How I Handled the Stress of that Day
I was under the impression my lovely wife would write this entire series, but I’ve been asked to do this part. After wiping away the tears produced during her work on part 2, she started to consider this one and realized, it’s all a blur really. So since I seem to have the best recollection of it, you’re stuck with a switched perspective and my long winded approach to writing.
While I tend to react emotionally to things in day to day life, during times of crisis I operate in matter-of-fact mode. I’ve often said my calling should have been to deal with triage situations. I’m horrible at maintaining things on a daily basis where sensitive or delicate communication is required, but in those moments when everything is falling apart, I am able to make snap decisions, communicate clearly, and not panic.
As we handled the week’s events almost all my decisions were based on trying to keep the best interest of my wife in mind. Many people might have found me cold or calloused, and I likely came across that way many times. I did my best to turn off every emotion while processing information in order to make decisions and then left the results of those decisions up to God. Falling apart, for me, came years later. While there were a few tears, it was literally years before I actually felt like I stepped out of that triage mode, in terms of our life with Isaiah.
When I pushed the doctor on Monday for her best educated analysis and found out she fully expected us to lose the baby by Friday (see part 2), I made the decision to pack everything away. If the baby made it, I’d help get it back out. If he didn’t, I didn’t want my wife to have to face packing it all up after he was gone. Friday, when offered with a choice to either go home and let nature takes its course, or give Deb shots of steroids and go to the hospital, my first question was: “What are all the potential risks for her if we choose steroids?” Every decision for me was calculated. How effectively is up for debate, but it’s where I was. I functioned by trying to be disconnected emotionally.
Arriving at the Hospital
As we parked the vehicle and walked into the emergency room entrance I was operating in that same survival mode. We checked in at the desk and it became clear they had been waiting for us. A wheel chair was brought around, Deb took a seat, and we were escorted to a room up a couple floors.
Even today, parts of remembering that afternoon arriving at the hospital are like a movie to me. Deb got into a gown and into bed. They did the typical baby delivery stuff. Putting mom/baby on a heart and contraction monitor, putting her clothes away, getting insurance information, and asking a slew of questions about the last time she ate, and how she was feeling. The familiar stuff ended there. It then transitioned into uncharted territory for us as they started asking questions about things important for surgery. Had she had surgery before? When? Is she allergic to anything? The questions seem to keep coming and then there were the release forms. “We’ll get these out of the way just in case we have to take you into surgery quick, for now we’re just getting prepared.” They tried to keep us calm.
I started making phone calls letting a limited number of family members know what was going on. Since my mother was attending a funeral that day, I asked my sister if she would bring up my laptop, spare clothes and a few other things. I let her know Deb was going to be in the hospital for awhile and I wasn’t leaving her side. Our two sons at home (one was 17 and the other just 5) could stay with Grandma and would be well taken care of, my focus was my wife and my unborn baby.
Then something about a biophysical came up. A biophysical test includes a non-stress test with electronic fetal heart monitoring and a fetal ultrasound. The test measures the baby’s heart rate, muscle tone, movement, breathing, and the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the test is like 20 or 30 minutes in duration. The scoring is from 0 to 10, with 10 being perfect, and 0 being… well much less than desirable. Isaiah scored a 2.
After that the activity in and out of the room intensified. There was no panic so at the time we had no idea of the severity of the situation. But a flow of people kept coming and going, two and three people at a time. The doctor managed to come in and meet us and leave again without raising any alarms. When the nurse came in with an electric razor, it finally hit me. “How soon are they planning to take her in?” I asked.
“Well, the baby isn’t doing so well, so we’re just getting her ready. It will be a little bit yet.” The nurse said.
“How long is a little bit, should I call and tell family to come, or will it be hours, or…”
“It will probably be 15 minutes or so.”
With that the gravity of the situation hit like a Mack truck and Deb looked at me with a look that said she was scared to death. “Can I have my phone to call…” She wanted to call a gal from the church and have her get people praying. At the same time I called my sister to let her know, “They’re taking the baby.”
As we were on the phone the people in the room seemed to keep multiplying, as did the flurry of activity. The phone conversations we each had were short and to the point. No more than three minutes had passed when we got off the phone and they were already gearing up to slide Deb from the bed to the gurney.
They wheeled Deb out, the last nurse stepped back in, dropped a set of scrubs on the couch and said, “I’ll be back for you in a few minutes.”
After what was likely the shortest 15 minutes I’d ever experienced in my life, I was left alone in the room. I prayed as I reached down for the clothes.
I’ve never really minded the scrubs, I found them pretty comfortable. But as part of the garb to deal with a delivery room, specifically c-section delivery, you have to put on those stupid face masks. I get the purpose, but the result is my glasses fog up constantly, which is annoying. Down the hall and into a room that seemed like a closet, I was made to scrub from finger tips to elbows.
When I walked into the operating room, the doctor’s back was to me as he was hunched over Deb. Two nurses assisted across from him. Another stood by Deb’s head. One glance at the suction machine to my left as I walked in told me they had already opened her up. I stepped over it, and moved close to my wife.
There was a short divider put up by Deb’s chest and I had to be purposeful not to look over it. It was what stood between my wife and I and the work being done. “You alright?” I kept asking her.
Deb was trembling. Shaking. That probably sticks out more clearly than just about anything else. Eight years later, as I write this, I can still feel the trembling.
“Yeah.” She said. “You?”
