As we settled into the NICU routine we started to accustom ourselves to the environment there. The NICU is a far cry from a nursery (pun intended), but one thing we noticed right away were the noises. They came from everywhere. Every preemie is on a monitor and every monitor has the potential to make some very loud, annoying beeps. The NICU we were in can hold somewhere around 50 babies. Combined with the beeps from the monitors, the cries, the noises from the staff and the visiting families, there really is no quiet time in the NICU.
London’s monitor alone made four different noises. Right away, you learn to fear and hate the beep for a brady (short for bradycardia) when the baby’s heart slows and blood flow decreases, followed by dropping oxygenation levels. The noise itself leaves no room for peace. I suppose that is the goal. It gets everyone’s attention and makes you want to hit all the monitors in the place with a golf club. Good thing I am not a NICU nurse. It took a while to get used to the bradys. They sound like a horrible thing, and they can be, believe me, but bradys are quite common for preemies. London bradied quite a bit. Occasionally we had to rub her on the back a little bit to get her to snap out of it, but most of the time she climbed right back up into a normal range without any stimulation. There were days when London barely bradied at all, but then there were the horrible days where every baby in our corner of the NICU seemed to have made a pact to all brady at the same time or take turns. Like I said, a parent gets used to it, but you don’t quite realize how normal the bradys can become until you have visitors and your baby bradys while they are there. The visitors looked way more concerned than we did after a while, especially if they are in healthcare and are used to taking care of adults.
The noise for when the baby goes apneic, or stops breathing temporarily, is slightly different than the brady noise. Don’t worry though, when you hear it you will still want to jump out of your seat and break the monitor over your knee while simultaneously appreciating the notification that your daughter is not breathing. London did not have many apneic episodes and, when she did, they were mostly false alarms. The monitor would tell me London’s breathing at 2 breaths per minute, but her oxygenation was at 99. Note: just get clarification from your nurses about the quirkiness of the particular monitor your child is hooked up to.
The most common noise we heard from our monitor is for desaturation, aka desat, meaning there is a low blood oxygen concentration. London struggled with chronic lung disease throughout her NICU stay, so she desated a lot. Some days the alarm seemed like it was always on and the nurse would have to come into our pod every five to ten minutes to silence the alarm or tweak London’s ventilator settings. Not as alarming as the brady beep, but the desat beep had a way to bore itself into my brain. I would here it in a song on the drive back home from the NICU. I would hear it in my sleep. I would hear it come from the TV. It sends a strong message that your child is not oxygenating like she should be. It does not let you forget and it never leaves your head as long as you have a baby in the NICU.
The last noise is really the only happy noise your baby’s monitor makes. It’s a gentle beep that notifies those around your child that she is oxygenating very well, with levels around 98-100. If this is the case, then the oxygen can be titrated down to see if your baby continues to oxygenate well on a lower flow. For us, this noise was the rarest, but toward the end of London’s NICU stay we did start to hear it a little more often.
The main takeaway from this post: the NICU monitors are always making noise. Some are deeply alarming and others you shrug off after a few weeks. How do I know this? Because after a while the only alarm that could wake me up out of a little nap in London’s pod was the brady beep. In fact, the other noises can lull you into a little nap when you are stretched out in the recliner next to your baby’s pod. And then, BAM, a brady alarm makes sure you don’t get too comfortable.