Saturday, September 10, 2016

Chapter 43

It took some time, but apparently the vitamins and change in diet, combined with all the things that Natie and her daughters had already been doing made a huge difference in Beth Ann, who once again smiled and laughed, and took interest in the things around her.

At first Natie had lit one of the incense sticks and placed it on the ash catcher that Mrs. Witt had given her, but the scent was overwhelming.  Unsure as to how to put it out without ruining it by putting it under water, she opened the windows.  The breeze came through and dissipated the dense cloud of smoke, making the air smell wonderful and clean, of lavender and lilac and fresh laundry just in off the line.  She thanked Heaven that the babies hadn't been born in the coldest part of the winter.

Natie hated to be the one to upset her so soon after her daughter in law was beginning to feel better but someone had to say it, and she felt it should be said sooner than later.  She and Johnny invited Beth Ann and Dante over for brunch.  The younger kids would be in school and the girls would be at work.  They weren't sure how much the others suspected or knew, and would rather allow Dante and Bethie to tell everyone else when and if it turned out to be an issue.

Dante and Beth Ann had no idea what their parents wanted to talk to them about but knew when they'd asked if Dante could arrange to go to work later or perhaps call out for the day.  They arrived at nine thirty on the dot and the elder Rossi's met them at the door, helping with babies and all the baggage.  After settling the babies down in the play pen with the radio playing softly and plush toys acting as bumpers, the adults gathered in the kitchen where coffee and muffins waited on the table.

Beth Ann sat tentatively, looking between her in laws and her husband.  Dante sat down with more purpose and spoke directly.

"Mom, pop, we know there's something important on your mind and we know you're trying to break it to us gently, but the waiting is killing us.  Is everyone all right?  Is one of you sick or something?  Is it serious?  Just tell us, please?"

Beth Ann quietly took her cup of coffee but didn't add milk and sugar as she normally did.  She merely sat and stared at the liquid, steaming in her cup.  This did not go unnoticed by Dante or his parents.

"Bethie?"  Dante asked, recognizing the signs of his wife's discomfort.  "Bethie Bean?  Do you know what's going on?"

The woman shook her head.  "I don't know.  Anything.  For sure.  But I have a feeling.  Have had for a while.  If it's what I think it is." she said, vaguely.

"Mamma?  Pop?"  Dante asked, looking to his parents for clarification.

"Bethie, tell me what you suspected."  Natie said softly.

"I don't know, mamma.  I just feel something is wrong.  I don't know what.  It's just a feeling I have.  Do you know what it is?" she looked beseechingly at her mother in law.

"What's..."  Dante began nervously.

"Dan."  said Johnny calmly, "Maggie noticed something at the party last week ago.  She told us about it and we wanted to tell you sooner but we wanted to make sure Bethie was better and could handle the news."

"About what?!"  Dante demanded, trying to remain calm but becoming more upset the more his parents and wife talked around him rather than to him.

"Dan,"  Natie said, looking directly at her oldest son, "There's a chance that Nathan might be blind."  she said as gently as possible.

"How can anyone tell at this point?  They're so young!"  he protested.  "I mean, do any of them really see anything?  Aren't they all basically... well, not blind but they don't see more than shadows or blurs now, right?  So how can you tell?  What makes Maggie an expert on anything like this?" he demanded.

"Dan, calm down,” Johnny said, the Drill Sergeant tone coming out in his voice despite his attempts to remain 'Dad', and not Drill Sergeant Rossi. "Maggie knows because she has an eight-year-old grandson named Devon.  Do you remember him?"

"Not really dad,” Dante said, becoming frustrated and ignoring the tone in his father's voice, “What does Maggie's grandson have to do with Nathan?"

"Devon was born prematurely, and he was small and sick, just like Nathan was." He held up a hand to forestall his son's next question.  "Sometimes it happens, with premature babies, that the oxygen levels are too high in the incubators.  It causes blindness."

"I don't know what you mean."  Dante said, trying to remain rational and mature but close to tears.  "You mean he might have been born being able to see but the oxygen blinded him?"

"It's a possibility.  I don't think there's any real way of knowing."  he said.

"We have to get him to the pediatrician!"  Dante said, getting up and striding to the telephone on the kitchen wall.

