The Neonatal Infant Care Unit (I’ll call it NICU from now on) is a few hallways over from Labor and Delivery but at the time I wasn’t sure I could find my way back without dropping a trail of breadcrumbs. To further my confusion, they lead us in the nurses door which is accessible only by key card, retinal scan, finger print i.d., you know the drill. Your basic Mission Impossible type of nonsense.
“You can come in with us this time but normally the entrance is down there.” A nurse told me as she pointed in a general direction that I didn’t bother to look towards.
My mind was on other things at the moment. For example, my not even ten minute old son had yet to make a noise. No matter how much the doctors slapped him around, he had yet to cry. Me on the other hand, I was ready to burst into tears and could use a good slap.
Part of me wanted to shout, “Just let me hold him. If I just hold him for a minute then everything will be alright.” It sounds stupid when I say it out loud,but in the moment, in that panic. . .it still sounded pretty damn stupid. So I abandoned everything but that last part. All I kept repeating was “Everything is going to be all right.”
Before I go any further, I have to tell you that the NICU nurses are among the best, strongest, sweetest, and most patient nurses in the world. I’d like to take a minute to thank Lacy, Michelle, Jam, and Cherise at our Kaiser Hospital. If anyone from the Catholic Church wants to nominate them for sainthood, I would back that up. From the minute Luke was admitted to Room #7 to the day we were discharged, they took the time to explain everything that was happening to our son. They let us help with little things like diaper changes and feedings. They really made us feel like our being there mattered. Seriously, if you know a NICU nurse, stop what you’re doing and give them a nice crisp high five. They work hard. They deserve it.
I had no idea at the time that my son was surrounded by the best doctors and nurses anywhere. If I had, maybe I would have relaxed a little bit more. Who am I kidding? Nothing, not enough narcotics to take down King Kong, scratch that, enough to take down Snoop Dog would have been enough to soothe my worried mind.
Luke had been placed in a plastic incubator from the second they took him away from us. To me it looked like an over sized hamster cage. When we arrived in room #7 the nurse explained that this hamster cage was providing respiratory assistance, meaning they were pumping in air so his little lungs didn’t have to work so hard.
“Welcome to the NICU Mr. Gaygen. You must be the father.”
I hesitated because technically I had been “the father” for a ten whole minutes but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like the nurse was talking to someone else, someone more responsible, a real father. I doubled checked. Nope, she was still talking to me. So I fessed up. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“Well just so you know, we have some protocol here in this ward. When you arrive you must present this bracelet.”
As she laid down the law, she fastened a silver hospital bracelet around my wrist. It had dates, numbers, and three names; his, Bex’s, and mine.
“You and your wife are allowed in here at any and all hours but if any other visitor comes, one of you must tag out. One parent and one visitor at a time. Is that clear?”
“Also when you arrive, you will put your cell phone in a zip lock bag and wash your hands for two full minutes before entering your son’s room. Wash your hands again before you touch him and again afterwards. Once again, cell phone use is not permitted in here.”
The doctors and nurses were in and out of the small room for the next few minutes and there wasn’t a place to stand where I wasn’t in the way. I found myself doing a lot of apologies. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to be in your way. “Oh sorry, let me just. . .I guess I can move over here. . .You know what, I’ll just wait outside. Let me know if I can help.” I think the entire team of medical professionals attending to my son breathed a sigh of relief when I left the room.
A few minutes later the head doctor came out to see me. “Well our main concern is pulmonary hypertension.”
She explained that this meant that the blood vessels were constricting around his lungs thus making it that much harder to breathe, thus putting him on the vent. Thus? Who says thus Let alone uses ‘thus’ twice in one sentence? I’ve been spending too much time with doctors.
“He also had a lot of thick amniotic fluid blocking his lungs and esophagus which prevented him from breathing. We saw a little posturing but hopefully all will be well. Luke just needs a little time.”
Translation – He’ll either be fine or he’ll be severely disabled. I guess we’ll wait and see.
Then she walked away. That was it. My son was taking an extended and open ended stay at Club NICU. Soon after that, they fitted him with two IV’s, an NG tube, and his very first diaper. That is not exactly what I would call luxury accommodations. Finally the dust started to settle and that same nurse who read me the riot act offered to give us our privacy for a moment.
As soon as she was gone, I pulled out my phone and took a selfie with my son. Don’t worry, I washed my hands for two whole minutes after.