Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Who are the people in your neighbourhood?

It was a happy day when Benjamin moved into the Level II NICU (June 6). That nursery is full of relatively stable babies, just doing their best to grow and learn enough to go home. The babies are much less prone to tripping their alarms and their cries are usually cries of hunger rather than cries of distress. It's much quieter than the Level I NICU, where alarms are constantly blaring, where new babies are admitted and intubated and where they sometimes have surgery, where the cries are cries of panic and discomfort because who cares about eating when you've been snatched away from your mother and don't even know how to breathe yet.

We loved the calm feeling of Level II the minute we walked through the doors. We were even more happy to see that our neighbouring baby was Jack. We met Jack's parents at our first Tuesday Pizza Support Group. They'd already been in the NICU for six weeks and were sitting, completely relaxed, chatting to everyone like it was totally no big deal.

We'd just been admitted and I had just gotten through holding my baby the second time since being discharged from American Fork Hospital. We were sitting rigidly in our chairs and I'm sure we still had shocked expressions glued to our faces. But Jack's parents shared their story and listened to ours and assured us that the doctors and nurses do a fabulous job and that it doesn't last forever—they were getting ready to go home soon (at long last).

When I saw Jack beside us, I was glad that I'd get to know his mother a little better because she seemed so nice. But then, that very day, our first day in Level II, Jack went home. I was happy for his family but kind of sad for us.

After a few days of vacancy I began to wonder who our new neighbours would be. We've met a lot of interesting people in the NICU. A girl I used to work with at the Harold B. Lee Library is there, just across from us, with her twins (who are a couple of days older than Benjamin but a couple of weeks ahead, gestationally). There's a Spanish-speaking family who is just great and who I admire so much. I told the mother so, with help of her daughter. I know what it's like to have a baby in a hospital and not understand what any of the nurses are saying...but my baby was never in the NICU and I got to take her home after just 24-hours. That mom is my hero for holding it together in the NICU while trying to cross a language barrier. I'm not sure I could do it.

We've met a lot of great people. I was hoping to have some of those great people as neighbours. Alas...

We went in one night and saw a sweet baby boy next door. We'll call him DJ.

After partitioning off our little cubicle with our curtains, DJ's parents showed up. We recognized the father's voice as one who had been ranting at nurses and the hospital social worker earlier that day. He was still ranting about things—mostly the baby's inability to eat. The lactation consultant, who is the most amazing lactation consultant I've ever met, was trying to work with them and he kept telling her that she was wrong about...everything.

"The baby's asleep! He needs to wake up! Son—wake up!" the father would say.

"Oh, he's not sleeping. He's focusing. You can tell because of his heart rate," the LC would assure him.

"No—he's sleeping. See how his eyes are closed? What are you, an idiot?!"


I guess they were using a bottle because they could see how much milk he had to take in order to finish his feeding but he wasn't drinking it. He was just tired of trying and was taking a break and the LC was coaxing him to finish.

"Come on, little DJ," she said. "Go ahead and take a big gulp!"

"Oh, I can make him eat," the father said. "I'm his father and he should recognize my authority." Then he gruffly commanded, "Son—finish your milk!"

Andrew and I looked at each other with eyebrows raised. Was this guy for real?

We were quite happy when their son had finished his milk because then they left for the night, so that I could wrangle Benjamin at the breast in peace...while he drank nothing. But we praised him for trying so hard.

The next morning was Saturday and the girls had come to peek at Benjamin through the window. Andrew took them to the parents' room, leaving me to do Benjamin's cares by myself. I had changed his diaper and taken his temperature and had just settled into the rocking chair to give another go at nursing when DJ's family walked in again.

"I thought I told you to get this *bleeping*bleeping* crap off of my kid!" DJ's father yelled.

Yes. He yelled in the NICU. And why he said "crap" after *bleeping*bleeping* is beyond me. He could have just *bleeped* another time, if you know what I mean. But I suppose he was trying to...tone things down?

