A Son Is Born (Agent Orange)


After I got home from the Army and Viet Nam, in 1969, my wife Nanci, Sherri, our baby, (who was born while I was in Viet Nam) had to regroup, and start a new life in the civilian world.

I got a job as a store detective, and in turn, Nanci got pregnant. Back then, they did not use sonograms, or other tests that they have today. So one didn’t know ahead of time what the sex of the child would be. They also didn’t allow the father to be in the delivery room, like they do now. However, I was happy and I sure that this child would be a boy.

All during her pregnancy, people would tell me what it was like, and that some deliveries take a longer time than others, so I would have to be patient when the time came. Nanci’s pregnancy was normal as any pregnancy could be; in fact, she was overdue for delivery by the best estimates of one week.

So one day in the ninth month, we got a call from Doctor Fago, and he suggested that since our baby was overdue, and we were getting close to the end of December, why don’t we induce labor, and then we’d have a new tax dependent. Nanci was ready, and so we agreed to go to the hospital the next day.

At 12 noon, when we were settled in the birthing wing, they hooked Nanci up to the IV tubes, check pulse, blood pressure, and started the chemical to induce labor. With out going into the long dissertation on contractions, labor pains, and all the monitoring, and procedures, it was a hectic birthing. They kicked me out of there, because back then fathers were supposed to go wait in the designated “waiting room”. So my experience was very limited, since I wasn’t there when my daughter was born, I bowed to the advice of others. Everyone that had experience would tell me,

“Don’t worry Jim, it takes time, the nurses will kick you out and you may have to wait quite awhile before they call you. “

So I walked down to the waiting room, and sat down. There was a TV, magazines, and two other prospective fathers in the room. They both were passing up and down in the room, passing each other midway. Dress these men in uniforms, and rifles, and one would think it was a military march. After sitting there for 15 minutes, I said to myself, “Screw this, I’m going to get something to eat.”

I took the elevator and went down to the floor the cafeteria was located at. When I got to the counter, the woman asked,

“What you have?”

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“Give me a tuna, and a chocolate milk shake to go, please.”

“One tuna and chocolate shake coming up!” The counter woman said, as she walked away.

As I stood there waiting, I glance over at a guy that was sitting at the counter, and was dress in hospital whites,

“Yeah, my wife is upstairs, they are inducing labor.”

“First baby? “ He asked with a smile.

“No the second, but I wasn’t here when my first child was born. I was in Viet Nam. “

“Yeah, Viet Nam, huh. Well don’t tell too many people; most people around here don’t like you guys. It seems you guys got a bad reputation.”

“That all I ever hear“, I said angrily, “you got a problem?”

“No, I don’t. I was just giving some friendly advice, because there are a lot of other assholes that do. Listen pal, Good luck on the baby today, and don’t be impatient“, He advised, “It takes time for the baby to come out.”

Christ, everyone says this. What do I have to do, camp out upstairs in that bloody waiting room?


I paid for the sandwich and shake, and headed back to the baby ward. When I got upstairs to the Baby ward, I saw at the end of the hall, Doctor Fago walking towards me, and asking,

“Where were you? I was looking for you, your baby is born.”

I raised my hands holding the milk shake and sandwich, and said, “I went to get lunch.”

“Well do you want to see your baby?”

“Sure,” I said, looking for a place to place my sandwich and shake. As I followed the doctor I placed my sandwich and drink on the nurse’s station counter.

“I can’t believe you left the floor. Do you want to even know if it is a boy or girl? “ Doctor Fago asked me.

“Yeah, But it’s a boy Doc.” I laughed.

The doctor directed me to the birthing room where they put a mask on me, and a nurse handed me the baby. I smiled at Nanci, and said, “I love you baby.”

She gave me a weak smile. For the induction of labor, and the quick cycle of heavy contractions caused a very speedy birth.

