogers letter 1983mr. rogers secretary letter 1984
    Tell me that didn’t warm your heart to read, I challenge you. You can even see where I wet the end of his signature just to validate that it was real ink! Naturally, the movie that followed was Hereditary, a scary movie that involves a tour de force performance by Toni Collette that most critics also demanded be recognized by the Oscars – but good luck finding a horror movie that gets the respect it deserves come awards season. Last year Get Out was the first one nominated since Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Then again, Black Panther (damn fun movie) broke the Best Picture comic book barrier that even the superior The Dark Night was robbed of; perhaps a horror movie’s acting is the next barrier to get through. The film was great far beyond Collette’s performance, with some of the most haunting audio and visuals I experienced all of last year. From that we went into Incredibles 2, because what could be better than watching another Pixar masterpiece after being disturbed for 2 hours? My only regret is that I have not seen the original The Incredibles since its initial release, so it wasn’t fresh in my mind. Nonetheless, this made me love it as much as I remember loving the first one, and Pixar along with Marvel Studios (weird comparison) both continue to make movies that range from decent to awesome, with no stinkers in the bunch. (For the sake of that argument I will pretend Cars 2 was never made, because that’s far more convenient for my point.) So yes, that was a phenomenal triple feature!Here’s where things get weird. In all prior years there were a slew of friends seeing four or more movies with us. Two years ago there were 7 of those friends, and last year there were 9. So how is it that in a year when I saw this many more movies, there were only three friends who went with me to see between 4-5 flicks? Another X-File! (And before you ask, yes, I still wear deodorant!)
  2. Glee – 5 movies (previous year 0). That’s right, from left field, a new contender, someone who had literally never seen a movie with me before; my dear friend from the hospital who moved from working nights to joining me at day-shifts, and as we speak is moving back to nights on another unit. Let’s be honest, she only puts up with me to spend time with her true love, baby Natalia, but anyone who comes over and asks to change my child’s diaper is family in my book. My movie highlight with her has to be The Room. Yes, considered the greatest worst movie of all time, I had never seen it, and time was running out to catch the James Franco film The Disaster Artist about the making of it; so I made a plan, and a bunch of us went to see it with the infamously awesome Tommy Wiseau in person, where we got to take this absurd photo with him and his merchandise…
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    So yeah, it was a truly, hilariously surreal experience; we watched it on the big screen, him right there in the room with us, and then a few weeks later I saw The Disaster Artist in the same exact theater, with actual scenes of the movie filmed within the theater we were watching it in. Are you confused yet?! My head was exploding
  3. Haley – 4 movies (previous year 1). Another delightful friend I made at work. Between work and seeing movies with me, I found out that Haley was acting in a play that she hadn’t told a single coworker about. So naturally, I told everyone, and a group of us from work went to watch her and cheer her on! Listen, she’s obviously shy, and didn’t want the attention, so I’ll just share a photo of the entire cast bowing at the end, and you can’t possibly know which one is her.
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    Our year consisted of 4 movies. 3 were excellent, and 1 was unwatchable (and I almost never use that adjective as you know)! The best of the best was Hostiles. If you missed it, and I’m guessing you did, then run to your Netflix account and make it first on your queue. That movie blew me away. It should have at the very least been nominated for all of the major Oscars the previous year. Christian Bale was great as always. Rosamund Pike gave a performance that still to this day haunts me. She cries in a way I have truly never seen in cinema, and I get heartbroken just imagining it. No this is not a movie for the squeamish, it is extremely savage, and raw, and perfect. Den of Thieves was the first good movie Gerard Butler has been in for years, I expected fun B-movie crap and was surprised to get the next damn good version of Training Day. And Thoroughbreds was amazing. I don’t even know how to describe this other than a dark comedy, a genre that usually misses the mark, hit it right on the bullseye with this one. Best is if you know nothing going into it, as I did, but if you must get a taste, you can watch the trailer here. But wait, remember that earlier word? We also saw the one and only movie all year that I would describe as “unwatchable”. Proud Mary was a piece of garbage that had no direction, provided no fun, and it couldn’t end fast enough. And it’s a real shame since I would think you could put Taraji P Henson in front of a camera and film her doing literally anything, and make an entertaining movie, but this proved that theory wrong. Story, direction and screenplay does apparently matter too. (Luckily for her fans, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony came out a few months later, and was a wonderful and entertaining use of her talents.)
