Savannah Part two – Tea and Toast angels

Savannah ward became my home for the next six days until Zach would have his first surgery. We had no idea it would take that long before his operation but he was a tricky little critter and so posed a conundrum for the doctors. For six days I stayed on the Savannah ward with Zach day and night.

The first two nights I had the hospital bed that sat upright in the bay next to Zach’s. The nurses pulled the curtains around to make us one giant bay together. The first two nights I managed at least two hours of comfortable sleep. The third night the ward was full so I had to sleep on the pull-down bed next to Zach’s cot. That night I remember so distinctly. I was laying on the bed shivering and shaking from the urinary tract infection I had. I was wrapped up in two hospital blankets, but I was still icy cold. I had an upset stomach and kept getting up to have to go to the toilet as everything was simply passing through me. (TMI.) And Zach was not feeding very well. He was feeding constantly or just sleeping for too long and his blood sugar would then drop. By the time the morning arrived I was a wreck. Then an angel nurse came in and saw me crying over Zach’s cot at the start of her shift. He was sound asleep and I was drowning him in my tears. She promptly pulled the curtains around us and stated ‘I am getting you some tea and toast.’ I nodded unable to speak. I leant back over his cot again and continued to cry. She reappeared later with the tea and toast.

“I’m sorry” I mumbled. Wiping snot from my nose.

“I haven’t slept and I am ill and I have a bad stomach and I can’t help myself I just keep crying.” I blurted out all at once. Angel nurse stood calmly and listened to me as I droned on about my poor self and how much I felt like I couldn’t look after Zach. I thought He was upset all the time. That I didn’t know if we were doing the right things for him. She listened and listened as I cried my way through an onslaught of emotions. I finally managed to pause and drink some tea.

“It’s a really good tea. Thank you” I told her.

“The trick is to use two tea bags.” She smiled at me and somehow, I felt better. Her kindness and the tea had brought back some sense of logic.

“Can you watch him whilst I have a shower?” I asked her. And of course, she did.

The angel nurse that day took care of me just as much as she did Zach. We started talking about many things and somehow my day lifted. It took me away from what was happening in front of me. I will be forever grateful to her.

Some of the nurses on Savannah were the kindest people I have ever met. I honestly don’t know how they did it. How they keep their patience. How they deal with seeing sick babies’ day after day. The Savannah ward is a unique place. A sort of microcosm. An ecosystem all of its own. It became my whole world and the nurses, my friends. Myself and Emmanuel had nick-names for some of them as we couldn’t remember all of their names. One was ‘Team leader.’ As she seemed to be the one that everybody was friends with. She was the Queen bee of the group when she was in. There was ‘Social Media’ who was often on her phone. We overheard her once asking a colleague what emoji she should send to a guy she was talking to. Each nurse had their own way of doing things as well. It was a game during shift changeovers to see which nurse we would get. I loved messaging Emmanuel and saying, ‘Today is going to be a good day, we have one of our favourites again’. At night If I had a nurse that I trusted (which was most of them) I would ask them to do one of Zach’s feeds for me if I was asleep so that I could get at least four hours sleep. They would often sneak into the bay and do just that. Letting me get some much-needed rest. They would say ‘well we have to be awake so we might as well do it. But you need some sleep.’ 

As the days on Savannah wore on, my time there started to get to me. I was going back to Ronald MacDonald House (our accommodation) in the afternoon and getting a two-hour nap. Then about four hours at night if I was lucky. Which sounds great for a new mum, but I wasn’t at home. I couldn’t lounge on the sofa all day, or call my mum or mother in law to come and help me. I had to sit and wait for the doctor’s rounds. I had to try and take in the information they gave. I watched Zach’s machines as they beeped away all day. I kept track in my head the of all the numbers. I was constantly on high alert. I think my cortisol stress hormone levels were probably through the roof! Plus, I was recovering from my own surgery. Every time I lifted Zach out of his cot, I could feel my wound pull. I would wince with pain as I pulled myself up from the low-down beds to stand up. My feet were swollen and puffy. My body ached for a proper bed and I cried constantly. I was a mess. But I looked around and every other parent there was in the same position as me.

All the parents dealt with things differently. Some would keep to themselves and watch their phones all day long. Others would chat to everybody they could. Some started to take it out on each other. I heard one distinctive argument from a couple that I will never forget. I wish I hadn’t have overheard it, but we all deal with things differently and I guess that was their way. One night on a ward together and you know the sound of every body’s snores, their babies cry and each person’s toilet habits during the night. You get very comfortable very quickly. Let’s face it they all saw me wandering around with a bra and maternity pjs on all day. I was constantly breastfeeding and had no care for covering up. So, they probably thought of me as the crazy, breastfeeding, crying woman.

There is a parent’s room at the end of the ward on Savannah. A haven for parents to step away from the bay when needed. To make a cup of tea or to store food. To be honest It wasn’t the nicest room in the world. It did have a lovely big open window that looked across to St Thomas’ Hospital building which is quite beautiful. I stood by that window and cried when Zach had his blood tests done. I stood by that window when I just needed to breathe after another day with no news. I stood by that window listening to hear if Zach had woken up. It was a good window.