"We thought that might be your first reaction so we've already made a tentative appointment for him.  He's scheduled to be seen at eleven with Dr. Mike.  Doc Stockwell called an ophthalmologist up in Macon, Doctor Mark McQuillen, who has agreed to see Nathan around three o'clock depending on what he finds when you see him. We're prepared to take care of Mara and Olivia.  It's all pending your OK."

"Of course, OK."  Dante fairly shouted.  

All this time Beth Ann had been sitting quietly, staring at her coffee, hands listlessly in her lap.  Natie walked around the kitchen table to gather her daughter in law in her arms.  "What are you thinking, Bethie?"

"I knew something was wrong.  I knew it."  she said.

"Did you know what?  Did you suspect that he was blind?"  Natie asked gently.

"No, they were so little, so young, I know babies that young don't see clearly, but I knew something was wrong. It's all my fault.  Doctor Stockwell asked if I had any questions and I did but I didn't know what they were.  I didn't know what to ask.  But I knew something was wrong.  I should have known.  It's all my fault."  she said softly as tears ran down her cheeks.

Natie quashed down a surge of irritation.  She loved Beth Ann but sometimes the girl just expected too much of herself and then she'd become depressed or anxious because of some fault she found in herself.  Natie blamed the girl's parents and not the child herself, and she hoped with some unconditional love and common sense talk that Beth Ann would stop being so hard on herself before Natie lost it and smacked the girl's backside.

"It's nearly ten o' clock now.  It'll only take you a half hour to get to Dr. Stockwell's but I'd leave in about fifteen minutes to give you a little leeway for traffic problems. Now, have your coffee,"  Natie said, dumping out Beth Ann's slightly cooled coffee and refilling the cup with hot before pouring for her son, husband and herself.  She put the softened butter in the center of the table along with the sugar and milk and prompted everyone to eat.

Beth Ann sat, a dejected set to her shoulders, and didn't move even when her husband fixed her coffee and put it closer to her.

"Beth Ann Rossi!"  barked Johnny.

Beth Ann nearly jumped to attention at the tone, her spine straightened and her head came up abruptly so that she could look at her father in law with wide eyes.  Dante opened his mouth to complain at this treatment of his wife but his father gave him a look and raised his hand, and Dante backed down.

"Beth Ann Rossi."  he said again in a much gentler tone,  "There is no way you could have known anything was wrong, if anything is wrong, any more than you could have known you were having triplets when your own doctor said it was twins.  Now young lady, you still stop blaming yourself for things you have no control over and no way of knowing.  Is that understood?"  he demanded, his tone firm but not hard, his eyes soft on the daughter in law he loved as much as one of his own flesh and blood.

Beth Ann, shocked out of her funk, nodded and looked at her father in law, seeing and hearing him in a way that her husband obviously hadn't, and appreciating it.  "Yes, dad."  she said shyly.

"Now that we've got that settled."  Johnny said more quietly and with a little smile for his daughter in law, "We'll take things one day at a time.  We'll know more in a little while than we know now, and regardless of what the outcome is, we'll deal with it as a family.  Understood?"  he asked, leaning toward her and giving her a kiss on the forehead.

"Understood."  she said softly, smiling back.

Dante looked back and forth between his father and his wife and shook his head slightly, uncomprehending.  If he'd raised his voice to her, she'd have been reduced to tears and he'd have spent the rest of the day apologizing and doing every little thing he could to make her feel happier, and still have run the risk of spending the night on the couch.  He looked at his father, who with an otherwise straight face, winked back at his son.

The younger Rossi parents did their best to relax.  Beth Ann went into the bedroom to feed the babies before they prepared to leave, trying not to cry as she fed her little boy. He was by far the more sensitive of the three, she'd noticed.  She wondered if his lack of sight made him more sensitive to her moods, and she didn't want him to feel sad or scared about whatever was to come.  She rocked and sang as she fed the babies, grateful for the little lullaby that Tia Julia had taught her.  The girls were asleep when her husband carried them to the car. Nathan was dozing, little cupid bow lips smacking quietly.

They arrived at Dr. Stockwell's office in plenty of time and sat with little Nathan, enjoying the cool waiting room. The windows were open and the fresh air wafted through, bringing the scents of freshly turned earth and cut grass.

