Split in two

Published August 12, 2014 | By Greg Hodgson-Fopp

Sorry for the delay in finishing the recording of the first few days, I’ve had my hands a little full for the past week.

Follows on from I just wanted her to breathe which followed on from The First hour of life. It’ll make more sense to read them in order if you haven’t already.

When we left Delilah to rest in the ICU, we headed straight back to the Well Baby Nursery, where Verity was waiting for us. Matt left to sort out some paperwork and details regarding insurance that couldn’t wait.  I was left with Verity to see to the next stages of her check-out and testing, the first bath and the hearing test, plus the mandatory blood tests and vaccinations.

Roller-coaster sets off

The next few days was a complete emotional journey for me. I didn’t leave the hospital, not even once, until the day Verity was released. We were splitting our time between bonding with Verity in the lovely corner room that the hospital had provided us with, and sitting patiently beside Delilah’s ICU crib.

These two extremes had the effect of tearing me half. It was impossible to be in both places at once. It was impractical to spend too much time with Delilah (the ICU is a busy place, the nurses made us very, very welcome, but I never stopped feeling like I was in the way). It was also fairly grim in some respects, with other babies in there that were not doing as well, as far as I could tell.

Spending time with Verity was an absolute delight. She was chugging her milk very quickly, burping like a builder, sleeping the deep contented sleep of a well fed and warm baby. We were being taught by the nurses how to do things that now seem second nature – such as Swaddling, changing, looking for signs of constipation or digestive discomfort. And through all this, spending a load of time with Verity just napping in our arms.

I was completely and utterly in love with her already.

I hadn’t eaten in 16 hours

I was so enamoured with our little girls, that I didn’t want to leave their sides for a second. It took physical chest pains on the first day for me to realise that I hadn’t eaten in 16 hours. I just flat-out had not had time to notice.

Matt was focusing on the practical – sorting insurance details, forms, birth certificates, getting food and coffee for the room. Realising that every single onesie we had brought was too small, and so he took a quick trip to Babys-R-Us to get some premature baby size gorgeousness for them.

Meanwhile, I was focusing on the delightful little bundle of pink in my arms, that had captured every cycle of my brain. When I wasn’t thinking about her feeding, I was practicing talking to her so she got to know my voice, or giving her a gentle skin-to-skin massage with my fingertips that I’d read was good for lots of reasons (bacterial transfer being one of them, there’s a gross thought!). Or trying to find classical music to make sure her brain started to form the connections she’ll need to have perfect pitch. Or encouraging her wriggling so she can become the pro tennis star of her generation.

But there was something missing

Then every now and then, while I was utterly blissing out on tending to Verity and bonding with Verity, I’d remember that Delilah was still in ICU, still hooked up to the machines, and I’d get this incredibly intense sense of guilt for enjoying Verity’s presence so much.

I started second guessing how long it had been since I’d been in the ICU. Was she okay? Was she bonding with nurses instead of me? Did the nurses think I was neglectful because I was just down the hall but hadn’t checked in for an hour? Had she gotten better or worse? I was then in a bind, as if Matt wasn’t there, I had to make arrangements for Verity to be put in the Nursery before I could actually go to the ICU.

Less than impressed with her first day or two of life, I suspect.

Less than impressed with her first day or two of life, I suspect.

And then I would run the fifteen or so metres to the door of ICU and rush through the cleansing and washing process to get to her bedside quicker.

In the first day or so, we couldn’t remove her from the cot. She was too hooked up to wires and breathers, and handling her, even gently, might have knocked one or more sensors out. So I stood, looming over her, gently running my hand up and down her exposed back or belly, depending on which way she was rolled to in that particular hour. She also wasn’t feeding from a bottle yet, so there wasn’t much to do in terms of tending her. No nappies to change, no bottles to give. No creams to apply.

That first night was horrible and beautiful in equal measure. We were sleeping on single beds that the hospital had set up for us in the new parent room, and we were waking to tend Verity every time she made even the tiniest murmur. And once Verity was fed and content, I was putting my shorts back on and heading down to poke my head into the ICU.

All about the numbers

I became a bit obsessed with the numbers on the electronics that Delilah was plugged into. There were 3 machines initially, one was the air-pressure-lung-thing they referred to as “CPAP”. The other was a more standard set of monitors for things I understood like respiration, temperature, heart-rate. The final one was the blood-oxygen read out.

I found my heart stopping every time the blood-oxygen read out dipped a little bit. That was the important one for Delilah, it was the reason she was in there. I was a percentage, as I am sure all the nurses and medicos in the family know. So 100% is “perfect”, and she was admitted to ICU because she consistently dropped below 90% when she was in the nursery.