I smiled, and assured her I was good. The nurse at her head informed us that the shaking can be from the spinal block she was given for surgery. Even explained, the shaking seemed to make the fear in Deb’s face really stick out.
At one point the doctor said something like, “Hey look at that.” He clearly wasn’t talking to me, but I made the mistake of standing up and looking. A visual of what’s on the interior of my wife’s beautiful exterior wasn’t something I was fully prepared for.
“That was stupid.” I said as I lowered back down.
It was Deb who was asking if I was okay at that point.
“Fine.” I reassured her.
“It’s a boy.”, the doctor finally said and he held up Isaiah for a split second. I don’t think it could have even been a full second. There was no welcoming squawking or crying heard from my infant son before he was promptly handed off to another person.
I watched the nurse, or doctor, whatever she was, whisk through another door with my son. To the right of that door was a glass window, and it was the first time since I’d arrived that I noticed an entire team of people were standing on the other side of that glass.
After a little bit a doctor came out from that other room and leaned over to me, “Would you like to see the baby?”
I looked at the window and back to my wife.
“Go.” Deb said. “I’m fine.”
Isaiah’s Fight on the Outside Begins
I left her side, stepping over the plastic suction tube again, and was lead into the next room. The doctor stood next to me saying, “I was supposed to be off, but thought I’d stay and help.” Which seems random to me as I look back on it, but I think she was trying to distract me. Isaiah wasn’t breathing yet. They had a heart rate, but it was weak and fading. They were trying to get tubes in him, and suction out his lungs.
Isaiah was only 25 weeks and 2 days gestation. His skin was translucent. What time he’d spent in the womb wasn’t great development time because of the problems with the placenta. His head, and body were no bigger than two hands held side by side. Because of his tiny size, he disappeared as five pairs of hands worked to connect leads, sensors and tubes. One pair of hands was breathing for him with a hand respirator. They fired up a heat lamp to keep him warm.
The doctor kept talking to me, spitting out all kinds of information that is just a blur now. I stood there watching them work on his small lifeless body for a while and just kept watching the monitors as they got them hooked up. He wasn’t moving, but the monitors were. Ten adult hands worked on that little body, and I don’t recall them ever stumbling over each other. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as I journalized about the event later I found that reality amazing.
I stuck around feeling worthless long enough to see that his heartbeat was now stablizing. The doctor mentioned, “He’s doing as well as to be expected at this point. We’ll get him stable and then move him over to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)”. As I watched the doctors work on Isaiah, it was my wife who was absorbing my minds eye. She was laying in the next room shaking. Riddled with fear no doubt. Would her son make it?
I couldn’t do a thing for Isaiah, and whether he lived or died, my wife would still be here, looking to me for support. I couldn’t stand there and leave her alone. “I can’t do anything for him. Let me know before you move him, I’ll be with my wife.” And with that I left the room and returned to Deb’s side.
“How is he?” Were the first words from her mouth, of course. I had no clue. I knew he had a strong heartbeat and that he was doing as well as to be expected, but what did that mean? I couldn’t spit out the facts. He was in the next room with a tube down his throat and a woman breathing for him. He had four to five people working on him doing who knows what with wires running everywhere. ”He’s doing fine”, I said, “just relax, everything is fine.” Her shaking continued.
The Wish to be in Two Places at Once
The doctors were still digging around in Deb’s abdomen. For the six months Deb had been carrying Isaiah, we thought she had cancer. The doctor who did the emergency c-section read that in the report and had taken the opportunity to do a little exploring. Looking for the enlarged lymph nodes that were noted in her chart.
“Yeah and I’m really not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Did they say where they thought the cancer was?” She told him. “I’m just not seeing anything.” With that, he started putting her back together, and the conversation over my wife’s body turned to golf and vacation.
As the conversation changed and the mood lifted, the seriousness of what was going on started to settle in again. What had been all business and contained chaos, had shifted to a relaxed, casual environment. In the next room they were in the other place, fighting to manage the crisis.
Once my wife was closed up and they were ready to move her to recovery, they had asked me if I wanted to stay with the baby or go with Deb. I asked when they would move him.
“When he’s stable we’ll take him over to the NICU.”
When he’s stable. The words echoed around in my head. “Come and get me when they are ready to move him please.”
I spent a little time with my wife in recovery, and when the woman showed up to let me know the baby was being moved, I looked at Deb without saying anything and she said, “Go. I don’t want him to be alone. I’m fine.” I gave the nurse instructions as to who was allowed to come in the recovery room. My mom was on the way up and I wanted her in the room with Deb as quickly as possible, I didn’t want to leave her alone if I didn’t have to.
They rolled Isaiah in a little while later. I think from birth to when they were ready to move him it was a little more than an hour. That’s quite a while it took to stabilize him I thought.
Acting on Deb’s request, I walked the tunnel underground from Abbott-Northwestern to Children’s Hospital with Isaiah. My job then was essentially to stand idly by as they transitioned him to an Isolette where he would live for a while. The Isolette is basically an incubator which regulates temp, humidity and oxygen.
They had finished settling him in. He would have one-to-one care until he was out of the NICU. A nurse would always be right next to him. Finally, more than two hours after delivery, my wife was wheeled in to see him, reuniting mother and baby.
Side Note: There is no possible way I could express the emotions felt that day, or in the reliving of it while writing this post. If you’re reading this as you are walking through something similar, know you’re not the first person to deal with the unexplainable emotions you’re feeling. It will get easier, but there is no way to speed the process. Just surround yourself with people who care about you and hold on.
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