The sun was blazing through the window as the sound of little feet came tearing down the corridor. I heard them get closer and then two little faces (filthy dirty and one with hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed for weeks!) appeared around the curtain. My existing family of 4 were here to meet the latest member and it was a beautiful moment, one I will never forget, no arguments, no shouting, no whining, no crying just a big sister and big brother gazing in awe at their new little brother.
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The visits continued with my parents and Chris’s parents visiting too, coming to see the latest addition to the family.
That evening everyone left and I was left with Gus, just staring at him trying to get my head around the fact that I was now a mother of 3. Gus felt the magnitude of the moment too and as I held him in my arms his little face screwed up and he promptly vomited all over me!
Being a seasoned mum of 3 I thought nothing of it, changed him and put the vomit covered sheet to one side. During the night the nurse came in to do my observations and noticed the vomit covered sheet “What’s that?” she said. I internally rolled my eyes, what did she think it was? Obviously she had never had kids. I politely explained and she looked concerned. “It’s quite green” she said. I looked at the vomit again and it, like most things that newborn’s expel in those first few days, could have been described as any number of revolting colours. She wanted to take it and show it to one of the paediatric doctors she said and would be back.
I was not concerned and turned over and went to sleep next to a snoozing Gus.
The first paediatric doctor turned up a few hours later, she explained that there was concern that the vomit was green and if it was this could mean that Gus needed monitoring more closely but at this stage, they were still trying to decide if, in fact, the vomit was green. This continued over a number of hours and a shift change and I still was not concerned.
At the next shift change, a lovely Dr came to see me and she explained that she believed that the vomit was green and so Gus would need to be moved to “NICU”. I have to admit I didn’t really know what NICU was at that point, they don’t talk about it in the birth books, or pregnancy yoga or the NCT birth preparation classes. “Ok”, I said “I will get his things together”. And that’s when things got serious. “No”, she said “There is no time for that, we need to take him now, I have notified them that we are on the way and the surgical registrar is waiting for us”. All of a sudden, shit had, most definitely got real. What was NICU? Why were we going there? Why were we being met by a surgical registrar? Why didn’t I know what green vomit meant? But there was no time to answer any of these questions as, before I knew it, we were being rushed (me in my very attractive Sainsbury’s nighty and surgical stockings) down a back corridor that led to NICU.
When we arrived, there was another wake up call. There it was. The thing no parent ever wants to see. The dreaded plastic box, with those forbidding little hatches I had only seen on Casualty but knew were where desperate parents were allowed to put their hands through to touch their baby, as holding them was out of the question.
I looked at Chris, he did bio medical science at Uni so is pretty unflappable in a medical situation but even he looked concerned at this point. We looked at each other as if to say we have massively underestimated the severity of the situation, but how could we? Our little boy was happily snoozing away, with no sign of distress. Things happened at an alarming rate, before we knew it the cannula was in, a tube was being inserted (much to his annoyance) into his nose and down his throat, the little monitors were attached to his chest and into the plastic box he went. He was surrounded by Dr’s and nurses and looked so small, but still so perfect and unaware. The surgical registrar finished briefing everyone and turned to tell us that he was worried that Gus may have one of a number of issues with his gut. The most serious of which was in layman’s terms, that Gus had a twisted gut or ‘volvulus’ which is basically when the bowel twists and cuts off blood supply to that part of the bowel.
Well that doesn’t sound too bad, I thought, you just un twist it. I stood there listening to the words “extremely serious”, “Life threatening”, “Operation” and “We must act extremely quickly” as if they were being said to someone else.
They explained that they would scan Gus for an additional concern that they thought it might be which was to do with an abnormal growth of the gut, I have to admit I had tuned out somewhat at this point. My boobs were leaking I was still bleeding heavily I was standing in a room with a load of extremely sick little babies and there was a chance that my baby was one of them.
The first bit of good news we got was that the scan revealed that it was not the growth issues they thought it might be. Which just left a malroatation of the gut and the twisted gut – great!