He was upset about the NG tube and all the other wires connecting DJ to monitors and things. In his mind it was "pure laziness!" The nurses were guilty because they were feeding DJ with the gavage instead of holding him and giving him a bottle. The mother was guilty because she wasn't trying hard enough to breastfeed or to bond with their child—after all, she hadn't bonded with their other son...who is only 10 months old and was also a premie. The baby was guilty because he wasn't trying hard enough to finish his gosh darn milk! They needed to get that tube out of his nose and start feeding him properly.

The nurse tried explaining that, developmentally, the baby was doing well but that it didn't have the energy to take all of his feedings orally, which is why the NG tube was in place.

"Okay, you're done!" the father yelled at her. "You're fired! Get away from my kid! I don't want to see you here again. Go on! I just fired you—you can leave!"

It was around this time that he realized that maybe, just maybe, the curtains were soundproof. He grabbed the curtain and yanked it around to conceal DJ's cubicle.

Unfortunately, the curtain he yanked was the one shared between our cubicle and theirs (and it was not soundproof). The curtains in the NICU are L-shaped, so if they're all closed they look like this (from a bird's eye): LLLLL. They make lovely little rooms. However, the nurses like the curtains open when parents aren't in with their babies, so if your neighbour isn't in, you pull their curtain straight down, to make an I, so our room ended up looking like this: LI. When DJ's father yanked the curtain though he really sent it flying. It flew right around the corner, taking away one of my walls and conjoining our rooms, like this: L_|.

Remember that I was nursing my baby?

Now I was trying to use that baby as a human shield so that I did not expose myself to this man who looked irate enough to throw an isolette through the window. Oddly enough my 4 lbs. baby didn't work very well as a human shield. He's a little small for that. So, this man that I'd never met but already had grown to dislike immensely got a lovely view of my chest. I was not very pleased.

"I apologize, ma'am," he said, pulling the curtain closed a little bit, still leaving our rooms mostly conjoined but giving me enough privacy to unlatch the baby and cover up. I put Benjamin back in his bed and tiptoed out to the nurses to ask if I could have a divider put up between our "rooms."

"I realize you have a lot going on at the moment," I whispered, "But the curtain between our rooms isn't long enough and..."

"Oh, I will get you a divider right now!" the nurse said and dashed off to find one.

It wasn't my nurse because DJ's father had "fired" my nurse and she ran out of the NICU, very upset, and didn't come back until after he left. Rather, until after he was forcibly removed.

We had the head nurse in there, trying to smooth things over. And then security arrived. And then the director of the hospital showed up and asked the father to leave.

"I will not!" he said. "I am my child's guardian and protector and you will all do as I say. I am his father and I know what's best for him!"

"If you leave now," the hospital director informed him, "You will be free to wait in the lobby downstairs. If you do not cooperate you will be expelled from the entire hospital campus."

The man allowed himself to be escorted out by security and then the head nurse and hospital director went around doing damage control. The hospital director apologized to every parent in the room, which was nice of him. He assured me that they would do everything in their power to ensure the safety of our babies and families and asked if I had any concerns. I said that I did—and told him that I felt the father had been out of line the night before as well (yelling and threatening and the like).

As far as I know the man never set foot in the NICU again. Every time I went in to see Benjamin this week, I'd do a quick glance at the visitor's log while I was signing in to see if anyone had showed up to visit DJ. No one ever had but I always held my breath while walking into the NICU, worried that DJ's parents would be there, anyway. They never were.

Come to find out, they'd gone home. They live about two hours away from the hospital. They left on Monday morning—the father got to peek in through the window while the mother did DJ's cares on her own—and didn't come back until Saturday, when DJ was discharged. The nurses had done his 12-hour and 24-hour request using bottles, even though DJ's father was adamant that he would be breastfed. How, though, can you learn to breastfeed or teach your infant to breastfeed if you never breastfeed? I don't know. All I know is that when the nurse practitioner was getting their discharge orders ready she called the doctor to verify some instructions she thought would be confusing to the parents.