"Dr. Mike can see you now, Mr. and Mrs. Rossi."  said Sarah, the receptionist, with a smile.

"Thank you." They said, fairly rushing into the examination room she indicated.

Marilynn, his assistant, set up the room with all of the equipment the doctor had said he'd need and chatted amiably with the nervous parents. "Now, if you can just take off his little jumper and socks we can get a current weight on him, all right?"  she smiled.

Beth Ann deftly removed the items of clothing and soon Nathan was in nothing more than his diaper, which she changed quickly.

"Oh aren't you just the most handsome little boy?"  cooed Marilynn, taking the baby from his mother and cradling him in her arms to chuck him under the chin with her finger.

The baby smiled and drooled and looked past Marilynn much as he'd done Maggie and his grandparents when they'd tried the same thing.

"Now let’s see how much you weigh and how big you've gotten, shall we?"  she continued her monologue to the baby.  "My goodness!  We're gonna have to start calling you the jolly green giant pretty soon, little man!  You're a half a pound heavier from your last visit two weeks ago!"  she praised the baby who burbled and drooled a little more.

"Seven pounds, Mrs. Rossi!  My goodness he was just a little bit of a thing and now look at him, so big and healthy.  Such a big boy now, Nathan!  Let's see how tall you've gotten!" she said, placing the baby on the paper covered examination table.  She took a pen and made a long mark at the crown of his head on the paper, straightened out his legs and made a quick mark where his heels ended.  They all laughed as the pen apparently tickled his feet and they both flew into the air as he made a noise that sounded very much like "Hey!"

She laughingly handed Nathan back to his mother who stood waiting with a little blanket to wrap her son in against the slight chill in the examination room while Marilynn took a tape measure.  "Twenty-two inches!"  she announced before taking the tape and measuring around his skull.  "He's got a lovely shaped head."  she admired.

"Is that good?"  Dante asked nervously.

"He's an amazing little guy, Mr. Rossi.  He was just about three pounds and fifteen inches when he was born.  He's gained four pounds and has grown seven inches in almost ten weeks.  He's a little miracle!  He's obviously a very happy and very healthy baby.  I don't know what you've been feeding him but keep it up and I won't be surprised if he's taller than his daddy when he's grown."  she joked.

Dante and Beth smiled.  Beth planted a happy kiss on the top of her son's head, forgetting for just a few moments that her remarkable son might be blind.  No, she corrected herself.  Perhaps blind, but still remarkable.

Dr. Mike Stockwell came in moments later with a smile on his face as he greeted Dante and Beth Ann.  He tickled Nathan's tummy and the baby burbled and smiled, blowing little spit bubbles which made the adults all laugh.  He tickled the baby's tummy again and the baby giggled. "Well, Master Nathan, what's this I hear that you've been worrying your folks and grandparents, eh?  How about let's see what's going on, shall we, little man?" The doctor said, smiling and speaking gently.

"Baaaabbbrrrrrpppph."  agreed Nathan.

Dr. Mike laid the baby back on the table and took off his stethoscope, listening to the baby's heart and lungs. Then he took it off from around his neck, coiling it like a black rubber snake with the bright shiny metal diaphragm in the center.  He held it within a couple of inches in front of the baby who should have been able to see it, if not focus on it perfectly.  He held it closer and then pulled it back, then moved it side to side. As they'd worried, the baby didn't react to it at all.

The doctor put the stethoscope aside and picked up a tuning fork.  He tapped the fork against the wooden frame of the table and held it to Nathan's right.  The baby's head swiveled toward the sound, a small frown puckering his features as he tried to identify this new sound.  Dr. Mike stopped the vibrations, switched hands and did the same thing on the baby's left with much the same results. He did the same experiment with several different tuning forks at different frequencies with the baby even responding to pitches that the adults had trouble hearing.

Finally, he shone a light into the baby's eyes.  Unlike most babies, Nathan didn't react at all to the stimulus.  Beth Ann nearly started to cry again.

"There is loss of vision." Dr. Stockwell said gently.  " I could make out a little scarring at the back of the eye, but as far as that goes Dr. McQuillen can tell you more."

