Let me first say, that the doctors and nurses here are great. Each nurse was assigned two babies, and they were fabulous about giving us updates as the week progressed.
That being said, the ICN is a horrible place to be. It means something is wrong. It means you can’t have your baby in the room with you at the hospital. It means you might be discharged before your baby. It means you’re on an emotional roller coaster — and that’s before the post-partum hormones kick in.
First, you have to identify yourself to the receptionist, who buzzes you in. Then you have to get scrubbed in. Its like you’re a surgeon, you wash up to your elbows with an individually wrapped device that is half sponge (soaked with soap), half soft-bristled comb. You clean under your fingernails, around the nailbed, all the way up to the elbows.
Then you pass through a doorway into the baby room. Your first time there, its overwhelming. Monitors beep. People talk in hushed tones. The babies are laid along the walls in clear acrylic bassinets. They lay there, swaddled bundles in white. Some crying, some sleeping, some simply gazing ahead. Some have blindfolds on and are enclosed in huge tanks with UV lights glaring down on them. Others are in similar tanks without lights, their parents and nurses only able to touch them through armholes. One baby is different. She has nearly an entire wall to herself. She has a real crib with her own sheets: white crib, pink butterfly sheets. Her baby mobile, filled with matching butterflies and flowers, tinkles out “twinkle, twinkle little star.”
The parents look numb. Zombie-like. They look up for a moment when someone enters the room, then their eyes slide back to their children. When a doctor enters the room, everyone sits straighter, eyes glued, until the doctor walks over to a particular patient. Everyone looks away again, shoulders slumping.
My monkey is closest to the door. He’s swaddled tight in a white hospital blanket and propped up on a gel-like pillow with rolled blankets keeping him in place. Black, red, and green wires twine out of the blanket. He has tubes up his little nose, lightly puffing pure oxygen. The mini warmer hovering above his bed is on. He’s asleep, sucking on a green Soothie binkie. Behind him, a heart monitor beeps and electronic lines bump and pulse. He sighs, scrunches his little face, and goes back to sucking on the pacifier.
I hover, staring at the tubes up his nose. Why him? Why any of these babies? Why couldn’t it have been ME who had difficulties? Before the birth, when the Hubbs and I had the “what if” talk, I told him that if anything went wrong — if it was between me and the baby — that he HAD to tell the doctors to save the baby first. It was what I wanted. And now this. I felt powerless. I WAS powerless.
There was absolutely nothing we could do but wait.
When the neonatologist finally came in, he told us his initial assessment: That the monkey had really, really small nasal passages that were inflamed from all the suctioning done to him after birth. They were hoping that given time, and a little medicine, the inflamation would go down and we could go home in a day or two. They were starting to hook up the medication: A warm, humidified mist with something like Afrin nasal spray added in. They could only use it for a few days otherwise the condition would worsen. On top of that, to make sure the monkey got enough of the mist, they had a “hood” for him: A clear plastic bowl with a cut-out for his neck and a connection for the tube to funnel in the mist. He looked like an astronaut.
Also, for the medicine to really take hold, he had to stay under the hood almost 100% of the time. We were only allowed to hold him for 2 hours a day, 1 hour at a time — except for nursing. I spent most of that day sitting next to his bassinet, my hand on his belly. If his binky fell out, I’d lift the hood and put it back. If he managed to free an arm from the swaddle (the kid’s a mini Houdini), I’d kiss his little hand and tuck the blankets back in around him. I reveled in the brief times I was able to hold him.