  4. Mayman – 4 movies (previous year 0). It’s actually nuts that I saw absolutely no movies with David (yes he occasionally has a first name) in 2017, because unlike Glee and Haley, David is not a new friend. In fact, not only has he been one of my closest for ages, not only was he a groomsman at my wedding, but he is responsible for my going into nursing in the first place! True story: back in 2008 this guy invited me to meet for a slice of pizza at our usual place, Nagila, and he had a legal pad full of notes in front of him as I arrived. It turned out to be an ambush, and he had spent hours of his time researching not only why I would make a great nurse, but how much it would cost, which schools do it the fastest, how many prerequisites I would need, and many other things that he anticipated (correctly) I would argue and question. An hour later, my very stubborn mind had been opened to a new career from its previous L.A. aimlessness, and I embarked on a new life-path. Between his 2 kids and busy job lawyering, I was thrilled to see that we had actually seen 4 movies together this year, and I’m honored to have him round out my 2018 list.The real story of the movies I saw with David is that 2 of them I had ALREADY SEEN. I rarely take the time to see a movie a second time, but hey that’s yet another advantage of a subscription service where cost is no longer a factor. And wait, by many counts I really saw 108 movies this year, but I have to be consistent, and when I see a movie two or even three times, I only count it once since my goal is to count how many different movies I see in the theater each year. An important caveat. So what were those two movies worth seeing twice? Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Avengers: Infinity War. What? Were you expecting Shakespeare? This is my movie blog, and I ain’t no movie snob. Show me a 200 plus million dollar spectacle that entertains the hell out of me, and I’m in cinema heaven. Sure they were full of flaws, but I enjoyed the hell out of them both. Many hate on the middle chapter of the current Star Wars trilogy, but I for one appreciated all of the risks it took; in fact it needed to take some left turns after the first one was loads of fun, but light on the originality. Although I will admit, I have no idea why this hilariously creepy scene needed to be included, other than providing a #MeToo story for a Henson-type Milk Creature. (For my review of the first two Star Wars movies, read my previous entry here.)
    And then there’s Marvel’s latest flawed masterpiece, Avengers: Infinity War. All of their movies have been varying degrees of awesomeness. Doesn’t have to mean Oscar-worthy awesome, it can simply mean Jeff Spicoli-type awesome, I’m good with that. If you grew up reading comic books, you grew up with a universe that was intertwined and crossed over from one character’s book to another. And only now do we finally have a universe like that in film, where the crossover format of the page has leapt to the big screen, and the results have been…awesome. That being said, I am still more than happy to laugh at flaws and plot holes as well as the next guy, and if you were a fan of this movie and have not yet watched this “How it Should Have Ended” clip, enjoy, and you’re welcome. But the best movie we saw together was actually neither of those double-viewed blockbusters, it was Mission Impossible: Fallout. How. Does. This. Series. Keep. Getting. Better? Seriously. The first 3 of the franchise were varying wobbly degrees of high energy, ridiculous ordinary action blockbuster, with the added bit of adrenaline injection that is Tom Cruise and his real life God-Complex-Death-Wish. You can’t help but enjoy this series a bit extra knowing he does the vast majority of his own death-defying stunts. But still, as I said, those first 3 were fine. But then the most recent two were absolutely magnificent. Every minute of them was exciting. The direction was crisp, the story moved, and the stunts were better than ever. These were as good as the best of the James Bond movies, and Christopher McQuarrie shot to the top of my list of favorite action writer/director options in Hollywood. In fact if you look at the previous movie he just wrote, it was the unbelievably entertaining, funny, and intelligent (also Tom Cruise) movie Edge of Tomorrow. So yeah, this guy is the real deal.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Honorable mention goes to a few friends who saw 3 movies with me: Harwin, who was number one (after Adi of course) each of the last two years, and sadly plummeted dramatically for no reason I can come up with…we happened to bump into him while he was biking in Marina del Rey, he got off his bike, showered (happens to live there), and ran in to watch The Greatest Showman with us – a movie that whitewashes the history of the circus, but does so with such amazing flair, music and Hugh Jackman, that it makes me excited for the upcoming whitewashed Broadway musical adaptation; Jared, who plays poker for a living, and once upon a time was chip leader in my movie tally…we loved getting to watch Molly’s Game with him, a rare great movie about the world of poker. Jessica Chastain and the Sorkin writing are what really make damn good; Mike, who used to also lead the pack in my tally, watched Bohemian Rhapsody with us, and has not stopped singing Queen to his kids ever since. Rami Malek’s performance is mesmerizing, Marc Martel who does the behind-the-scenes vocals imitating Freddy Mercury is magically pitch perfect (watch him here and see for yourself), and all of the concert scenes make it a really fun night at the movies…they also help cover up the fact that the film’s dialogue, acting