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We were told many things about Caroline’s OB/GYN, Dr. Dana Saraceno, and one of them had been that long waits to see him were to be expected; but honestly, how bad could it be? That question was answered the second we opened the door to his waiting room for our first appointment. Jumbo sardines would have had space issues there. I was pretty sure our arrival would push the waiting room above the fire marshal’s maximum occupancy, but my wife and I braved the potential hazard anyway and employed a divide-and-conquer strategy. Caroline checked us in while I searched in vain for two empty seats that were side by side, finally settling on the closest empty one to us.

I watched Caroline almost voyeuristically as she finished up at the counter and wondered how she could possibly be carrying three babies. She was so cute and petite—an enchanting but approachable beauty, her blond hair up, her lips bright red, her fair skin emanating a healthy glow that bounced off her blue fleece pullover and reflected in her eyes. I stood to give her my seat just as a nurse with blond hair called out the name of the next patient.

“Alma Alvarez.”

Alma turned out to be the woman sitting next to Caroline. I surveyed the room to make sure there weren’t any expectant mothers in need of Alma’s seat before taking it. It looked like we’d be there for a while.

I had initially seen my waiting-room peers as a faceless mob, but during our wait I began to dissect that mob one by one, starting with the couple sitting directly across from us. They were twenty at best, likely even younger. She was an African American woman with light brown skin, as visibly pregnant as she was nervous, dressed in tattered jeans that were two sizes too small and flip flops that exposed her rough and dirty feet. They contrasted oddly with her toes, which were coated unevenly with chipped-out neon-green polish. A white top that had probably been skin-tight before she was pregnant capped off her outfit. Her pretty brown eyes were wide and jittery and looked everywhere around the room except to her immediate right, where, presumably, the father of her unborn child sat with a posture that suggested extreme disinterest, if not flat-out disgust that his presence was actually required at such a place for such a reason. He was of Hispanic descent with squinty brown eyes, his face pocked with acne nearly everywhere except where his thin goatee took over. He wore dark baggy clothes, white leather tennis shoes, and a red bandana tied around his forehead that barely peeked out from beneath a Chicago White Sox hat that was turned off center to the right. A gigantic chain was hanging around his neck, which gaudily displayed the word Pimp in gold-coated letters. It went well with the faded tattoo that read Jefe in graffiti font on his forearm.

“Honey.”

“What?”

“I’m gonna introduce myself,” I said, as I discretely nodded toward the couple. “We should have them over. When the kids are born we could share babysitters or something.”

“You’re a jackass,” she said while nodding her head for emphasis before returning to the stack of bills that was keeping her busy.

Ouch.

Across from us and to our right sat a disheveled couple clad in outdated clothing that was badly torn. Their faces were covered with grime, and it looked as if they had not bathed in quite a while. The woman flipped through a People magazine while eating a Snickers bar, and the man spoke loudly (and illegally according to the sign hanging behind him) on his cell phone about a topic I couldn’t positively identify but strongly suspected to be cock-fighting.

Another patient was accompanied by three loud children, all under the age of five. One of them, a four-year-old girl with dried chocolate caked all over her face, walked up to an aquarium that contained a handful of fish, which were blissfully unaware of the crowded environment on the other side of their glass. The girl pounded on the walls of the aquarium with her greasy palms, leaving pint-sized smudge marks that distorted the view of the suddenly terrified fish. Her mom was less interested in aquatic endeavors; more of a Jerry Springer gal, she sat watching a rerun that aired on a TV mounted in the far corner.

When her daughter’s fish-taunting techniques finally began to interfere with her show, the mom abruptly snapped. “Jasmine,” she said in a thick Appalachian accent, “yew get o’er hur er I’ll whup yew.”

“No, Momma!” screamed the fish hazer.

The mother continued her correction. “Fahv, foe-wer, thray…”

Still nothing.

