*This is another post in an ongoing series. Scroll all the way down or click to part I to get to the beginning.
Right outside the double doors the charge nurse introduced herself. She guided me through a winding path of at least sterile-looking hospital hallways. Now was as good a time as any, “Can I get a new mask?”
“Of course,” she said, stopping at a counter and getting me one and several tissues. I pulled my mask away and took a peek at the inside, not a pretty sight.
I followed the charge nurse to a pod. Each baby in the NICU we were walking into stays in a pod, not a room necessarily, but more like a cubicle with walls nearly to the ceiling. We walked the length of the NICU, took a left and there was London, skinny, vented, cleaned, and holding on. The doctors kept telling me she was receiving surfactant, which is a mixture of fat and proteins made in the lungs, but preemies are often born before their lungs can produce enough surfactant. The mixture coats the alveoli, or air sacs in the lungs, and this prevents the alveoli from sticking together when the baby exhales. A nurse said London’s lungs were like a hardened sponge right now, not ready for life outside the womb.
I stood there for five to ten minutes, all the while an occasional nurse and doctor would tell me about what they are doing or what they plan on doing. I did not retain that much. I was just locked to my daughter and I was in sort of an emotionless state, unable to fully register the last six hours. I was thinking enough to take my phone out and snap a picture of her. I was hesitant to get close. I had the same feeling I had earlier in the OR, stepping up to the bedside and taking a picture of London meant I was getting closer to her. I was letting my guard down. I was starting to realize that five and a half months ago we embraced the idea of creating a life we ultimately had no control over. The unknown and deeply frightening future belonging to my daughter was coming into sharp focus. I took two quick pictures. London with a full head of hair turned to her left, eyes fused shut, gaping mouth with the endotracheal tube snaking out of it, monitors on her chest, blood pressure cuff and pulse ox on right arm, umbilical chord clamped shut, plastic covering her lower body to keep it humid, and a nurse’s blue-gloved hand holding her legs down. I said a quick prayer when I took the picture, please God, do not let this be the only picture I get to take of her.
Sometime later, the team was prepping London to place a peripherally inserted central catheter or PICC line and an umbilical catheter. They told me it was a good time to go check on Kate because they would be working for a while. I thought that sounded great. I took a picture of London’s pod number, “Pod 3, 423,” not knowing if I would be able to find my way back or if I would need that information later on. I started stepping away from the pod and realized I had no clue where Kate was now. Someone took me to a room, which looked like it was used to just house patients in limbo who might be fresh out of surgery and do not have a room to go to. There were four hospital beds and four curtains, but none of them were drawn. Kate was the only patient there. She looked great to me because she was still here, conscious, and strong, but she looked amazingly tired, which is to be expected. I know I looked like hell. We chatted about London and where she was placed in the NICU, what they were doing to her, her weight and height. 2 lbs, 6oz and 14.75 inches long.