For this Gus would need to have a contrast scan of his gut, which meant he would have a liquid put into the gut and then he would be x-rayed as the liquid passed through the gut to see how the gut was working and if there were any blockages. We went with him down to the X – ray department and again, were met by the most wonderful staff. Thy put Gus on the X – ray table and he looked even smaller than he did in NICU. We waited in the booth with a member of the X – ray team who talked us through what was going on and we watched on a screen as this liquid passed through Gus’s gut. It looked to us like it kept moving and that there were no blockages but what did we know? And how would we know if it was going the right way?
The wait for the assessment of the results seemed to go on for hours but was in fact only a few minutes and the wonderful consultant gave us the news we had been hoping for, Gus’s gut was all good!
It was such a relief, relief doesn’t cut it really. It was too big for ‘relief’. We went back up to NICU and Gus continued to be assessed. They decided to put him on a course of antibiotics while they waited 72hrs for his blood work to come back to rule out the chances of an infection. In the meantime they were also going to conduct a brain scan. At this point I again thought, “What aren’t they telling us?” “What is wrong with him?” but I was comforted by the Dr who explained that all babies in this hospital’s NICU have their brains scanned as a matter of course and that he would have it done with a mobile scanner that scanned through the open part of his skull. This made be feel much better and watching them scan him through his head was quite amazing. With another scan passed with flying colours, it was now just a waiting game to get the bloods back and hopefully return to the ward.
Sitting in that room with the news that the worst your son could have was an infection was a surreal experience.
For those of you that have been lucky enough not to sit in NICU let me paint you a picture. There are about 6 little plastic boxes all linked up to monitors. Each of those monitors has an alarm or 3 on them and each of those alarms goes off about once a minute. This is because the babies in those little plastic boxes, who you can hardly see, as they are so tiny, or so sick that they are covered in monitors, are being kept alive by those little plastic boxes. Parents sit glassy eyed next to each one, monitoring their babies every movement and ignoring the alarms that they have heard a million times before. All around them a team of nurses float like butterflies, silently flitting from one box to the next, adjusting lines, changing oxygen levels, updating parents in the most discreet unobtrusive way possible.
At certain times a particular alarm will sound, and without a word all but one set of parents will leave the room. All the Dr’s will head to one plastic box and even as an NICU novice you know that that alarm is a serious one and one family’s day has got even worse. So, we followed the other parents outside and stood and waited until the alarm subsides and the other parents funneled back in again to take up their vigils next to their own children.
That place is nothing short of miraculous. Painfully sad but also, a room full of hope. And we were there. With our baby, who was going to be ok.
You read the letters of thanks out in the corridor and you realise that this little area of the hospital is a life changing place for families, the good and the bad. It was a life-changing place for us and we were one of the lucky ones.
We stayed there for the 72hrs which, was hard enough, not being able to cuddle him, not really being able to feed him, having to go back to my ward at night without my baby. All of this was hard and life changing as it made me realise how lucky we had been never to experience this before. But it was 72 hrs of our life. A very long 72 hrs but 72hrs, none the less.
One of the babies had been in there for 4 months with no likelihood of going home any time soon.
For those families their lives are still on hold. They will have had to go home without their babies. Most will have had to return to work having to make do with telephone updates on how their little one is getting one. Many siblings will still not have met their new brother or sister as, due to the risk of infection, children under the age of 7 are not allowed in NICU and countless friends and family members are yet to meet the latest addition to their little circle, as only parents and 2 named visitors, are allowed to visit in NICU.
These are the families I think about now as I am Up All Hours feeding Gus, not begrudgingly this time round as I am now all too aware that for many families this is all they are waiting for. To hear their baby cry out from their own cot, in their own home, with their own family.
So, thank you to the amazing men and women who work in Neo Natal care. And to all the families that have, or who will be part of that care, please know that you are not alone, it is not that people don’t care, it is just until you have been through it, there is no way that you can know what goes on behind those doors and what you are all going through every day.