and direction otherwise are quite ordinary and paint-by-numbers; Nathan, who took a few hours away from producing awe-inspiring videos for League of Legends, and saw the entertainingly ridiculous Liam Neeson on a train movie The Commuter, but balanced it out well by also seeing the spectacularly good Churchill movie Darkest Hour, which resulted in Gary Oldman winning a well-deserved Acaedemy Award last year; Sabrina, who seems to spend all of her time trying to help her clients in Adelanto Detention Center, but did manage to see the highly satisfying Spielberg movie The Post with me, and balanced it out beautifully when we left our spouses at home and went to see the finale to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Remember when I said much earlier that Proud Mary was an extremely rare movie where I would use the word “unwatchable”? Well I meant it. Fifty Shades Freed was ridiculous, pointless, but still fun. And a decent improvement on the 2nd one which was actually, nearly unwatchable; Oh, and last but not least Avish. She only saw 2 with me, but that’s not her fault. The only reason Harwin & Sabrina even made the cut of 3 was for my annual birthday bash in Westwood. Avish was planning to join that, her night was set aside, but we were in a bind. Remember when I mentioned the only movie we saw during the month of hospitalizations was my annual birthday movie? We needed someone to stay with Natalia while she had a feeding tube down her throat, and zero trust in a hospital that had already let us down not once but twice. So she offered to stay so that we could make a rare exit from the hospital grounds and see people on the outside for a night. Boy oh boy did we need it! We saw Deadpool 2, a hilarious Marvel franchise that I pray will remain R-Rated when Disney takes over, as it makes no sense in a sanitized universe. So Avish gets deserved honorable mention for her 2 movies plus sacrificing her 3rd so that we could go. This was the end result:

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AND BAD REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW

Seeing 106 different movies does NOT, however, mean I didn’t miss out on any. I looked back and counted 40, yes 40 that I had wanted to watch but missed. They ranged from incredibly crappy movies like Mortal Engines, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Happytime Murders, to excellently reviewed films such as Lean On Pete, The RiderBlindspottingFirst Man and BlacKkKlansman. There were even a handful of movies where I had watched the previous ones within the franchise, making the OCD part of me not pleased at all; these include Maze Runner: Death Cure, Goosebumps 2, Super Troopers 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, The NunJohnny English Strikes Again, and yes even Sherlock Gnomes. And although I had reached my 1 documentary per year quota (has never been my thing, what can I say), I highly regret missing Three Identical Strangers and Free Solo.

UNTIL NEXT YEAR…

That rounds up my 2018 movie tally. I hope it inspires you to watch a few you have missed. I hope you know me a bit better than you did before reading this. And if I had one wish for 2019, it might be for World Peace; or it might be to make it more affordable to live in L.A. with my family; it likely should be to bring together our horribly divided nation; but instead I’ll use my one wish to see at least 107 movies next year, because we all want the 2019 blog to start on a happy note. (And if you have never seen the absolutely classic Steve Martin One Wish sketch I was mildly channeling, enjoy this nugget of brilliance here).

 

 

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Three Hospitalizations & A Baby (Sorta Starring Dennis Quaid)

3 Sep
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I have been waiting a long time to post this important and highly personal story, something most of our friends don’t know about yet, and today is finally the day. I’ll even tell you what we have in common with Dennis Quaid.
Many of you followed our experience w/ Natalia in Cedars Sinai, and are well aware that we had a bad and dangerous series of hospitalizations/discharges. It shocked us as that’s where we’ve gone for most of our lives; it’s where I was born myself, and not only does it have a stellar reputation but we’ve had SO MANY great experiences there over the years…I would still consider it a top notch hospital. But nonetheless, sometimes in life someone has to become the unfortunate “teaching case” where things go badly, but IDEALLY they learn from it and make things safer for future patients, so here is our experience. (You may know pieces of the first 2 parts, previously mentioned on Facebook, but we’ve never until now publicly discussed the third)…
Prologue:
Adi had a rough pregnancy, so difficult that she was vomiting from Day One until the day she was taken to get a c-section 6 weeks early, an ironic Mother’s Day surprise. The one relief from giving birth to our child prematurely was knowing that the vomiting would finally come to an end – and yes, thankfully, it did. Safe delivery from our good doctor, the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, and they had to take her to the NICU. Once there she had feeding challenges. And also once there she developed jaundice. But as countless parents are aware, all of these were quite common things to experience with preemies, and we were confident in the care we were receiving. The social worker was attentive, the nurses were knowledgeable and caring, and the chaplain was checking on our psychosocial needs daily. Cedars Sinai was living up to its reputation as a wonderful place to deliver a child…until our first problem.