"Scarring?  What can cause scarring at the back of the eye in an infant?  Is that what made him blind?  Is it reversible?"  Dante began, firing questions at the doctor.

"There are many reasons why Nathan here could have lost his eyesight, Mr. Rossi..."

"Dante.  Mr. Rossi is my dad. Every time you say Mr. Rossi I'm looking for him."  Dante joked despite his fears.

"Dante then,” Dr. Mike said, smiling softly. "There are many reasons why Nathan might be blind.  Are either of you aware of blindness running in either of your families?"

Beth Ann and Dante looked at each other for answers but each shook their heads.  "No one's ever mentioned anything about it in my family." said Beth Ann quietly, "But then I don't believe it's something they'd admit to," she finished, an embarrassed expression on her face.

Dr. Stockwell looked enquiringly at Dante.  "Bethie's family holds some rather... strict opinions on things like this." he hedged. "As far as my side of the family, mom would be the one to ask but when she told us about her suspicions she only mentioned a neighbor's grandson, not anyone in the family."

"That may rule out genetics and heredity then, but without a more detailed family history it's hard to say for sure."

"The next cause could be, as I suspect, that Nathan may have been exposed to high levels of oxygen in the incubator.  The scarring on the back of his lens could be a sign of that.  It's called RLF.  Retrolental Fibroplasia, where the baby is given too much oxygen in the incubator which causes a film over his eyes."

"The third possible cause could be something we call TTTS... Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. It was discovered in 1875 by a German obstetrician, Friedrich Schatz, who noticed that frequently in multiple births, one twin would receive more of the natal blood flow and oxygen than the other. It's just something that happens with multiples sometimes."

"Considering that your girls were two pounds heavier than he was and healthier, that could be a possible reason.  TTTS has been known to have many side effects, such as one of the multiples being smaller, sicker, such as Nathan... heart problems, which this little guy seems to have avoided, though blindness has been linked to this phenomenon as well."  He didn't mention the chance of death, since these poor people had already lived through the reality of that particular nightmare.

"Now, Dr. McQuillen is the specialist and he can most likely tell you more than I can.  If anything can be done he'll tell you, but..."  he said holding up a warning finger, "There may be nothing that can be done, and you should keep that in mind."

"What... I mean, I've heard of babies being born blind and going to special schools.  Will we have to send him away?"  Beth choked out, clutching her son to her chest.

"No. Mrs. Rossi... Beth Ann,” he amended.  "Yes, there are schools for the blind but there are places in nearby cities that can help as well. It's not like it used to be where the only school for the blind was on the other side of the United States.  We understand blindness a lot better than we used to, and a blind person is capable of doing many things that a sighted person can do with the right training.  There is a future for Nathan that wasn't there just ten years ago.  What I'm saying is, don't give up hope."  he said, placing a gentle hand over Beth Ann's, rubbing the cold fingers.

Now at least knowing the problem the younger Mr. and Mrs. Rossi were more at ease but once again Beth Ann began to blame herself for not knowing, and began crying.  Dante asked for a moment alone with her in the doctor's office to talk to his wife.  

With a request to take one last close look at Nathan while they talked, Dr. Mike took Nathan and shut the door behind himself.

"Bethie Bean,” Dante said, sitting down on the black leather couch and pulling his wife down next to him wrapping his arms around his weeping wife, "You know I love you more than life itself.  I love you more than breathing. I love you more than blue skies and sunshine and the smell of flowers.  You know that don't you?" he asked, rubbing his face lightly in her hair.

Beth Ann took a deep breath and said in a quavering voice.  "Yes, I know, and I love you too, Dan."

"And I know you were going through a really tough time for a while there, but you feel better since then, right?"  he asked gently.

"Yes, honey.  Everyone was so good and understanding and helpful.  It was horrible, feeling that way, and I'm so glad it's over."

"But it's not over Bethie, not completely is it?"  he inquired.

"It's not the same, really.  It's not like it was, that... that feeling... it was terrible.  I'm so glad that's over with." she said snuggling into her husband's broad chest, considerably calmer, wrapped in his strong arms and warmed by his words of love.

"OK then, Doc has said it's not the end of the world right?"

"Right."  she said reluctantly.