So unable to really comfort her and hold her, my eyes just kept flicking between her little heaving breaths, and the number going up and down on the readout. It mostly hovered around 95% but did sometimes dip down. Then she’d put a bit of effort into a big breath and it’d go up to 100% for a while, as she drifted in and out.

I had to restrain myself from calling the nurses over a few times, when I felt it had been in the 90-95 range too long. I know the machines would tell them long before I could, but there’s just really no rationalising that feeling.

She was practicing her unimpressed look

It didn’t look like she was able to sleep too much, or too deeply. The machines were fairly intrusive, and they were taped to pretty much every extremity, her torso and her poor little face. I will never forget the unhappy look on her face as she lay on her stomach, staring out of the perspex side of the crib, directly at me as I was sitting there beside her.  Her little 1-day old brow was furrowed and her lips pursed under the breather.

It was utterly heart-wrenching.

She was basically looking at me through perspex expressing “What in the living fuck is going on?” in her baby face expressions. I’m sure that wasn’t what she had expected when she had been summarily evacuated out of the most comfortable of wombs.

Leaving her there to go back to go back to Matt & Verity in the room, or get Verity out of the nursery each time was some of the heaviest steps I’ve ever had to take. The nurses in both places were flat out amazing but there was just no consoling a Dad who wants to be in two places at once and can’t be.

So, diagnosis? Hole in the lung?

As I mentioned, the initial diagnosis in the nursery was that Delilah has fluid on her lungs from gulping it down during the birth procedure. This is not uncommon at all, and generally clears within 48 hours. The doctor in ICU felt there was a chance that it was an infection – pneumonia – but both the birthing Doctor and the Paediatrician disagreed with this assessment. However, antibiotics were started and cultures were taken to determine the truth of it.

A nurse took me on one side and said “Don’t bother, the labs will decide who is right”.

Delilah was stronger and doing better within the first 12-24 hours, and at the 24 hour mark they turned off the CPAP and returned her to normal oxygen nose-tube thingy. However, complications had occurred which had to be deal with.

The CPAP had caused a little too much pressure, and there was some air leaking between her lungs and her chest cavity. A tiny little hole in the lung basically, caused by the process of assisting her in inflating her lungs fully. Also, the constant pressure meant her stomach was now totally full of air, and so they had to insert a small feeding tube (yes, one more tube) into her mouth to then syringe out the excess air.

Once that cleared and the CPAP off, they were able to start to encourage her to take a bottle normally. Feeding her for the first time was a pretty landmark moment for me. It took ages (compared to Guzzler Verity) and she was very prone to swallowing air, so had to stop a lot. She was also fairly weak so she got tired very quickly. But she feeding like a normal baby. Such a blissful bonding moment.

Within 36 hours, they were happier with her x-rays, but Doctors still disagreed and the ICU doctor upgraded the diagnosis from “Possible infection” to “Likely Infection”. She spoke to me at length about preparing myself for the likelihood that Delilah would need 7 days of antibiotics, which meant 7 more days on the IV, and 7 more days in a perspex box in ICU.

Needless to say the Paediatrician was not of the same opinion.

At the 48 hour mark, just as they were about to release Verity to our care, the lab cultures came back. This coincided with a shift-change in the ICU as well, so it was a completely different ICU doctor who pronounced her entirely free of infection. The Paediatrician and birth OB had been correct all along, it had been the much more likely fluid on the lungs scenario.

Public place meltdown – check

As we had just been given the all-clear to take Verity home, Matt had insisted that we get “proper food” one last time before we discharged with her. We’d driven away from the hospital – for me, this was the very first time I’d seen daylight outside since the birth – and gone to a nearby restaurant I barely remember.

While I was sipping a Sonoma County Chardonnay (I’m developing a taste for Californian whites, actually) we got that phone call fro Dr. Warner, the Paediatrician. He was justifiably very happy and maybe a tiny trace of smugness when telling us that Delilah was now only clinical observation away from being released and that she would be coming home.

Even thinking about that phone-call now, a week later, I well up a bit. I was overtired, emotionally exhausted and I’d had a glass of wine on a mostly empty stomach. But I sat there in the shade of that restaurant with tears freely rolling down my face. Matt was laughing at me across the table, and the waitress really was lovely, but wasn’t quite sure what to make of us, I think.

I was partly relieved, partly hysterical, over-tired and I had just put down the biggest burden of worry that I think I have ever carried. I was able to breathe in properly and the bowling ball of stress and worry that had sat under my rib-cage had shrunk. It wasn’t gone, I know this. And I suspect that this is just the first time I will be worried about one of our little girls in the next 20 years.

But the release was incredible. I didn’t care.