It was a boy, and he was rated 9/10, whatever that meant, but the rating was supposed to be good. Nanci had picked out the name Todd, I wanted Jason, but the girls, Nanci, and my mother in law overruled me. What I saw looking at this new born baby in my arms, was that he had a red scrunched up face, funny pointed shaped head, and scrawny little legs, and he looked more like a toad than a Todd. But that was alright, I was in love with my new son, and never prouder.

They took Nanci to her room, and the baby to the baby room. Before I left, I stay with Nanci for a half hour, and told her how proud I was, and that she did good, that I will make the calls and let everyone know that we have a new healthy baby boy.

Nanci reminded me to also call our pediatrician Dr. Ober, who volunteered to come over and check on our Todd, and his new patient. After telling her again to get some rest, I would be back in a few hours, and that I loved her.

(I also have to get some of those cigars, which have “It’s A BOY” wrappers, and some Jack Daniel’s too)


I left the baby ward and Nanci so she could get some rest, and when I got to the lobby I went to the pay phone. So with a hand full of coins, I made all the necessary calls.

I then went to my mother’s house and had lunch. We talked about children, and after an hour or so, I left. I went to the Flower shop to get Nanci a nice Bouquet for her.

When I got back to the Baby ward floor, I walked to where you can look through the window at the baby beds, and they were lined up, some wrapped in Pink blankets, and some in blue. As I glanced around trying to figure out where my son was, I saw in the rear of the room, Doctor Ober. He was standing with other medical personnel, and next to a large square thing, with Plexiglas like windows on all sides. I would learn later,  it was called an incubator. Inside the incubator was a baby, breathing very fast and hard, only he was bluish in color! I looked at Doctor Ober, and his eyes caught mine, and I saw something in his eyes, that brought pain to my heart.

No!! My mind screamed!


I then knew with out even asking, that it was my son! I backed up from the window, and tears were running down my face. I step back from the window, backing up till my body touched the wall behind me, and it seemed my legs couldn’t hold me up. I slid down the wall to the floor, my eyes could no longer see through the tears.

All this war, all this killing, wounded soldiers, maimed people, all these images out of hell called Viet Nam, did not prepare me for my blue child.

I did not hear my mother in law, Dorothy, approach, but knew by her voice that she was there. She was a middle aged, tall, medium built, attractive, classy woman.

“James, James, are you alright?”

“No!” I kept shaking my head in disbelief

“Listen to me Honey,” she was kneeling next to me, with her arm around my shoulders,

 “It’s going to be alright. Doctor Ober arrived, and saw Todd was having trouble breathing, so he ordered the incubator. They are going to take Todd to Children’s Hospital. It’s going to be alright, just a minor problem he says. James, do you hear me?”

I nodded, and started to rise up, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I spoke to him, and he told me it was just a minor problem.” She assured me.

“I want to speak to him,” I demanded, and went to the entrance and knocked for the nurse to come to the door. As I waited, Dorothy handed me a hanky to wipe my eyes. When the nurse, came,

“I’d like to speak to Doctor Ober.”

“Listen James,” Dorothy said, “Doctor Ober is a great pediatrician. He will know what’s best for Todd.’

“I know that. But I want the truth, not some watered down version or bullshit! When I tell Nanci, I am not going to lie to her!”

When Doctor Ober came out, they were wheeling the incubator to the elevator, to put Todd on an ambulance to rush him to Children’s Hospital.  He explained it could be anything but it was only minor, and that I shouldn’t have to worry.

“Listen Doc, I don’t want to lie to my wife, and when I tell her, I am going to tell her the truth, so just give me the truth, no bullshit, understand?”

“Yes Of course.” he replied. “If you wish, I will tell her?”

“No, I’ll talk to her,” I insisted, “So just give it to me straight.”

“It is nothing more than a little fluid on the lungs, or Hyland membrane disorder. Nothing more. Your son is getting straight oxygen now, and should be alright in a few days.”