"He said there's things we can do, and places that are close that can help, and prospects for Nathan are good, right?"

"Right."  she agreed softly, relaxing into his arms.

"Then Missie, you're gonna stop blaming yourself for things you couldn't have known, including not knowing what questions to ask,” he said softly.  "Your mother's intuition told you something was off and if you'd been feeling better... and it's NOT your fault how you felt so don't you dare go into that!"  he scolded,  “If you'd been feeling better you might have seen it, but Bethie Bean, the rest of us weren't going through what you were and we didn't see it.  Understand?"

"Yes, but..."

"No buts about it, Bethie.  We none of us caught on til Mrs. Domville did, and she only did probably because she'd already been through it once before.  If she hadn't noticed, chances are we still wouldn't know for sure. Understand?"

"Yes, but..."  Beth tried to protest.

"No buts,” he said firmly, holding her closer.  "You didn't know.  We didn't know.  No one knew not even the doctor whenever we brought the babies for their checkups.  So now, Mrs. Dante Rossi, I'm gonna tell you this just once.  It is not your fault.  It is no one's fault.  Despite what your,” he bit back a particularly harsh word in reference to her parents, which he knew even now at the age of 30 would get his mouth soaped out if it got back to his mother, "Parents," he slurred the word, "may think or say, this is not a bad thing, it is not a punishment and it is NOT anyone's fault, especially not yours!"

"Those babies are thriving because of you.  Sick as you felt, you still took care of them when I know you didn't feel up to it.  You still fed them and changed them and did everything in your power to make sure they were taken care of."

"I had you, and mamma and dad, and Terri and Carmie and the boys.  I can't say I did it all myself, Danny."  she protested quietly.

"The point is those babies are fat and sassy and happy as pigs in mud."  he joked.


"My point is,” he said, more sedately, "Is that you are a fantastic mother no matter whether you have the whole U.S. Calvary helping you or not, and I'm not gonna listen to you blame yourself anymore.  I'm gonna get it through your head that you are not at fault for anything.  Now, mamma and dad had a sure fire cure for 'histrionics' as dad would call them."

"Historyon..."  she protested.

"You heard me, Mrs. Dante Rossi.  Histrionics.  Blaming yourself, being ridiculously hard on yourself.  Amadeo does it to get himself out of his latest trouble with dad and dad falls for it ninety-eight percent of the time.  Gives dad those big brown doe eyes and verbally spanks himself so that dad doesn't do it with his hand.  All he needs is the sackcloth and ashes.  It drives me insane."  he muttered.

"I may be wrong," he said in a more normal tone, focusing back on his wife.  "But you might be being so hard on yourself so that no one else will do it.  Well Beth Ann, no one else blames you, and anyone who does is a narrow minded, unrealistic fool and we don't have room for those in our lives.  The people who matter don't blame you, and you're one of those people who matter.  Got me?"  he demanded quietly, his eyes flashing.

Beth Ann had never seen this side of her husband and she looked up at him as though seeing him for the first time.  "OK, Dan."  she said quietly.

"Now you listen to me Beth Ann Taylor Rossi, if I hear 'It's my fault.' or any other self-recrimination coming from your mouth, I'm gonna do what mamma and pop used to do to us and take you over my knee and paddle your backside until you change the tune. Understand me?"

"You wouldn't!"  She said, pushing away from her husband to get a better look at his face.  "If that's some kind of joke it's not a very good one!"

"It's not a joke, Bethie.  If a spanking is what it takes for you to get it through your head that you are a stellar mother, despite your unnatural habit of being human and prone to the same mistakes as the rest of us inferior mortals, then that's what I'll do."  he said, trying hard to keep a straight face at the look of indignation on his wife's face.  It was the most emotion he'd seen from her in weeks and even though it was anger at him he was still happy to see it, instead of the listless, sad one he'd seen prior to that.

Beth Ann was about to let her husband have it verbally when she saw the glint in his eye and the fact that he was biting the insides of his mouth to keep from laughing.  How dare he laugh!  She thought. Well then two can play this game.

"All right, Dan,” she said in a timid voice, looking at his from beneath her lashes as she bowed her head. "If that's what you think is needed."

