Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NICU Reunion

I grabbed the handle of a large metal door which allowed entry into the hospital. I swung it open, and Grace and Meghan ran through it. The familiar pattern of the carpet appeared. Sage green and lavender geometric shapes splattered across the hallway floor, and a large sign read Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Tan handrails lined the skywalk that led toward the NICU.

Ahead of me, Grace ran her hand along the handrail as she skipped along in her shiny patent leather shoes with a 1/2 inch heel. Her sensory need to touch and feel her way through life is evident everyday. She turned her head around toward me and said, "This feels silky smooth, Mommy."

"Yes Grace," I said as I wondered just how many germs she was picking up on her right hand.

"It feels cold, too."

Meghan's right hand was in my left hand, and as we walked along the skywalk, her grip became increasingly tighter. The blood was leaving my index finger so I jiggled her hand a bit to encourage her to release her grip. She relaxed her hand as she said, "I was born here Mommy."

"Yes, Meghan. You were my littlest baby girl Meggie. You lived here for 79 days, and then you came to our house. It made me so happy when you came home."

Grace inquired, "Mommy, how long did I live here?"

"You stayed here 23 days Gracie."

"How much did I weigh Mommy?"

"3 pounds, 14.5 ounces."

"I was bigger than Meghan. Right Mommy?"

"Yes, Grace. You were bigger than Meghan, but you were still small when you were born. Mommy and Daddy were so worried about you when you were born. Meghan, too. The doctors and nurses here took great care of you, and showed Mommy and Daddy how to take care of you too."

We were on our way to the annual Holiday Party NICU reunion. The girls were excited because I finally let them put their Christmas dresses on. Hunter green velvet adorned their small frames, and red, green, and silver bells jingled in their blonde hair. Earlier when I put Meghan's dress on, she twirled and said, "My pretty dress helps me dance good."

The skywalk smelled like the pages of an old, faded book. It had smelled that way since it was built 4 years ago. I don't know why but that smell brought back a memory I hadn't recalled in quite some time. With Gracie still skipping along and Meghan still squeezing my index finger too tightly, I was suddenly flashing back to that skywalk about 3 weeks after Meghan was born. She was still quite fragile then, and was struggling with her H&H (hemoglobin and hematocrit). In the few days before then, her H&H values were plunging. I had studied the values in her chart, but didn't quite understand them except that the values read LOW.

When I had walked into the NICU that day, Meghan's primary nurse, Kim, greeted me with a sullen look just outside the door of Meghan's room. I flashed her a nervous smile because I didn't want to acknowledge the clear look of concern on her face. She stuttered and blurted out in one long breath, "Uh, you can't do kangaroo this morning. She isn't stable enough. Her H&H fell overnight, and we're transfusing her right now. I still don't like her color, I've turned down the lights, and asked visitors to keep it down. She is really in dangerous territory right now. I really pushed her when I had to find a vessel for the transfusion. She was really mad at me. I blew a vein in her arm so now we're using a vein in her skull. You can sit next to her, but please don't touch her or the tubing on top of the isolette."

She walked me to the isolette, and said, "Here is a chair." Then, she pointed to the bag of blood, and said, "Leave that alone please. Now, sit and let's hope she pinks up with some of this blood."

Panic and fear was welling up inside of me, but I managed to blurt out, "I'll do anything she needs right now. Kangaroo care is the furthest thing on my mind right now. What blood type is this blood?"

"It is O neg. We like to use that type in the NICU to reduce transfusion issues." Why I wanted to know that is not clear to me even now. I also wondered inside what Kim meant by transfusion issues, but my eyes had fallen onto Meghan's shadowy figure inside the isolette. A ventilator was pumping air into her prematurely abused lungs, her foot glowed orange from a pulse oximeter, a temperature probe was stuck to her chest with a shining gold sticker in the shape of a teddy bear, and a thin tube of maroon colored blood was flowing into a venous catheter in Meghan's skull.

"Oh my, my, my God. She is so pale. Thank God for blood donors." I stuttered.

Kim joked a bit with me and said, "Hey, maybe she has your color?"

"Uh yeah, maybe. I know I have red-headed pale skin, but I don't look like death. She does."

"Let's see what happens, and Dr. R will be here soon. I called him. You might want to call your husband."