Scene 1: (NICU)
Adi and I had been visiting the NICU regularly to be with our new little Natalia Rose. Each doctor, physical therapist, lactation consultant and nurse had mentioned that it would be at least another week before she would go home. Expectations were there, we were prepared to stick it out while Natalia continued to sunbathe under her spa-treatment UV lights to keep her jaundice at bay. The need for assistance for her breathing had been solved, and although she was breastfeeding poorly, she was swallowing milk from the bottle, so it mostly came down to the jaundice-problem (caused by raised bilirubin levels). She was considered at moderate to high risk because she was not only a preemie, but what you call Coombs Positive – a Blood Incompatibility disorder. This is also a common occurrence; it happens when the baby and mother are not the same Rh Factor (Positive/Negative blood type). Most mothers get a shot of RhoGAM to prevent this while pregnant, but Natalia was born before the shot could be given, so thus, the baby would need more help from the UV lights for her bilirubin levels. Sure, no problem, the staff had dealt with this countless times before, and thus we were told she was stable and doing well, and likely to discharge home the next week.
On day 5 of her life, Thursday night, the NICU neonatologist visited us, and with an absolutely lovely bedside manner dropped an unexpectedly happy bomb on us – there’s a chance Natalia could go home TOMORROW. What? Really? But everyone else had said “hopefully next week” just earlier that same day. “Yes, tomorrow possibly”. A few minutes later he said, “50/50 tomorrow it will happen”. We weren’t sure what had happened in those few minutes to take this from a maybe to 50/50, but this doctor’s friendly internal monologue continued. As he kept talking to us, a few minutes after THAT he blurted out, “tomorrow is going to happen, I’m confident, she will go home tomorrow”.  I said this made no sense, she was still under the UV lights, nobody else had thought it could happen for days, how could this be? The warm and friendly NICU doctor reassured us she would be fine; he would take her off the UV lights in the morning, test her bilirubin levels, wait 6 hours to be sure, test her again off the lights and then send her home. I tried to quell the red flags that had been going off in my brain, equal parts due to the fact that we wanted to go home with her, mixed with the fact that his warm reassuring bedside manner convinced us that he must be doing what’s right.
The next morning, our sweet NICU nurse said to us, “Wasn’t the doctor going to check her bilirubin and wait 6 hours before possibly discharging her?” and when we answered yes, she said, “okay, I need to call him, he just ordered her discharge home now without running any tests”. The red flags came roaring back in my brain. The tests got ordered, her levels were below actual jaundice, around 10.7, and we waited 6 hours with the UV lights turned off to see how her body would respond. 6 hours later, the new test showed that her number had gone UP to about 11.3, still under the jaundice levels of 12, but the trend was heading back toward it. He still ordered the discharge. MORE RED FLAGS. I questioned him, how could this be, the numbers trended in the wrong direction? “It’s okay, it’s still under jaundice at these numbers”. Yes, I understood that, but surely he could see this was heading that way, if anything we could wait another 6 hours and see what the numbers would be the next time? “No, she’s fine, she’ll be fine, you can safely take her home, see your pediatrician after the weekend”.  Okay, wonderful, I muted my red flags, I trusted the neonatologist, and we celebrated that on the 6th day of her 6 week premature life, we could take her home!
