Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Defining Moment

Based on a true story
As her parents' car pulled into her driveway, she was filled with equal parts fear and joy. When her husband burst out the front door the joy filled her. She was home. It was an incredible feeling to be back in his arms. But as he reached in the car to pull out the carseat with their son, the fear returned.

Amy had just spent a week at her parents' house convalescing after getting out of the hospital with an uterine infection. The last month had been a whirlwind. She had a very hard and scary delivery. Although there was some fear if the baby would live, he pulled through with only jaundice to remain a concern. Then a week later Amy got sick and had to go back in the hospital. All this time, John was trying to attend seminars for his Ph.D. By the time Amy got home from the hospital, they were both exhausted and spent. Amy's mom came for a visit and immediately saw that John needed some time to catch up in his studies and Amy needed rest and help with caring for the baby. She promptly packed them all up and drove Amy and the baby home with her. It had been a wonderful week of pampering for Amy. Her father worked next door so he was able to be around and check on her regularly. Sam, the baby, slept in her parents' room and her mom attended his needs in the night. Amy quickly regained her strength.

Now, as they stood in the driveway, Amy knew her mom had to leave and couldn't stay. She was scared. What if she couldn't do this on her own? As if sensing the terror within Amy, John slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. He whispered in her ear, "We are going to be fine. You are not alone." In that moment she was able to let go of the fear and say goodbye to her mom.

That evening after dinner, John had to return to the library to finish studying for a huge seminar the next morning. Sam became fussy and seemed uncomfortable. Amy tried to feed him but he wouldn't nurse. He seemed to have a stuffy nose and trouble breathing. She called her girlfriend and asked what to do. The girlfriend talked Amy through how to take a baby's temperature. Sam had a fever of 100. Her girlfriend reassured her that that was okay, but to check with the doctor in the morning. Amy rocked and held Sam until he fell asleep.

The next morning after a fitful night for Sam and Amy, she called the doctor's office and was informed she couldn't be seen until 10:30 that morning. In some ways that reassured her that everything was okay. Babies get colds and there was no reason to worry. John didn't want Amy to go alone to the doctor's office, but he couldn't miss another seminar. She reassured him that it was okay, probably just a cold and drove away.

She entered the brightly decorated pediatrician's office loaded down with the diaper bag of a new mother. As they sat waiting, she noticed a long window looking into the office area. She saw Dr. Brown and they smiled at each other. Then Dr. Brown seemed to get upset and became very busy behind the glass. People started rushing around as if an emergency had occured. Amy wondered what that was about as they called Sam's name.

The nurse was chatty as she ushered Amy and Sam into the exam room and took his vitals. She asked the normal questions of why they were here and what concerns did Amy have. Shortly the doctor came through the door all smiles. She asked several questions as she looked over Sam. She took off his diaper and asked if Amy had noticed a discharge before. Amy said no. Then timidly, Amy asked, "I feel stupid asking this, but I feel like Sam is more lethargic today. Is that possible?" "Yes," the doctor said, "he has a fever and just like adults he becomes lethargic when he is ill." Dr. Brown then excused herself to go check something and left leaving the door cracked open.

Amy redressed Sam, swaddled him, and held him close. As she walked around the tiny exam room, she could faintly hear the doctor. "Yes, you need to meet your wife at the hospital. She will go straight up and I need you to go check them in." Amy murmured to Sam, "Oh, poor mom and child, they are having to go the hospital. How awful! I hope it is not serious." And Amy continued walking and swaying to soothe Sam.

Dr. Brown returned with a lady she introduced as Maggie, her office manager. She informed Amy that Maggie was going to walk her and Sam underground to the hospital. "Amy, Sam is very sick. He is going into shock and we need to get him attended to right away." Amy seemed to take this information in stride. She loaded up her diaper bag, handed it to Maggie and off they went.

On the way, Maggie chatted and cooed at Sam. Amy got no sense of urgency and still did not realize what was ahead. They entered the elevator and went to the sixth floor, the pediatric floor. When the elevator opened, Amy's life changed forever. There awaiting their arrival were four nurses and a doctor. They immediately took Sam out of Amy's arms and rushed him into a room. Amy crumbled. It was in that instant that she knew. She had felt it in the pit of her stomach, in the bottom of her heart. Her baby was ill. Until that moment, she hadn't been able to give voice to that truth. Amy suddenly realized there were arms wrapped around her as she sat on the floor. Maggie and another lady were holding her. The hospital had arranged for a chaplain to be there for Amy. The fear became even more extreme. Eventually they got her to a chair and she began mumbling that she needed to call John. Maggie said the doctor had already called him and he was downstairs. It then dawned on Amy that the conversation she overheard was about her and Sam. The tears began streaming down her cheeks.