"Oh." I knew it was bad, but it was all so surreal. I wanted to cry, but it wouldn't come. I just sat there willing Meghan to live with every bit of my being. I kept thanking God for that blood donor, and asking God to help Meghan. Over and over again, I prayed. Meghan hadn't been baptized yet so I held my right hand out, made a sign of a cross with my hand in the air, and quietly said, "I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit." Tears pooled in my eye lids as I thought I didn't want her to die without being baptized, even a baptism by me was better than nothing.

Eventually, the donor's blood began to bring the color back into Meghan's tiny little being. It was the longest five minutes of my life as I experienced it in a kind of slow motion sequence. My eyes wouldn't blink. I don't recall hearing much after I sat down next to her isolette, and it seemed darker than usual. I didn't want to leave her, not even to call Charlie. I wasn't sure she'd still be alive if I left to call him.

A few minutes later, Kim looked at her vital signs, and said, "I think this is helping. She is doing better right now. Let's let her sleep. Sleep helps."

I thought, "Oh thank God." I began to shiver a bit from the adrenaline.

I glanced back at Meghan, and she seemed very peaceful. A calm came over me, and I had a sudden urge to call Charlie. I quickly left for the family room where the phone was. I don't remember what I said to him, but after talking to him, I found myself on that skywalk to the NICU.

Sunlight was gleaming through the windows. Children were playing on the playground at the school across the street, and I sat down on the green and purple carpet about 1/4 of the way down the hall. I thanked God a few more times, and made a "bee line" back to the NICU to sit next to Meghan. I had nearly lost her. We had nearly lost her. God intervened. A blood donor brought life back to my precious baby as I stood their observing. Amazing. Simply amazing.

The jingling of the bells on Grace's head brought me back into reality. We had reached the waiting area outside the NICU. The party was already in progress, and both my girls were very much alive. They bounced, skipped, wiggled, and jiggled their way through the party.

Neither one wanted to sit on Santa's lap nor tell him what they wanted for Christmas. I didn't care though. They were not guaranteed children. The NICU staff worked hard to save their lives so that they could have lives. Even if that means, the girls act up, misbehave, or allow their sensory issues to overtake what is consider normal childhood behavior. They live, and I live through them. We live through them. We live for them. I live for them.

Submitted for the Gift of Every Moment at Wrapped Emotions:
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~Denise~ said...

Simply breathtaking, Jen. This post brought tears down my cheeks.

Julie@The Surrendered Scribe said...

This is a moving post, and what a wonderful, inspiring blog. Although we were a PICU stay and a shorter one, your heart is forever bonded with the people and place your babies were taken care of. You have beautiful girls!

Sara said...

what a beautiful story, what beautiful girls, are they twins?

~ Melody ~ said...

I am so glad you've joined us at Wrapped Emotions...or I might not have found your blog and you.

Beautiful post. As a mom of 4 sons...and not one of them "suppose" to be alive today...I feel what you write.

Windows Wide Open said...

You've been given such a wonderful gift, two beautiful girls. The girls have been given a wonderful gift as well in you--their mother who knows how precious they are and lives her joy everyday.


Sheila said...

The heartfelt emotions brought tears to my eyes. You have been blessed with some very precious miracles. :)

Angie said...

Look how far they've come! They're beautiful and so are your words which tell the amazing story. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful girls and blessings, indeed! I lost a daughter five years ago, and I know that sometimes those memories can rush over you without warning. Blessings to you.

Bonnie said...

Jen, this story is incredible. I cannot imagine sitting beside my babies bed like that, wondering ... I am so glad that both of your girls are ok. Growing, living life and obviously enjoying it !! What a great Mom you are to them !! I'm glad I stopped by to read this post !! Bonnie

Childlife said...

So glad you joined WE, Jen! You have such an amazing story that I know others will be blessed by hearing of your two miracle girls.

This post brought back so many NICU memories for me too... I'm so glad your lovely little blond beauties are doing so very well now : )

Mama said...

Jen, I just think you are so strong. I have had "real life" and cyber friends go through the NICU experience. I had seen it, but I just never KNEW what it all meant until recently. I really admire you for everything you've done and continue to do for your beautiful girls.