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March 3, 2012 / Mettā Reiki Center

Monitors.

Fast forward to present day.

I’m back at work. It is bittersweet in a lot of ways. It was horrible leaving my beautiful daughter asleep in her crib to go to work, but I knew she was with her daddy, so she would be fine. And in all honesty, several people had told me (and I knew as well) that it would be good for me to have a change in scenery, a distraction, some sense of “normal” by returning to work.

I had a one-day “warm up” a week before returning to my three-day, twelve-hour-per-day rotation. The “warm up” was wonderful – we had a busy day so it went quickly. When I came home, I had some time to regroup before it was time to put my “Mommy” hat on since my husband had taken the baby out for a drive.

The first day of the regular three-day rotation was a little different. First off, it was my birthday. I am a true curmudgeon – I hate birthdays. I really haven’t celebrated my birthday since I turned 30. I figured if I was getting gray hair, I didn’t want to throw a party over it. It wasn’t unusual for me to forget my birthday, but thanks to a loving husband and the wonders of social media, I was reminded the night before by many wishes of “happy birthday” from my family and some awesome friends. So at least this year it had some really good points. Yes, I still managed to get my Sourpuss on despite the well wishes of friends and family. I’m stubborn like that.

After two re-applications of makeup (I still can’t leave the baby without crying my eyes out), I make it to work. The day before, I had gotten an email saying that the elevator that goes to the unit I work at would be out of service. No problem. I’d use the other elevator. It was the one we used that had the closest access to the NICU. I had blissfully forgotten that fact – until I walked in the building.
I looked to the right to see the two elevators that went up to the NICU. No problem, I thought, I don’t have to go there anymore. I’ll just march right by. But my body apparently didn’t get that message. My blouse was instantly soaked with sweat, tears immediately followed, and I came to the realization that if I didn’t find a chair really quickly, my butt was going to find the floor in a very un-graceful manner.

My physical reaction was alarming and unexpected, but it passed quickly. Other things I had been struggling with – the nightmares that came two or three times a night, not being able to hear baby mobiles or any version of the Brahms Lullaby without crying hysterically, my compulsion to make sure that we had nothing in Ali’s nursery, not even a burp towel, that had come from the NICU – I had attributed to postpartum depression. This probably was, too. It would pass. And this episode did pass. In 10 minutes I was grabbing my cup of too-strong-black-coffee with three Splendas and back in work mode.

That evening, I was sent to one of our satellite hospitals to do a consultation on a medical telemetry unit. I was sitting at a desk with a computer workstation so I could enter the information needed to start the patient’s chart. That’s when I heard it.

In a NICU, your entire focus becomes this computer screen that makes loud beeping noises – your baby’s monitor. Your entire existence will become focused on keeping the damn thing quiet.

There was the “one beep”: it lasts about a second, and in Ali’s case, it meant oxygen saturations are dropping. When a premature baby is being weaned off a ventilator, CPAP, or oxygen, this sound is so frequent you will hear it in your sleep. You learn how to feed your baby, change her diaper, and do every other aspect of her care in such a way that keeps the monitor in the “right” range to make that Godforsaken beeping stop.

Then there was the “three beep” (as I called it). The “three beep” was what had nurses rushing to the crib in droves the moment it went off. Three short, fast, loud beeps that repeated over and over until a nurse pushed that special button to shut it up. On Ali’s monitor there were two things that caused the “three beep”: a heart rate under 70 or for her breathing to pause for longer than 20 seconds. There was seldom any way to control or prevent the “three beep”. It just happened. But the “three beep” was never good news. Sometimes it meant she had to go back on higher oxygen supplies. And toward the end, every “three beep” made her hospital stay five days longer. It was, quite literally, maddening. I was afraid that once Ali went home, I would still hear that sound in my sleep. And unfortunately, to this day, I do still hear it in nightmares that repeat over, and over, and over.

Back at work, on a medical telemetry unit, I had no idea I would hear that sound, and was completely unprepared. Little did I know that the hospital used the same monitors system-wide – the monitor they used on Ali was the same monitor used on adults.

The cold sweat wasn’t the least bit gradual this time. It hit me like a rainstorm. But this wave was different – it came with a squeezing feeling around my throat, so hot and tight that I couldn’t take a breath in. It felt like someone had come at my chest with a sledgehammer.

The sound continued. “…beep beep beep…beep beep beep…” A nurse walked at a normal pace into the patient’s room and silenced the alarm as I stumbled out of the desk chair looking for a private place to try to collect myself.

The private place turned out to be the floor in a dark corner of the hospital chapel. What a conversation with God I had during those moments. When I was finally able to take a breath in comfortably, the tears were pouring. Again, I was angry. Self-control is something I do not give up easily. Sure, I fly off at the mouth if it will get a laugh from someone, but I am in control. During those moments, I had no control over my emotions, my physiology, even my ability to take a deep breath. When the anger went away, the fear took over. What the hell was wrong with me?

It took hours, and me acting like a complete jerk toward my husband, before I could collect myself and truly calm down. Once I was able to have more rational thought, I realized a grave truth that was a hard blow for someone as stubborn as I am.

It was time to get some help.

I looked online, figuring as much swirl as there is around Postpartum Depression that there would have to be some kind of hotline I could call, or some type of support center in the area. Hell, they had them for pretty much every other malady under the sun. But at least from my searching, the results were beyond discouraging. Even a call to a hospital chaplain came with the answer, “Call your Employee Assistance Program”.

Really?!? Sure, I want them to know what’s going on inside my head. Thanks but no thanks.

Finally, I spoke with a friend who knew someone that worked with people that had similar symptoms. My friend is convinced I have “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. I’ll be honest, I don’t think that’s what it is – that is something that our men and women fighting in wars deal with. It’s not something I would visualize being a diagnosis for a mom that is just overrun with hormones, irritable, and generally batshit crazy. I’ll have to see what the final verdict is when I’m able to get in with this therapist, but I’m hoping this is just standard, run-of-the-mill postpartum depression that can be calmed down with some complimentary/alternative therapies.

I felt like I needed to kind of fast-forward and post this because I know so many moms out there that are struggling with births that didn’t go nearly as well as they had hoped, trouble bonding with their children when they get home, and moms that still are standing vigil at their babies’ beds in the NICU.

You are not alone.

I should not have let things get to this point with the nightmares, the weird compulsion to throw away burp towels and thermometers, and the snotty breakdowns every time I heard mobiles or lullabies. I almost wish there was some way that every NICU mom could get some counseling sessions as a “just in case”. Right now, you have this
“yes/no” questionnaire that you answer while you’re still in the hospital and hopped up on pain medication – before your hormones even have a chance to realize it’s open season for them to wreak havoc. Where I work in Hospice, our bereavement counselors try to wait a few weeks before contacting families because they know full well that it takes a few weeks for reality to truly sink in. I wish there was something like that out there for NICU moms. Who knows, maybe when the dust settles from all this mess, I’ll have time to try to start something like that.

Right now, it’s time for me to find some resources and get myself healed up before my kid gets smart enough to realize that Mommy has a few screws loose! I’m hoping to get some kind of list started of places moms can call, and as soon as I get that together, I will get it posted. In the meantime, if someone happens to have one of those monitors collecting dust in their closet that they don’t need anymore, I’d love to use it for a little sledgehammer therapy! *grin*

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