Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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The Child We Almost Lost (Part II)



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I followed Norah down the hall. The nurses were moving at a quick trot, and I had to sprint to keep up with them. They placed Norah in a large glass box with four round doors on the sides. The next few hours were a blur of nurses and doctors surrounding my daughter, discussions with one medical professional and then another, and another. The biggest question I had was, “is she going to be okay?” followed by, “Why did this happen?”

No one had answers to my questions.

I’m Mormon, and the doctors allowed Paul (my father-in-law) and myself to reach inside the glass box for just a few moments to give Norah a blessing. This was the first time I was able to touch my daughter. I worried that it might be the only time.

I met Mel in her recovery room. I can only imagine how anxious and helpless she felt. She’d never even seen the baby. A doctor met us there. He was a slender brown haired man wearing medical scrubs. He told us that there was something wrong with Norah’s lungs. They didn’t know exactly what yet, but it appeared that every time she exhaled, they collapsed.

“What can cause this?” I asked. “Did we have the baby too soon?”

“That is a possibility,” The doctor said. “But it’s too early to know.”

I thought back to when Mel was meeting with our OBGYN. There was a question of exactly how far along Mel was. Her last period didn’t match up with the baby’s measurements. Mel was insistent that she was correct as to when her last period was, and considering Tristan was a very small baby, just over five pounds, it made sense that she was further along than what the ultrasound indicated. With us moving to Minnesota, we both seemed to feel better about the earlier date. It would give us time to get things ready, and for Mel to recover. But now, I was worried that we’d somehow pressured the doctor into scheduling the surgery too soon, and it was at the risk of losing my daughter. I later found out that none of these fears were grounded. Norah’s problem had nothing to do with early delivery. But in the moment, I felt like I’d placed myself and my ambition to gain a graduate degree before my child.

The doctor told us that they didn’t have a Newborn Intensive Care Unit at our current hospital, and that Norah would need to be taken to another hospital 20 miles south.

“Will Mel be able to move to that same hospital?” I asked.

“I don’t know yet, but it is unlikely. Most insurance plans don’t cover something like that.”

He was right. Mel ended up being stuck at one hospital. Norah at another.

I remember thinking that them not being willing to move Mel to another hospital was total bullshit. But when I got the bill for transporting Norah, saw that it was over $5,000, I realized why they didn’t. I also started to realize that there is something very wrong with the American medical system.

Before they transported Norah to the NICU, they wheeled her into Mel’s room. They opened one of the little glass doors on the small glass box, Mel was able to reach in and hold Norah’s hand for two minutes. The glass on the box was thick, so all Mel could see was Norah’s silhouette and she could hear the air pump pushing oxygen into her small body. Once they told Mel that her time with Norah was up, and that she had to pull her hand away, Mel started crying. Mel is the strongest person I know. She isn’t the person to have big sloppy tears, and in this moment, she held her composure well considering the situation. Her tears were simple. They silently rolled down her face.

I rode in the ambulance as they transported Norah. As we drove, I made arrangements for my in-laws to watch Tristan.

Once Norah was checked in, taken from the glass box, fitted with a rhinoceros horn looking air mask, examined, and poked and prodded, and in the NICU along with all the small and sickly babies, I sat down with a doctor and got some answers.

The doctor spoke with a French accent. He was slender and friendly with dark hair. He told me that Norah had hypertension in the artery between her heart and her lungs. This caused her lungs not to receive enough blood in-utero and so they were under-developed. “She doesn’t have any pulmonary surfactant,” he said.

I asked him what that was and he said, “It’s the stuff in your lungs that keeps them from collapsing every time you exhale.”

He then talked about treatments. He mentioned steroids and lung injections, and I looked at this small little girl, hoses and monitors all around her, and wondered what was next. I wondered how she would survive what sounded like very adult procedures.

“It could take up to two weeks to get her better, but I feel confident that she will have a full recovery.”

I wanted to hold and comfort my child. I wanted to help her, somehow, as she went through what I assumed would be a painful ordeal.  

“Can I hold her?” I asked. “I haven’t been able to yet.”

He looked at me with compassion and said, “No. I’m sorry. It’s too risky.”

Not being able to hold Norah was the hardest part.

That night I was at the hospital until late. The doctor told me that there was no reason for me to stay. That this was stressful enough, and that I’d handle it better if I went home. But it didn’t feel right to drive home. Sleep felt selfish. It made me feel lazy when I had a sick child and a recovering wife.

I did, eventually, head home around 2 a.m.

The next several days are a blur of long prayers, little sleep, and traveling between hospitals. I usually started the day visiting Norah. I’d sit with her, get a report from the doctors. But I could touch her. She was sedated and lifeless, but I spoke to her anyway. I told her that I loved her, and that I was going to be there with her.

Around lunch I’d visit Mel. The doctors told her that she couldn’t leave the hospital to visit Norah until she could walk unassisted. Despite her C-section, she was up and walking the next day. I’ve never seen her so determined.

In the evening I’d travel back to see Norah, and stay with her until late in the night. One night, as I drove home from the hospital around midnight, the alternator went out on my truck. I barely made it home.

These were the hardest few days of my life.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter
Photo by Lucinda Higley