Monday, January 19, 2009

First days.

When I learned about Kelly and Jenna over the weekend it really brought me back to those first days after Ralphie was born. I REALLY wish I had the presence of mind to blog or at least journal during those first days. It would be nice to have a record what all was happening. Plus, it would have cut down on phone time! I'm sure these girls will be glad that they have their blogs to look back on.

I guess I'm backing up a bit today. I'm really writing this for myself, so I hope you don't mind. I rode to the hospital with Ralph the night he was born. I hurried to get dressed before the paramedics arrived. I suppose that the folks at the hospital figured that they would be admitting me as well, but I refused. Apparently this didn't make me any friends. After being interrogated by the neonatologist about prenatal screenings and immunizations and other irrelevant crap, Ralph was taken to the NICU and I was turned out and given directions where to wait.

So started my so-called recovery. After an hour or so we were allowed to come into the NICU to see Ralph and get acquainted with the rules. While we were there the cardiologist showed up and we watched as Ralph got his first echo. It was about midnight and I was starting to get shaky.

One of the nurses kindly offered to let me rest in the isolation room. I tried to stand, but couldn't. I was just too weak. The nurse tracked down a wheelchair and wondered why I didn't already have one. Good question. While I was resting the cardiologist came to talk to us. He had drawn a full page diagram of the heart, labeled everything, and explained everything in great detail. I was so impressed and comforted by his warmth and the fact that he didn't assume that we were not smart enough to understand. It was after midnight.

The strange thing is that I cannot remember if Ralph was on a ventilator yet or not. I think not, but I can't remember when he was put on. He DID have meconium aspiration syndrome. These are some of the sickest babies you'll see outside of super-preemies, according to our nurses.

James wheeled me down to the car sometime after 2am. We went home and tried to sleep, but I think I was up again at 6:30am. We had kids to get ready and drive to school. We both went back up to see Ralph then.

Even though the hospital was only a 20 minute drive from the house I did not leave the hospital hardly at all after that first night. I found out from a nurse that the hospital had rooms for nursing moms. Actually it was like an apartment with a kitchen, living area, bathroom and four locking bedrooms. This would be my home for nearly the next month. I couldn't have done this without James and a ton of other people helping out with meals and caring for the other kids.

I was the only mom in residence, which was good. I went back to my room to catch some sleep and to sob and cry, rather loudly. I spent my days sitting by Ralph, reading a Bible, talking with the nurses and pumping. I spent my nights sitting by Ralph, reading a Bible, talking with the nurses and pumping. Almost like a Groundhog Day experience. The days have run together now and I cannot remember one from the next.

Ralph was placed on a ventilator early on. He was very sensitive to noise and was considered to be a "minimal stim" baby. He had some earmuffs just like he would later have on the flight to Kansas City. He seemed to improve slowly and was extubated one day while I was out for coffee with some girlfriends from church.

Ralph spent some time in an oxygen tent after that. I took some pride in getting him tucked into his tent neatly and making sure there were no leaks! I guess I took any opportunity to "mother" him that I could. Which reminds me of the night that I arrived to find that one of the nurses had given him his first bath! I'm sure it had something to do with fluctuating hormone levels, but I nearly fell apart. I was devastated that this "first" experience had been stolen from me. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was hurting from all the things we were missing out on like nursing, bathing and cuddling in bed together, and so on. I was wondering at the same time if we would ever get to do these things.

A few long weeks later Ralph was out of the oxygen tent and on a nasal cannula. I was finally able to hold him and we were starting to work with feeding with a speech therapist. I was so eager to get him taking a bottle so that we could get him home. I figured that if I could only get him home then we could work on nursing together at our own pace. It is nearly impossible to bond with a baby in the NICU. When other people are diapering him and feeding him and making decisions you never really feel like they are your own baby. I was longing to bond with him.

It was that week that he started going downhill again. Back into the 100% oxygen tent he went. More x-rays, more tests, oral feeding discontinued, new drugs started. FINALLY, he was started on nitric oxide! The nurses shared with me that they had never seen a baby on nitric that was not transferred to a bigger hospital. Sure enough, the doctors wanted to have a conference with us. They had done everything they could do for Ralph. We needed to decide if we wanted to wait and see if he would improve or transfer to Kansas City.

The whole atmosphere was grim. Our sweet cardiologist seemed to be nearly in tears. We would transfer. I was allowed to ride in the plane with him and I had a couple of hours to go home and pack a few things while Ralph was prepared for the trip.

It was May 23. Our children were at their school's end of the year picnic. We had left them there with some friends so we could have our conference with the doctors. When we got back to the park I could hardly speak. These wonderful people people immediately surrounded us and laid hands on us and bathed us in heartfelt prayer. Families stepped forward to care for our children so that James could come to Kansas City as well.

I packed a small bag and headed back to the hospital. Ralph had been re-intubated for the transfer. The weather was stormy in Kansas City, so the flight crew had to wait to take off. When they arrived, James and I watched them calibrate their equipment and load the baby into the incubator. I started to feel quite ill and begged James to go in the plane with Ralph. No such luck.

We followed the team downstairs to a waiting ambulance. James clicked a few quick pictures as they loaded up. I had to ride up front. Not what I wanted! It had also been a bit stormy here that night and the wind was quite strong. The ambulance driver flipped on his lights AND the siren and headed up the canal route going about 95mph! The whole rig was lurching back and forth in the wind and I wondered if we might tip over.

Arriving at the little business airport, I saw the Children's Mercy airplane. Nice. The pilot was
big around and red in the face like a heart attack waiting to happen! I got in the little plane first and sat in the very back. The flight nurses squeezed the gurney in in front of me and got in. We took off right away.

It was very loud in the plane and I don't think Ralph really liked this very much, although I think he was quite well sedated. The nurses were periodically on the phone with some doctors at the hospital in KC. They pushed some IV meds at least a couple of times during the trip. I couldn't see Ralph so I couldn't tell, but I think he really wasn't doing well.

The flight was less than one hour. The approach to the downtown airport in KC was very bumpy...leftover from the earlier storms, I guess. The plane was sliding back and forth and I think I gave the nurses the impression that I might pass out. They started bombarding me with questions about my other kids. Very slick! Before I knew it we were safely on the ground.

We loaded back up into another ambulance, me up front again. The flight nurses had to yell at the driver to take it easy on the rough roads and hills. Again, I think that Ralph was not very stable. At the hospital they took Ralph one direction and deposited me and my suitcase in a waiting room in the NICU. It was after midnight when we arrived, May 24. A new day.


Anonymous said...

Our posts today are worlds apart, but I sure feel close to you reading this story.

In your place in those circumstances I imagine myself in waves of shock with short ebbs in between.

I used the word 'slick' in my post today, too - but not representing a good intention, hehe.

The chatter of the nurses on the plane, yea, I've done that to help people divert their attention from the stress of the moment. Bet you do it too with your children, smaller scale emotions.

Thanks for posting this, Stephanie. Let us know how you are doing now, too. Barbara