"These aren't the kind of people we need to confuse," she told the doctor.

Andrew and I looked at each other and kind of giggled. Because it's true.

Later, when they were collecting their son (well, when the mother was collecting their son since the father wasn't allowed back in the NICU) the nurse asked how breastfeeding was going.

"Oh, it's going good," said the mother. "He won't latch on or anything but I think it's going pretty good."

I see what the NP meant about not needing to confuse these people. And I don't know how the nurses ever said goodbye to that sweet, innocent baby, knowing that he would be going home with his father.

We were happy to see our neighbours move on, though I do feel bad for what that baby's home life must be like. I think his father was, hands down, the scariest person I've never met. 

We've had two neighbours since DJ went home but I think we're on our last neighbour now because our new neighbour is tiny and is still in an isolette, whereas our baby is comparably huge and is in a feeder-grower bed. We're soooo going to beat that baby out of there!

Now whenever Benjamin falls asleep while nursing, we whisper tenderly about how that's just "pure laziness" and remind him to "finish [his] milk!" And he's doing so well at finishing his milk, too—he got 13 mls last night before he fell asleep and lazed away while finishing his feeding via gavage. He's making such fabulous progress!


  1. Seriously?!?! As if you need anymore stress in the NICU! I'm very glad you don't have to deal with that anymore, and I hope that sweet baby is okay at home. Maybe the dad will calm down when things aren't as stressful? Maybe?

  2. I'm a little concerned that they have a 10 month old and another new baby. I guess the math checks out on that okay, but still. . .

    So happy to hear Benjamin is doing so well!

  3. Oh that poor baby. I hope everything works out for them.

    And I had to laugh when you said "we're soooo going to beat that baby out of there!" because everytime I said something like that in the NICU, it got completely turned around on me. Babies I thought for sure we'd beat home, we didn't. I learned quickly that Martin realized something and thought "Oh yeah mom? I'm in charge here! watch THIS" and do the opposite. He did it with everything.

    And I'm so glad you were able to go to the parent support group! I LOVED ours in the NICU, it was really where I made friends and connected with others who had been there. Still friends with a lot of them.

  4. I have to say that my heart goes out to the mother. She certainly married an *interesting* man.

  5. This is why I don't want to be a nurse any longer. Jerks like that completely ruin your confidence and your week! Everybody does their best in a stressful situation but it is no excuse for being rude. I'm glad that Benjamin is doing so well. It is stressful and exhausting sitting at a hospital waiting for a loved one to get better. Hope he goes home soon!

  6. We had some pretty crazy situations as well. Being downtown you got a more interesting population then I would have had if I'd stayed at the hospital out in the sticks where I live. Lots of drug babies and some contested custody issues. I also used to look at the sign in sheet to see if the crazies had come.
    Sad for that baby and the wife. Hope things work out for them. It was nice at Aylin's NICU that when she moved to feeders and growers she got her own room. It was awkward enough trying to nurse when the whole group of ten came in to round while I was thanks to other people being there as well. I always tried to be polite to the nurses and doctors, especially since my husband has all these crazy stories, but there was this one time when I had a major breakdown in a room full of everyone and told them I didn't like them anymore. The stress of NICU can really wear you down after awhile. I wonder how that couple was doing having to go through it a second time. My experience was awful enough that it's made me seriously question if I want to have a fifth and final child.

  7. Wow, my jaw dropped and my mouth hung open the whole time I was reading about his ranting. That is absolutely crazy! Poor little baby.

  8. I laughed out loud at this: Yes. He yelled in the NICU. And why he said "crap" after *bleeping*bleeping* is beyond me. He could have just *bleeped* another time, if you know what I mean. But I suppose he was trying to...tone things down?

    Wow, that was an intense story. And, like you, my heart just goes out to that mother and that child(ren)