Dante's eyes widened.  He'd expected yelling, maybe for her to even sock him one on the arm.  He'd only wanted to shock her but instead he was the one in shock.   "I... I... Bethie... I mean, all I... I mean..."

"On one condition,” she said docilely.  She looked at him for a response.  All he could manage was a numb nod.

"I'll agree on the condition that the next time you try to pull a stunt like that on me I get to take you over my knee.  And believe me I'll use your mother's entire stock of wooden spoons until either you or them are worn out. Got me?"  She said, eyes flashing, gritting her teeth and looking frighteningly like his father in Drill Sergeant mode.

Dante caught on and let out a laugh of relief that his wife wasn't furious at him, or any more serious about her threat than he'd been, and that his words had seemed to have finally made the impression he'd been going for.

"Agreed."  he said, looking coyly at her.  "Forgive me for the shock treatment?"

"Yes."  Beth Ann, his sweet wife replied, her voice softer but with an edge of steel in it that Dante was afraid he'd get cut on, “But I meant it when I said don't ever do that do me again.  And don't you ever threaten to spank me, Mr. Dante Rossi.  Mr. and Mrs. Psychopath Taylor have their faults," she said, shocking them both with her blatantly disrespectful name for them, “But I'd scream bloody blue blazes if they ever lay a hand to me, and I'm sure as shootin' not going to allow anyone else to do it, and I love you!"

Dante looked down at his wife, impressed, and yet sad at this new insight into what her life had been like.  He knew some of it, having met the people and listened to what he thought of as some of their whackier views on politics and religion but had always remained respectfully quiet.  But he'd been witness to many instances of verbal abuse when he'd first been dating her, not only from her parents but from her brothers as well.  He had, on several occasions, taken her by the hand and pulled her physically out of her parent's house, unable and unwilling to listen any more to the horrible things they said to their only daughter and youngest child.

"And I love you, Bethie Bean,” he said quietly, wrapping her in his arms again where she willingly stayed for a few moments more before going to retrieve their baby from the nursery area.

The drive to Macon took most of their afternoon.  They stopped for lunch and to call the Rossi house for an update on the girls.  One of them, Mara, apparently, was in the middle of a hissy fit and refused to be consoled but Natie was working on it.  Johnny reassured the parents that both of their girls were in fine health, had eaten and had, until Mara had begun to wail, been content and happy.

"Put the phone up to her ear, dad, please?"  Dante asked.

"OK, here she is."  Johnny said, his voice muffling as he put the phone down to his granddaughter’s ear.

    "Mara and Olivia, come out to play,
    The moon's shining bright as a summer's day;
    Leave your supper, and leave your sleep,
    Climb with your playmates up the tree.
    Come with whoops, and come with a call,
    Come with a smile or not at all.
    Up the stairs and down the halls,
    A dinner roll will serve us all.
    You find milk, and I'll find flour,
    And we'll have cake in half an hour."** He sang.  

He could hear his daughter settling down at the sound of his voice.

"Dad, you ready?"  he asked, still in the sing song voice he'd adopted to recite the rhyme.

"Ready, you start."  Johnny said quickly and softly.

"Vento sottile, vento del mattino, vento che scuoti la cima del mio pino." Dante sang.

Johnny, picking up the tune from the beginning, sang "Vento sotille, vento del mattino, vento ch scuoti la cima del mio pino..."

They sang it to the end.  Beth Ann, who had been standing by listening with Nathan in her arms had grinned when her son began to sing along as he was prone to do.  Suddenly Dante grinned and held the phone out so Beth could hear better.  In the background, they could hear both of the girls singing "Lalalalalalalalalala."


Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Discovered by German obstetrician, Friedrich Schatz, in 1875. In which one twin, in a parasitic role, will get more of the maternal blood and oxygen supply which could result in smaller weight, heart and other physical problems, including death, to the smaller twin.

High-dose oxygen therapy led to retrolental fibroplasia (RLF) in premature infants, blinding about 10,000 of them. Seen as a membrane of scar tissue behind the lens.   Would occur because due to too much oxygen in the incubator. 
Based on the Traditional English Nursery Rhyme
"Girls and Boys Come Out to Play"
 Published     1708

Vento Sotille/Gentle Wind

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