Suddenly behind the doors she heard the shrieks of her baby boy. It felt as if someone had ripped her heart out. She started for the door but Maggie and the chaplain restrained her saying she had to let them do their jobs. Amy began wailing that she needed to see her son. The elevator opened and John rushed out. Amy ran to him and they clung to each other as they watched the door. John demanded more information. And finally the chaplain went into the treatment room to get a nurse. The nurse came and explained what they were doing. She went over the list of tests and treatments they were doing on Sam. But Amy's mind couldn't comprehend a word she said. Because her heart was inside that room. All she knew was that she needed her baby in her arms immediately. She needed to protect her baby from whatever was wrong. But she couldn't. She had to sit outside the door and wait.

It seemed like days before the door opened and the nurse came out holding Sam. He was swaddled again with tubes coming out all over his body. She gently laid him in Amy's outstretched arms. Amy brought him to her heart and kissed the tears away from his cheeks. Amy began to realize that they had been ushered into a room with a crib and rocker. She continued to grasp her son not wanting to let go. Within the hour Dr. Brown came into the room to tell Amy and John what was going on.

"Sam has an infection. In babies, we often don't know where the infection begins only where it is at the time we find it. Infections travel quickly through babies' systems and are very dangerous. We did several tests and discovered Sam has an urinary tract infection. This is very uncommon in babies, and what makes it more uncommon is Sam being male. We are giving him IV antibiotics and fluids. He was dehydrated when you came in. He was in the beginning stages of shock. His system was getting ready to shut down. Amy, I know your milk has been drying up since you were in the hospital, but I need you to try to get it back. The nurses will be bringing you tubs of juice, water, whatever fluids you can drink. I need you to drink a lot. Your milk has what this little guy needs right now. Okay?"

Amy numbly nodded her head. She struggled to grasp all that the doctor was saying. Sam almost died today. This mantra played over and over in her head.

"Because Sam is so small and young, he will have to stay in the hospital for a ten day treatment with antibiotics," Dr. Brown continued. "You need to take care of each other. You must get sleep. We can't have either of you getting sick now."

John asked several more questions as the mantra got louder in Amy's head. Then they shook Dr. Brown's hand and she left. The rest of that day and the next were a blur for Amy. She drank, slept, nursed, held, rocked and cried. She and John tried to take turns at the hospital, but with her needing to nurse, Amy needed to be there most of the time. Sam's fever seemed to rise instead of fall. There was quite a bit of concern over this. On the second or third night, Amy was in the room alone with Sam. She had nursed him but he still seemed to be hungry, so she buzzed the nurse and got a bottle of formula. Sam sucked it down with intensity. Afterwards he was still fussy and still making the mewling sounds and motions of a hungry baby. Amy tried the pacifier but to no avail. Finally she called the nurse back and they decided to try a bottle of water. Immediately Sam sucked that down, and was still fussy. Amy tried to change positions in her arms when Sam's little hand fell out of the blanket with the IV line. When she looked down she noticed that his hand was swollen to two times the size. She quickly called out to the nurse who came running. The IV needle had slipped and fluid was filling Sam's hand. He was not hungry, he was in pain. The nurse quickly called for help and they went about fixing it. But Amy couldn't handle it. She left the room and found a corner to sit and sob. A different nurse found her there and sat down on the floor with her and held her as she cried out her sorrow and fear.

Slowly she made her way back into Sam's room. There in the lamplight sat the little Canadian nurse holding Sam tightly to her chest while tears slipped down her cheeks. She looked up as Amy came in the room and said, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Amy rushed to her side and hugged her while they both cried.

It would take years for Amy to return to this time in her life. Sam had several other "episodes" with illness, and so did Amy. But the defining moment for Amy was the day the nurses and doctor took Sam out of her arms and away from her. In that moment she realized she could no longer protect her son from everything in this world. Now Sam is going out into the world on his own. And just like that long ago day, he takes Amy's heart with him.

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