“Ok, doc, I’ll go talk to Nanci.”

As I watched him walk away and escort the incubator to the elevator, I began preparing myself to speak to Nanci, when I heard my mother in law say to me,

“Come on Honey, I’ll go with you.”

We went and told Nanci, and together we cried some more. Nanci and her mother were very strong in their faith in God, and of Doctor Ober, and his words. I on the other hand had seen too much blood, tragedy, and death, and was cynical of anything said when it came to my son. I may have been paranoid or damage from the war, but I had such a bad feeling.

We visited for a couple of hours, and Dorothy left after the first hour, when her husband Lee showed up. After they left, I told Nanci, I was going to go home, but on my way, I was going to stop at Children’s Hospital, and see how baby Todd was doing.  Baby Todd, my son, our son. Every time I thought of when I saw Todd, that poor blue colored baby, I teared up. I’ve heard of blue babies, but they weren’t joking on how blue they are, with the lack of oxygen and all.

When I left I went directly to Children’s Hospital, which was about 5 miles away from the Hospital where Nanci was.

(Back in the 1970’s, a woman that had a baby was usually a guest for a few days at the hospital before they released her and the baby. But presently, the hospital sends you home the day after birth.)

When I arrived at the hospital, I checked with admissions, and filled out all the paper work for Todd. The clerk told me baby Todd was in Intensive Care on the 4th floor.

When I got to the intensive care floor, I checked in, and they pointed the way to where Todd was being treated, and that I could see him through an observation window.

Once there,  what I saw was a lot of nurses and a couple of Doctors including Doctor Ober, hovering around little baby Todd. The baby had a funny looking cap on, and tape was over his eyes? He had tubes running from the incubator into his little body, some for fluids, and medicines, and one for oxygen. It didn’t take an idiot to realize this little guy was having a lot of problems, and he was in trouble.

I knocked on the class to let them know I was here, and another Doctor came out, that identified himself as the ICU department head, and his name was Doctor Scheiffle. I asked how my son was, and he told me,

“Well Mr. Alonzo, Your son is in critical condition. The prognosis doesn’t look to good; however we are doing everything we can. “

“What the fuck you talking about? Doctor Ober told me it was nothing to worry about! “

“I don’t know anything about what Doctor Ober told you, Mr. Alonzo, they had to shock him in the ambulance, because he stopped breathing and his heart stopped. When Baby Todd got here, we had to shock him again. We almost lost him a couple of times.”

“Tell me why Doctor. What is wrong with my son?”

“We have not seen this before, but your son’s lungs are premature, even though your son is full term.”

The doctor questioned me if Nanci and I were drug users? He asked if we worked around or in chemical facilities, or nuclear facilities? I said no to both, and asked why. He said,

“If Todd is a full term baby there is no reason that we can think of, that he’s have preemie Lungs.”

(Premature babies have this problem, and is called Hyaline Membrane Disease of Newborn Premature Lungs)

“Why would this be?” I asked, “He is a full term baby, in fact the Doctor Fago suggested inducing labor?

“We don’t know, but we are going to do the best we can.”

Todd eventually came through all this after a stay of 6 days at ICU ward at Children‘s hospital. I fired our pediatrician for lying to me.  I had to go back and tell Nanci about our son, his critical condition, and that we may loose our son.

A year later, I began hearing about Agent Orange, Viet Nam Veterans, child birth defects, handicap children and some of the problems from it.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of media coverage of Love Canal, and Dow Chemical, Olin Chemical, and dioxin.  That in Western New York, There was a big lawsuit and trial about Love Canal, and it pollution of a whole neighborhood, causing cancer and birth defects. Nanci and I made a decision not to have any more children. A decision I now regret to this day.

To this day, my son Todd is not the healthiest person, and had trouble running when he was a child. He chose not to be a jock, but did become a drummer in the High School Band. Now he is a Chemical Engineer, and manager of a State Environmental Department in the South.

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