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Five Weeks and a Day - A NICU Story - Day 13

Day 13 - August 26, 2014

While holding LoLa this afternoon she is having difficulty maintaining her oxygen saturation. Her breathing becomes periodic and shallow as she sleeps, causing her sats to drop and loud alarms to sound. While we are getting somewhat accustomed to the lights and sounds of the NICU, it is distressing each time. Every time a bell sounds, the nurse has to come and adjust something, quiet the alarm, check. It seems constant and is incredibly disruptive to what should be a relaxing time.

Normal new moms hold their newborn on their chest, reclined in bed or on the couch at home, leisurely smelling the top of their head, maybe while baby pokes around at the breast, taking a feed at their discretion. No. I sit tensely in an oversized plastic recliner to which I am tethered by wires and tubes, surrounded by flimsy privacy screens amidst a loud and busy open room while families, doctors and nurses make their way in and out. Bright overhead lights and startling alarms bing and bong at the slightest sensor dislodgment or heart rate drift, the sound of which brings nurses flocking to silence the alarm and stimulate breathing. It doesn’t ever feel normal, but you do start to get used to it. And you learn what all the numbers mean. At the sound of the alarm, your eyes immediately snap to a screen, checking heart rate, oxygen sat, respirations… And you start to pay attention to the remedy. O2 sat dropping or heart rate drifting down - stimulate the baby with a little rub or repositioning. That didn’t work? Wake her up! That didn’t do it? Nurse gives a “blow by” with the oxygen mask which is always at the ready at the bedside. Check the sensors. Temperature sensor attached? Pulse oximeter on the toe? Try the other foot… You become tuned in to the rhythm of this crazy atmosphere, and you adapt to fit in.

As I sit here, the familiar bong! bong! starts. The nurse stops caring for the child a bed over and comes to check what is happening. “Was that her oxygen saturation?” she asks me, seeing that I’ve craned my neck around behind the chair to see the monitor. I tell her what the percentage had dipped to. She silences the alarm, and turns the monitor toward me as she returns to continue the other child’s care. I say thank you, before realizing that she’s actually now standing behind me, and had turned the monitor so that she could see it, not me. When I realize this, I say, “Oh. Duh,” with slight embarrassment. She stops, looks me in the eyes and says, “Yeah. Just remember. You’re the mom.”

She stops, looks me in the eyes and says, “Yeah. Just remember. You’re the mom.”

I am speechless. I turn the words over in my head… What does she mean? Does she mean, “Relax, you be the mom and enjoy your one on one time; I’ll worry about the crazy medical stuff.” Maybe… Or, “Yeah. Just remember. You’re the mom, and I’m the nurse. You have no idea what you’re talking about with this medical stuff.” I vacillate between anger and bewilderment. I am consumed by it. I am now distracted from my child. But as she wakes up I am drawn right back in to her, because any time I can actually interact with her while she is awake is so precious.

This is the most chaotic, enlightening, upsetting, joyous place I have ever been. And I am beginning to count the days until we can leave…

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