The parent’s room also became the place of small talk. ‘How was your night?’ ‘Are the stitches out yet?’ and ‘ah fantastic she had her feeding tube out.’ Were common conversational topics. At first, it was really scary to talk to other parents. I felt as though I wasn’t qualified to be there. But I soon realised nobody was. We were all new to this. Or most of us were. Most babies on this ward were cardiac babies, all under a month old. Some were older. But I only saw one child who was older than five and she was only in for the day. That’s the nature of the ward and the specialism in the hospital. It all happens when babies are firstborn. So, unless someone had an older child then we were all very new to this. The nurses knew more than us. Heck, even the kids knew what was going on more than we did. It is scary being a first-time parent, then being a first-time parent to a cardiac baby.

Soon those small conversations became mood lifters. A little chat about progress during the time the kettle boiled could lift a whole morning. Often, I would feel as though Zach wasn’t like the others and as he hadn’t come in and then gone for surgery. But as I got talking, I realised it was common for babies to take longer, or to come back later. It made me feel better to know it wasn’t just us. The same for when I was feeling as though Zach was doing really well. Another parent would need me to reassure them. I Would tell them that we had been here a week and that it does get easier. We were all in the same boat, floating down the Savanah River.

NICU – Meeting my Son

Holding my baby boy for the first time felt surreal and the most natural thing in the world all at once. He was in an open cot on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) ward. It is a clear sided rectangle with a soft gel mattress that was covered with a soft cotton sheet.  On top of the sheet is a rolled-up blanket that looped round him in a ‘u’ shape to form a ‘nest.’ It makes them feel snug and supported in this strange world they have found themselves in. He was wearing his hat and a nappy and nothing else. He was covered in blankets but the room itself was warm as well. He had the three stickers on his chest and stomach that measure his heart. ECG (electrocardiogram) dots that track the beats and rhythm. He also had a cannular in his arm. This was connected to a line that connected to a pump. Inside the pump was a giant syringe that slowly presses and pushes through the drugs. In this case the Prostaglandin E1, Prostin. (Prostin is a hormone that was keeping open the ‘duct’ in his heart to allow oxygenated blood to flow through and avoid the narrowing in the Aorta.) He had another cannula in his foot that was giving him fluids and glucose. He had a red light glowing through a band on his hand and another on his foot. This was to measure his oxygen saturation levels pre and post. Pre – meaning before the blood went via the ‘duct’ into the heart and post meaning after. A significant difference between these two would mean that the duct may have started to close and more Prostin would be needed to keep it open until his operation.

All of this information is new and overwhelming when all you want to do is cuddle your new baby. I had to take in what I was being told and what I was seeing whilst desperately wanting to just stroke his cheeks and rock him in my arms. The machines above his head were all keeping track of everything. We could see the green line creating the rhythmical heartbeat pattern. Another blue one beneath it that showed his oxygen saturation levels. It was like being inside a space ship. We had landed on an alien planet and had no idea what this new language was. Despite having looked around beforehand we still were not prepared for the depth of machinery and wires that would be involved. These were here to keep him alive. That thought does not sit easily on a new mother and father’s minds. What if they stop. What if someone doesn’t notice a change on one of these lines. “What if?” became a huge part of everything. Nothing was certain anymore. All we had was each moment. For me that was difficult. I like to plan things and organize them. Not knowing was horrible.

But back to the room and the cot and looking past all the machines and wires, laying calmly was my baby boy. His dad stood over him, looking proudly into his face. We asked a nurse to help us with the wires so that I could hold him. I had a pillow on my lap to cover my stitches and to help me support him. He was lifted from his cot and placed gently in my arms. I cradled his head in my elbow crease. His tiny body curved against mine. He was warm. He was soft. He nuzzled his head backwards and relaxed into me. He was home. He recognized me. We were one again. I would have stayed there for eternity if they would have let me. But I only had half an hour with him before I started feeling dizzy and needed to go back to my own recovery bed for my blood pressure checks. In those thirty or so minutes we became a family. He relied on us and we fell in love with him. Emmanuel stood next to me, hand on my back. We were all connected. My baby had that soft puffy newborn look to his face. His eyebrows were defiantly Emmanuel’s. His chin was from me. The lips could be either of us and the nose was one thousand per cent my Emmanuel’s side of the gene pool. I loved every tiny section. I stared at him and drank it all in. I cried over his body for the first of many times. The lines and wires attached to him were heavy. We had to hold them to keep them from pulling on his skin. Or worse coming off. It was always a two-person operation. I wouldn’t for a long time be able to hold my son by myself. I would always need someone or something helping me. That stung. I wasn’t going home with my baby to snuggle him in bed and lay him on my chest. I had to look at him lying in his plastic cot being kept here by things that I had no control over. It was going to be the start of a long journey and battle between my instinct to want to take him and hide him and to let the doctors and nurses care for him.

I looked at my Emmanuel and he looked back at me. We were a unit. Our son wrapped in his white dumbo the elephant blanket. His tiny mouth sucking on his dummy. We had a long road ahead of us. The fight harder than we thought and we were only just starting it.