2 mornings later, about 40 hours had passed, it was the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, and I came home from my synagogue and just STARED at Natalia. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about her skin tone was off. Now please realize, I am an RN, I see Jaundice in my patients with liver failure, but this was simply not it. The whites of her eyes remained completely white. Her skin did not resemble a yellow highlighter. It was not jaundice the way I know it, but something told me it might be anyway. At this same moment I realized something else: we had been given NO EDUCATION. None. Zero. Zip. Not a drop of “look for this w/ her poops, and be aware of that for her breathing. We were first time parents, taking home a premature moderate to high-risk baby, and we were not coached on anything, not even jaundice signs and symptoms. Oy. I called my pediatrician, who we continue to trust and love to this day, and she was confident in my judgment enough to send me to get a blood test for Natalia’s bilirubin levels. We happened to even run into our dear friend Aryeh who is a pediatrician, and agreed with our “better safe than sorry” approach to get the blood test that afternoon. 2 hours later, our pediatrician called us and explained, “Her bilirubin levels are 18.9, you must take her right now to be checked back into the hospital for her jaundice levels. She will be okay because she is still under a level of 20, but this is very important”. Here is where I must explain the importance of the number 20. You and I have what’s called the “blood-brain barrier”, this acts as a sort of moat to protect the castle. Our brain uses it to keep things filtered out…..BUT until we turn approximately 10 days old, we don’t HAVE this barrier, and if the bilirubin levels are above 20 at that young age, you could thus get permanent brain damage and deafness. Do the math, she was 10.7 Friday morning, 6 hours later she was 11.3, and 40 hours later she was 18.9. It would have likely been just a matter of hours before she had passed that scarily irreversible point in time, and thank GOD my inner voice nudged me into rechecking this, because it was caught in time. But it sure seems like the discharge was scarily incorrect.
Scene 2: (Pediatrics Ward)
We were no longer in the NICU, but rather the Pediatric unit down the hall. This was a massive relief to us as it meant we could sleep in the same room with Natalia. She was to stay under the UV lights without a break until her levels could justify otherwise. We could not even take her out to hold her, and that was okay, it was what was needed for her, and she seemed content in her little sun-tanning booth. Let’s gloss over the day that we had a terrible nurse who left her UV lights OFF for an hour and did not even correct (or apologize for) her own mistake when the Nursing Assistant caught it. Let’s just cut to the end of this 2 day hospitalization. Each and every shift the doctors and nurses would come and check on us and ask how much she had been eating and pooping/peeing. We kept the chart, they put it on not only a paper but their computers. Upon discharge they told us how great she was doing and we could go home for real this time. We were relieved, and went home. 4 days later our own pediatrician was out of town, we had a bilirubin test that showed the jaundice was finally a thing of the past, but the doctor covering for her called us on the phone and asked us to go over Natalia’s feeding habits each and every day. Adi read him the numbers kept on her app that tracks everything. The doctor had the incredibly decent compassion to invite himself over to the house for the simple purpose of telling us that WE HAD TO GO BACK TO THE HOSPITAL AGAIN. He had done the math and seen that she was eating – only HALF of what she needed to thrive. Half. I told him, “I could deal with this easier if she had been eating less well since coming home from the hospital, if something was DIFFERENT now, but these numbers WERE what she was doing in the hospital. Nothing had changed. They simply sent her home when the numbers had reflected a failure to thrive, yet another ridiculous discharge…
Scene 3: (Pediatrics Ward)
Upon arrival, I saw some of the same young doctors from the second hospitalization, in the same pediatric unit as last time, and I was not polite. As soon as they visited us, I told them, “I am sick and tired of being here, but what I am really furious about is the fact that you doctors keep treating her for her ADMITTING DIAGNOSIS, but ignoring everything else that arises as unimportant. The first time she had respiratory distress from birth, it was solved, the jaundice arose and it was not taken seriously enough, which brought us to our second hospitalization. That second one was for jaundice, which was solved, but the fact that she was eating half of what is necessary was totally ignored, not even acknowledged, and for that reason alone we were back there this third time for the feeding issue. Now you are about to put a feeding tube down her nose for however long, but if ANYTHING ELSE arises, you’d better actually pay attention to it. For example, look at this rash on her chest. It may be nothing, but we want you to look at it and pay attention, even though that’s not the main reason she’s here…look at her entire being, not just her diagnosis!” That was my rant, and unbeknownst to us, it contained a large nugget of irony. The next morning her temperature dropped, they ran tests, gave the poor tiny thing a spinal tap, and confirmed that she actually had a form of Viral Meningitis known as Enterovirus (dangerous for babies but completely benign in adults). And when the Infectious Disease doctors entered our newly created isolation room to visit us, they asked if she had had any recent rashes on her chest. Ha! Yes, it was our example of something else to look at, and was there even a photo of it for them taken by the doctors I showed it to? Nope. Oh well.
