Listening to: Blue Lines and Mezzanine - Massive Attack
Continuing the 'ago' theme. Still a few more to come in this series Charlotte turned six months old a couple of weeks ago. Here she is at about 15 hours old.
It's not that it has taken six months for me to be able to write about this, or that I couldn't find the words until now, but merely that this marker post seems appropriate. I wanted also to have something written down was it was still reasonably fresh.
If asked to name the worst day of my life, I always struggle, not for lack of candidates, but with how worst is defined exactly. One of those candidates followed right after one of the contenders for best. Charlotte was born just on September 24th before 1am on a dark and windy night. I remember the wind battering the delivery suite window as I held her for the first time, and blowing me into parked cars when I ventured out to get a clothing bag. Through the rest of the day we had our one day of perfection, the three of us recovering from the night before, and Fi and I getting to know our little girl.
The next day was different. After being transferred overnight to the Neo Natal ICU, just before lunch I was well into worst moment if not worst day of my life contention, as I looked at my little girl boxed up in a portable incubator, crying out for attention but not able to hear us let alone feel our touch. She was just about to be wheeled into the operating theatre, where I knew they were going to cut her open and fix her insides. This had to be done, and the alternative if nothing was done did not bear consideration, but that didn't make the moment any easier. And then they wheeled her away, and there was nothing to do but wait. Things were completely out of our hands and what would be would be. I remembered that the 25th of September was my friend Michelle's birthday and that she had taken the day off to celebrate. I hoped her day was going better than mine.
Adding to the stress of the operation was that Fi did not yet have a bed in Wellington, a situation that took a few hours and tears. We were all tired and stressed, but Fi was simply exhausted, having given birth 24 hours or so beforehand. Finally we were accomodated in the family suite of Ronald McDonald house to wait out the surgery.
The waiting took a few hours, and then finally we were rewarded with that made for TV moment when a surgeon still wearing his scrubs told us that the operation had gone as well as could be expected, and now it was just a matter of recovery. We got to see her a few minutes later, a floppy little lump wired up with monitors, and laden with needles and tubes. And also sedated and paralysed, to give her new connections a chance to stabilise and take. She was out for five days, during which time we were advised not to even stroke her to limit the amount of stimulation she was exposed to. We made do with gently palming her head and holding her hands. We had had family in attendance for most of the day, and with the worst part over and Fi finally getting a bed on a ward we had a few friends in to visit as well. The support was invaluable. Richard took me out to tea on the way home (thanks dude!) and I could finally start decompressing. I came back into town later that night for netball, to try and sweat out some more of the day. I ran into more friends, and shared the good and the not so good stories of the past couple of days. I was a shambles in the game, but it felt good to be doing something other than waiting. Dave bought me a beer afterward, another small thing I hugely appreciated.
Having a daughter in the ICU soon became normal. I would go in for an hour or so after work every day, with Fi in there most of the day and other family members being in there a lot of the time as well. Knowing which floor to go to in the lift, the hand sanitisation, getting to know the various nurses, the noises and smells of the ICU, seeing other babies come and go (or stay) all became routine. We got good at reading the telemetry on Charlottes monitor.
I've been told I was very pragmatic through the whole thing. Honestly though it didn't occur to me to be any other way. It wouldn't have helped, and sometimes you just have to get on with things.
The recovery process was a set of milestones. Once Charlotte was doing A, she could then move on to B, then C, until finally she could come home. She came off the sedation after about 5 and a half days, and we got to see her moving again. Carefully we could remove her from her incubator and hold her. It was always a chore to ensure we didn't tangle any wires. She didn't cry, and couldn't with a feeding tube down her throat. Her voice was merely a hoarse whisper.
While a place of healing, we quickly started using prison terminology when referring to Charlottes abode, talking about the big house, and telling her we would spring her out eventually.
The progress steps were small but steady, first taking small amounts of milk through the tube, and steadily increasing them until the tube was no longer necessary. Charlotte then had to be taught how to suck and swallow, since although nearly two weeks old, they weren't skills she had had to employ yet. She would alternate between breast and bottle, which was a learning process for both mother and baby.
She had gradually been shedding accesories like the chest drain, feeding tube, foot canula and blood oxygen monitor. Finally on October 11 the last wires came off and Charlotte could be moved more than a few feet from her bed.
After that it was only a matter of time (which it was all along) before she was released to come home. She finally left the ward on October 13th, 20 days after being born, and only 4 days after her scheduled due date, which is about when she would have got home anyway if everything had gone to plan.
It felt good, and it felt right.
Here is Charlotte at six months, not quite perfect in every way, but close enough.