Here’s Your ICU Badge
This is part three of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.
The words “She will probably need a heart transplant” flung us high in the air, spun us around, and dangled us by our ankles. Upside down and dizzy, we sought something solid to grasp.
The doctors asked if we knew how to get back to our daughter’s ER room. We shook our heads no.
“Follow me,” one said. That we could do.
“You will have to wait with her until transport arrives to move you upstairs,” the other said as we groped for seats next to the gurney where she lay. We sat silent while Elli slept, undisturbed for the first time in hours. Time crept, or did it? Day or night, the hospital halls were the same fluorescent bright. I watched her chest rise and fall. Breathe in, breathe out. I breathed with her, tracing the lines from her body to monitors and machines, wondering what they were doing to her. Whatever it was, she was resting. Bandaids marked battles won by her veins, lost by the nurses. I touched her hand, her fingers curled around mine. I hoped she heard our voices and took comfort in them.
A new nurse bustled in. “Hi, I’m your new nurse, until we get you moved upstairs. They should be ready for you in just a few minutes, so I’m going to bring in our portable monitors and get her ready to move.”
A fleeting thought – how will they fit any more people in the space just wide enough for the gurney, two chairs, and a table for the medical chart?
“Excuse me, ma’am, can you step outside for a minute?” a young man asked. That’s how. We stepped outside, carseat carrier, diaper bag, makeshift peri bottle, and assorted papers filling our hands. I watched, uncertain if I needed to be doing something else as this baby’s mother. No one asked us to do anything else, so we stood out of the way.
“Okay, we’re going this way. Follow me,” the nurse chirped.
We followed, a mini parade featuring Elli in a bassinet, i.v. pole in tow, monitor beeping from the nurse’s grip. Huge elevator doors yawned open, directly across from the trauma room, and I cringed as her bed hit the gap. It had no shocks. Her limbs jerked with each bump, each wheel. Up four floors, then into a huge hallway with rows of doors leading into smaller dimly-lit halls lined with tiny bassinets and isolettes. We entered Pod H, at the near end of the hall.
A motherly nurse smiled at us. “Your baby is the only one I’m watching tonight. While they get her settled in, let me show you around. You check in up here at the front desk, after you scrub in the scrub room. Sign in on Elli’s sheet, and then you can come back and see her. Are you planning to breastfeed?”
“Yes.” I knew the answer to that question.
“I’ll get you a pumping kit. Have you used a pump before?”
“No.” They were far too expensive, and I had planned to stay home with Elli after she was born.
“Follow me. These are our pumping rooms.” She opened the kit, connected the tubing, and demonstrated (over her clothes) how to extract milk. “Bottles and labels are here on the counter. Bring what you pump to me and I’ll put it in the freezer for you.”
She left, and I looked awkwardly at Scott. We’d been married just 17 months, obviously had figured out how to make a baby, but milking myself was a whole new level of intimacy. He didn’t flinch. “You want me to stay with you?”
I nodded. “If you don’t mind seeing this.” I didn’t get much that first time, but I labeled my liquid gold and we crossed the hall to our baby’s bed. She laid under a sunny lamp, little shades protecting her eyes.
“The light will help her jaundice, and give her a little tan,” the nurse explained. “Here’s my number. You should go home and try to get some rest. You can call me any time, if you wake up and just want to know how she’s doing. You want to kiss her goodnight?”
We each leaned over and kissed Elli’s cheek. Her lips puckered like she was kissing us back. Little did we know that would be the last time we’d see or touch her face for weeks.