Tew,” said the mom, slowing down to suggest something imminent and unpleasant was just beyond the next number. Her ploy worked as PETA’s enemy number one finally relented and raced to her backward-counting mom, a trail of chocolate crumbs marking her path as she went.

We were among a pretty rough crowd—a lot rougher than one I would expect to find waiting with me at, say, a random Jiffy Lube. A couple of our friends who were former patients of Dr. Saraceno had tried to warn us, but we didn’t understand. In fact, at the time, I thought they were being snotty; but that day I realized there was nothing ugly at all about what they had said. They were simply trying to tell us that Dr. Saraceno managed high-risk pregnancies and that the waiting room reflected that fact.

The definition of high risk wasn’t confined to cases like Caroline’s. At least half of the patients in the room looked destitute, and they probably were. Dr. Saraceno accepted patients who qualified for TennCare, a state-funded program that insures those who can’t afford coverage. It was essentially Medicaid at the state level. After all, their babies were at risk, too. No, the risk wasn’t that they were one of three inside a petite woman in her late thirties but rather that their carrier led a difficult life without many of the benefits that a lot of us take for granted. Sometimes a product of a challenging environment rises to that challenge, and sometimes the product does not, but Dr. Saraceno didn’t care about all that. He just cared about the babies, wanting to give each and every one the best chance for life it could get.

After waiting for over an hour, Caroline was finally called back and weighed in. We were then led to an examination room where a woman named Brandi conducted an ultrasound. For the next twelve minutes I stared at my little alphabet babies, and though I didn’t know exactly what they would look like or what they would be like, I did know exactly what it felt like to love them. I also knew what hope, potential, and joy looked like. They looked like three tiny little embryos with letters assigned to them. And my hope was that their potential would turn into joy, for if it did, Caroline and I would try to provide the triplets with every color imaginable and every brush needed to paint the masterpiece of their lives on the canvas of values that we would also be providing. I squeezed Caroline’s hand and marveled at what we had created.

After the ultrasound, we were ushered to another waiting area—not the main one where we had first waited but a smaller one in the middle of all the examination rooms. We sat patiently before getting called back to a different examination room. Ten minutes later, Dr. Saraceno finally popped his head in the door. It was the first time we had ever met him.

“You must be Caroline,” he said with a thick Italian accent while perusing her file. “Whoa, triplets, huh?” he said.

“That’s right,” we answered in unison, but I doubt he heard my voice. He was focused only on Caroline. Dr. Saraceno put on his glasses and studied the file further. He then took them off, placed them in his breast pocket and studied Caroline up and down with his beady brown eyes, readjusting his dark hair with his left hand as he did so.

“You’re a little small for triplets, aren’t you?” he asked almost flirtatiously, his thick and well-groomed mustache curling up with his smile. Dr. Saraceno was a handsome man in his early to mid-fifties with smooth dark skin. He possessed a playful side but still came off extremely serious if not intense.

“What’s this?” he asked while touching Caroline’s calf.

I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s her leg.

“You’ve gotten too much sun. Don’t get so much,” he warned. “Too much sun is bad. You get dehydrated. Bad for babies. So drink lots of water. Wear sunscreen,” he concluded, finally taking his hand off my wife’s leg.

Wait, we may be on the wrong floor. We were supposed to be consulting with our OB/GYN, but you’re obviously a dermatologist.

Dr. Saraceno was fond of Caroline; and though I would rib her about it, his fondness for her didn’t bother me one bit. There was nothing inappropriate about his behavior whatsoever. He was the type of doctor who would establish a close relationship with any patient he could, and Caroline was one such patient. His affinity for Caroline also came as no surprise to me. Not only is Caroline beautiful, but she also has a serene and sincere quality that draws people to her. Dr. Saraceno was no exception.

“Caroline,” he said as he opened the door to leave, “you’re going to do great. Don’t worry about a thing. You will have three beautiful, healthy babies before you know it.”