What I Learned After Four Days of Visiting the Intensive Care Nursery

This was written a month ago when our newborn son was in NICU.  He’s home and doing well now.

20090312 Aidan-2

1) Don’t believe the signs that say the hospital parking garage is full. Loser move. Those signs are intended to thin the herd, sending the less-determined to the even-more-inconvenient clinic parking two and a half blocks away. Just sail into the garage with faith that a spot will appear. It will, and probably near the elevators.
2) To get your baby’s information over the phone, you must give them your pre-assigned four digit code. But if you want to walk in and actually see the babies, all you need to know is one of their last names—which are posted with little sticky notes by the reception desk. They don’t check i.d.’s or anything. Just say “I’m baby McNamara’s dad” and you can step right in–unless they happen to remember what Mr. McNamara looks like. But if you come in at the very start of the shift you can minimize the chance that they’ve seen him recently. This seems like pretty poor security to me. Although it is probably difficult to abduct babies with all those tubes and wires going everywhere.
3) Every nurse has a different idea about whether you can hold the baby. If the day shift nurse says that you can’t hold him because he’s sleeping and needs to rest, try not to act surprised when the night shift nurse says, “Go ahead and pick him up while he’s sleeping; that’s the best time.” Subjectivity is built into the system.
4) No matter how good the news is, when you walk out of NICU you should try to keep a neutral to somber expression. Someone else is getting bad news. If you can pull off a constant expression of polite but unprying concern, even better, but that one has a high technical difficulty level. Probably safer to just go with the slightly furrowed brow.
5) This is not easy. A lot of Aidan’s roommates are really struggling. The simple truth is that some of these babies aren’t going to make it.

Sometimes it’s hard not to feel a little embarrassed that Aidan is big and basically healthy, when he is surrounded by tiny, struggling babies. A couple of days ago I was holding Aidan, and the parents of the baby right beside him were visiting their preemie. The dad’s eyes opened wide when he saw us. “That’s a big baby.”

“Nine pounds, 12 ounces,” I said.

“Ours is finally up to two-seven.”

My kid was born four times bigger than the weight his baby has reached after three weeks.

Yesterday, I was visiting again and I saw that their baby’s heart rate was going up and up. The nurse came over to check and found the source of the problem—a large (for a preemie) blob of mucus blocking one of his nasal passages. She pulled it out and called the respiratory therapist over to take a look. It’s just surreal to see alarms going off because of a booger.

And then there’s last night. I noticed when we came in that part of the room was closed off by a kind of movable curtain. A sign said “Quiet please! Minimal stimulation.” We’ve done the “minimal stimulation” routine with Aidan before, so I didn’t really think anything of it. We got the update on Aidan (still feverish, but stable; blood pressure and respiration fine without assistance), and looked in on the two and half pound kid, who seemed to be well and booger-free. Then we started taking turns holding our son.

It was Sandy’s turn to hold him when the parents of the little girl behind the curtain burst out of the room, in tears. I watched them leave. It was a couple I had met before, briefly. On my first day to visit they showed me how to scrub in—I had never used a pedal-operated sink before. At the time they seemed nice enough, but perpetually distracted–like every parent around here. When they rounded the corner I glanced over at their daughter’s monitor. Flatlined.

Sandy’s eyes started welling up. “Did that baby….?”

At first I just shrugged, like I didn’t know. But I did. And after a minute, I slowly nodded.

A man came in and asked what the exact time was.

“I think I should go home now,” Sandy said. So we handed Aidan back to Nurse Emily and slipped away, brows furrowed, past the families in the waiting room.

After that, stepping back in NICU feels like tip-toeing over the gates of Sheol. We are so close sometimes.

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1 Comment

Filed under Reflections

One response to “What I Learned After Four Days of Visiting the Intensive Care Nursery

  1. wayne

    i saw you over at I/M’s site.. thanks for your thoughts and comments. you ll be in my prayers
    God bless

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