The [Heart] Beat Goes On
This is part seven of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.
All that day, Elli soldiered on. We stayed in a tiny parent sleep room that night, just down the hall from her corner room in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), the two of us spooned in tight on a twin bed. We told the nurse to wake us if anything happened, but we woke in the morning on our own. No phone calls.
The next few days were a blur of visits from family and friends, running down the NICU to pump, driving down early and leaving the hospital late every day, learning a whole new vocabulary, and watching.
Watching Elli as she swelled up and watching the urine catheter fill bags as the medication forced fluid loss. Up and down, back and forth.
Watching the settings on her ventilator rise and fall as her oxygen levels dipped and soared.
Watching her blood pressure and pulse rise as her pain level increased, and then watching it all drop after the nurses gave her pain meds.
Watching the freezer fill with breast milk while her digestive system rested and calories dripped into her veins.
Watching for her to open her eyes and stroking her hands in hopes that she would grasp our fingers again.
Watching the faces of the medical team during rounds each morning and evening, straining to hear a hint of what they thought was going on, and hoping for good news, or at least no bad news.
Day after day, her heart kept beating. Night after night, we slept undisturbed by a call from the hospital. None of the staff sat us down to ask us what our wishes were regarding end-of-life. (Our pastor told us to call him immediately if they brought it up.)
I remember driving home one evening and asking Scott how he prayed. I don’t remember what he said, only what I did: “I don’t know whether to hope for the best or prepare for the worst.” I never wanted to be blindsided like that again. But I could not bear to give up hope – it seemed like a betrayal.
One thing we knew – even though she was our baby, she wasn’t ours. We were her stewards, responsible to love and care for her as long as she was alive. But really, she was God’s child, given to us on loan. Despite her tiny frame, the responsibility weighed heavy.
Our shower was my prayer closet, water washing my tears and the hospital smells away as I cried to God for my baby and for us. I pleaded for strength for her, enough to have surgery. I also asked for help to face whatever lay ahead and for wisdom if we had to make hard decisions. Some days, I even whispered “Your will be done.”
On the bad days, I went to the cafeteria for chicken strips, french fries, candy bars, and ice cream. I told myself it would add fat to the milk I was pumping for her.
After a week, the doctors began to use different words, like “when” and “surgery.” Elli still had to prove she was strong enough, but the air in the room had changed from gloom to anticipation.