19 days in Cedars went by, we were treated with kid gloves, and you can imagine why at this point. I reported all of what I have repeated to the Quality Control department, who would convey it to Risk Management. Our own trusted pediatrician had reported our experience to the head of the NICU, and he came by on two occasions to discuss and apologize for our experience thus far. Multiple heads of departments in nursing and the hospital visited us, and understandably apologized carefully. I told them we were not interested in suing the hospital, but wanted things to be changed for the future, and “you’d better tear up our bills, because we won’t be paying for this huge mess, obviously”. The majority of nurses, physical therapists, and various other people who helped us were fantastic. Oh, remember that nurse I glossed over, who left her UV lights off and didn’t take responsibility for her mistake? We had her again, silently worried, and within 2 hours that same nurse had made 3 more errors, including when her trainee (yes, she of all people was training someone else) asked her “aren’t they under isolation?” she answered loudly in front of us, “yes, I think so, but I don’t know why” to which WE chimed in and exclaimed, “She’s in isolation because she has Viral Meningitis!”. This was weeks into her isolation, and as our designated nurse hours into her mshift, she didn’t even know that basic fact of the care of her own patient? Yikes. We had to report this nurse as being quite obliviously unsafe.
Scene 4: (Home)
But we got to go home! She had the tube down her nose for the “Gavage” feedings for most of the 19 days, but by the end she was eating enough, she had no Enterovirus symptoms, she could go home and this saga would be over! Everyone celebrated, the 3 hospitalizations were enough, nothing further would be missed. We enjoyed a completely uneventful week at home UNTIL ONE MORNING ADI SCREAMED. “What, what’s wrong???” “COME INTO THE KITCHEN RIGHT NOW!” I groggily got out of bed, and saw a bunch of bottles of breast milk on our counter. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “LOOK CLOSER AT THE LABELS!” she answered. That brings us to the photo at the start of this post. They had the name, birthday and medical record number of ANOTHER PATIENT! I went to the garage, checked our entire breast milk supply, and we counted 13 bottles of this other patient’s milk! When they sent us home with Adi’s milk, they had somehow sent us home with another patient’s milk, it was insane! Her HIPAA (privacy) was totally violated. It turned out a week after leaving the hospital, they had found a way to mess up yet again, and when I called the same people to report this newest problem, their previously diplomatic stone-faced apologies were gone. They had been replaced with turning pale, saying things along the lines of “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened, I can’t believe the hospital did this to you, that’s crazy, and after everything else you’ve gone through already, I don’t even know how to start apologizing for all of this, this is NOT okay.” No it wasn’t, and I appreciated that people were giving me human reactions, not merely the previous apologies without admitting liability that we had been (understandably) getting until this point. A courier came to pick up the bottles. They had to contact their legal department and epidemiology. They needed to know what tests to run on the other mother, assuming we had already fed Natalia some of that mother’s breast milk before catching the error (because yes things can be transmitted via breast milk). A week later the other mother was contacted, her blood was tested, she asked that Adi’s blood also be tested (a reasonable request as she likely got some of our milk in exchange) and thankfully everything was fine on both ends. BUT THIS SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO OCCUR.
Epilogue:
Why did I bring up Dennis Quaid at the start of the piece? Am I simply name-dropping randomly, or was there a purpose? Can anyone recall something to do with Dennis Quaid and Cedars Sinai? Let me refresh your memory with this link, and a quick recap: 11 years ago, Dennis Quaid and his wife gave birth to twins in Saint John’s Health Center – my hospital, where I work as an RN! But a few days later, their twins developed an infection, and the Quaids brought them to, wait for it, Cedars Sinai. Somehow, a HUGE medication error occurred in Cedars, and they were given too much of the blood thinner Heparin. How much was too much? Umm, how about 1 THOUSAND times the proper dosage!  Miraculously, it was caught in time, and they were able to save both babies. But thanks to the horrors of their case, multiple changes were made for the betterment of everyone else. Labels on Heparin were changed, high alert labels were added, different protocols were put into place. Basically, they went through the shit of it all, and thankfully everyone else is now safer for it.
Well, we are your latest crash test dummies. Natalia is the latest Quaid twin. We have been told by Cedars that they now are utilizing a bar-code system for all breast milks so that the wrong milk cannot be given upon going home again. Furthermore, the head of the NICU explained to us that thanks to the bilirubin/jaundice scare, they are applying for an experimental technology that would allow them to do a simple test that shows who is at significant risk of jaundice bouncing back the wrong direction, as it did with Natalia. Long story short, our case was not simple and not good, but the hospital should be a better place thanks to what happened. And Natalia is just fine, she is gaining weight, eating plenty, no jaundice, no breathing issues, and we are not worried. Who knows, maybe Dennis Quaid will one day read this and his twins can babysit for her, wouldn’t that bring things full circle?