Emmanuel lifted him from my arms and lay him back in his cot. The nurse came and helped him to place the lines and wires back correctly. He settled back down and quickly fell asleep. I left a square of fabric that I had kept with me and had worn in my bra. The fabric was placed next to our son’s head so he knew I was there even when I wasn’t. I cried so hard when I placed that little square next to his head. I felt like all the other mothers in the world have their babies next to them in a bassinet. I had to leave my baby with strangers in a sci-fi world of beeping machines. I could not take in what was happening. All I could see was his beautiful face. By now the Morphine had fully kicked in and I was floating on a drug high. I am glad that during the first week I had the painkillers to numb out reality. I don’t think I would have managed quite so well without them. Mentally and physically.

Alone To Recover

The nurses checked on me every half an hour after my C-section surgery. I was in a private room with a view across London. Emmanuel was with our baby. I was so alone at that moment. Yet I still felt full and happy, not sad. I felt like I had accomplished something. Something with a nine-month build up.

Emmanuel came to my room and gave me my phone. He had kept hold of it for me after Bethany (the Anaesthetist) had taken our wonderful birth photos for us. I had been alone with no phone for almost thirty minutes. I think that feeling was more bizarre than the numb legs were. He bowled into the room with the biggest grin on his face. He was a father. No matter what, from this point onwards he was a Daddy. I had had nine months to get used to the idea of having a baby every time I felt him kick. Emmanuel had this moment. It was written all over his face and his navy-blue scrubs. I am a Daddy. He looked like he might burst.

“How is he?” I asked.

“He’s good. The doctors are just sorting him out now.” He beamed at me with such joy, I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

“Go. Go be with him.” I would have pushed him out of the door if I could have.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“I’m fine. Just go.” I was again left alone.

I looked through the pictures on my phone. Seeing it all captured made me so happy. I zoomed in on Zach’s face, his wide-open screaming mouth. That beautiful squashy nose. In one picture his face was next to mine and his hand was reaching for me. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Then my phone pinged and Emmanuel sent through pictures of him now. His bottom half was tightly wrapped up in a hospital blanket. He was wearing a hat with a white and grey star print on it that I had picked out as his first outfit, He didn’t need the baby-grow that matched as he was on a heated bed. His chest had three little wires attached to it with different coloured sticky pads, a red, a green and a yellow. These were to measure his heart. But I didn’t know that at the time. I barely saw them. I just saw his face. His beautiful fluffy new-born face. My son.

My parents had booked a hotel room in London near to the hospital. As soon as we gave the go-ahead for them to visit, they appeared in my room in a nanosecond. Armed with a gorgeous teddy and a card. It was so surreal to see them there. I had just briefly met my son and now my parents were about to as well. They came to me at my bedside, because of course I couldn’t move, and gave me hugs. I told them right away to go and meet their grandson. It didn’t take much convincing before they left to go and find him.

Again, I was alone. A nurse came in and took my blood pressure and observed my bleeding. Which involves lifting the sheet to peek at you and see if you are bleeding on to the giant pad sheets.  At the time I did not care a dot. Looking back, it was really humiliating. I asked when I could go and see my baby. As soon as you can get into a wheelchair was the answer. Over the next hour and a half, I sat there trying to wiggle my toes and get my legs to move enough to be able to get into a wheelchair. They offered me morphine and I accepted. Anything to make it easier to get off this bed and into that chair. By 3.30pm just over two hours after I had been stitched up, I was calling the nurse.

“I can do it. I can get in the chair.” I was so determined that I didn’t care if I actually felt ready or not. She wheeled in a chair with a humiliation pad on it. And a big sheet to wrap around me so that I wasn’t flashing my butt to everybody through the back of the chair.

I used every piece of strength I had to heave myself into that seat. I could move my legs but not properly. I was using my arms to get off the bed and closer to the wheel chair, closer to him. I stood one foot on the ground and lifted, exposing my naked back to the nurses. I did not care. I swung around and placed my butt down into the seat.  Leaving my remaining leg to drag behind me, with some effort I managed to pull it across and into the footrest. The nurses wrapped the sheet around the chair. I was so happy with myself that I ignored the pain in my abdominal region. I pushed it away like a leaf down a sticky stream of mud. It was not going to stop me seeing my son.

My dad came to wheel me over to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I gleefully joked with him about Mario Kart driving as we whizzed past the rooms and receptions of each ward. We passed the lifts that separated the mothers from their babies. A wall between us. Soon, so soon, I was outside the room where he was. Emmanuel came out to meet me and to wheel me in. My wound was throbbing now. The morphine hardly touching the edges of the pain, but it was certainly making me high. I didn’t realise at the time but the morphine and the dihydrocodeine were making me feel giddy. I was a little bit ‘away with the fairies.’

I was ready. A nurse held the door open for us and I was pushed inside a softly lit room filled with four baby beds. I was about to meet my son, properly. To hold him in my arms for the first time. To look into his face, to hold his hand and whisper his name.