Friday, May 11, 2012

Hospital Adventures

When my son was born our province was in the middle of a province-wide nurses strike.  Our little hospital was one of only two non-union hospitals in the entire province.  Every emergency case for miles around was ambulanced to us.  It made for interesting times during the 11 days my son and I were there waiting for him to gain enough weight to leave the hospital for home.  11 days of watching seriously injured folk from car accidents waiting on gurneys outside my maternity room door was daunting.  11 days of over worked, stressed out, nursing staff understandably created problems for everyone.

Normally my preemie son, bright purple at birth from the lack of oxygen that triggered his early arrival, would have been ambulanced to the city to a neo-natal unit, but the strike pre-empted that possibility and he had to stay in the ancient nursery of our little old hospital while we all hoped for the best.  God is good.  He survived not having the breathing apparatus he should have had for the first few days, the foot flicking technique of the nurses to try to keep him awake long enough to actually drink a few drops of milk, and 24 hours under the bilirubin lamp to take care of his bit of jaundice.

That child breathed, ate, and surivived the bilirubin lamp through the sheer force of his mother's will and his father's calm serenity.  We massaged his chest and back to make sure he was relaxed enough to breathe steadily. Oh, how we prayed. We did that for several days at regular intervals. He couldn't nurse at all and finally I told the nurses in no uncertain terms to forget it.  I was no longer going to fight with that process while my baby's weight continued to drop 24 hours post birth.  Once again screaming came in handy.  They brought his little layette crib into my room and there it stayed.  As long as he was with me I was quiet!!  Every hour for 2 days I massaged his throat to get him to open his mouth, placed a few drops of milk on his tongue, closed his mouth for him and massaged his throat again to get him to swallow. Oh, how we prayed. By the time we checked out he was using a preemie bottle successfully.  

The bilirubin experience was one neither of us survived very comfortably.  To protect the baby's eyes there were eye patches held in place by a net cap that covered most of his head.  Unfortunately he was so tiny the cap kept riding up until it pulled the patches off his eyes completely and he was rolling around naked except for his diaper, making his little "I am terrified" squeaks of distress.  So for 24 hours I stayed awake and stood at the nursery window.  The nurses had no time to check on him.  I can't even imagine what they were going through during this strike that brought them 10 times the normal patient load.  So I stood for hours at the window and each time the patches pulled off his eyes, I snuck in to replace them and the cap.  It is amazing how motherly adrenaline will pump for hours and keep a mom awake in the protection of her child.  

Finally he was released from that lamp and rewrapped in a tight blanket that made him feel safer. The doctor came to me that afternoon in high dudgeon!  "I have been told that you are not sleeping Mrs. B.  The nurses say that you are up all night long and they are not going to take the blame if you get sick from lack of sleep!"  Ahh, so the non-available nurses were also finks!  I told him in no uncertain terms why I had been awake all night and that was the end of that conversation.  An hour later one of the more aware nurses scuttled down to my room to let me in on the fact that the doctor planned to send me home and keep my son in hospital without me.  I immediately called my husband to come and take home all my clothes.  When the doctor came to order me home I told him the only way I was leaving was either with my son or completely naked since I wasn't allowed to take the hospital duds out of the building.  End of threat from him!

The other problem wrought by the strike was a lack of cleaning staff in our room.  Oh, actually it was more a lack of cleaning by the cleaning staff in our room.  My roommate and I were afraid to use the bathroom as it was so dirty after 2 days with no sign of a cleaning staff in our area.  On the 3rd morning I decided enough was enough, so I got up at 5:30am and snuck down the hallway to a big cleaning supply closet where the cleansers and sponges were kept.  I smuggled both to our room, pulled a giant metal bed pan from our room closet, filled it with hot water and commensed cleaning the bathroom, "stem to stern" as they say.  Once the fixtures were cleaned I got down on my hands and knees and washed the floor.  It felt SO good to be active and helpful.  As I was backing out of the bathroom, giving the floor a last swipe with the sponge, I backed into someone standing behind me.  It was my roommate's doctor and his face was bright purple.  "Mrs. B.  WHAT in the name of God are you doing??"  So I told him what kind of messes had remained in our bathroom and how I realized the staff was under stress and requests for a cleaning had gone unheeded, so I wanted to be helpful.

Apparently my"helpfulness" triggered a full scale investigation into the state of the hospital's cleaning practises and one of the head maintenance ladies was fired the next afternoon.  Oh my....she came down to my room before she left the premises. (finked out again apparently)  She gave me Hail Columbia about my actions and the consequences for herself and informed me that, "I have been cleaning in this hospital for over 30 years!"  My frightened response was that if she had been cleaning for that long then she should have a better idea of how to do it properly!  I sounded nasty and strong, so she harrumphed out of my room and left me in peace, never to appear again, but really I was terrified of her and I cried when she left. I felt terrible about her being fired, necessary though it may have been.

As you can imagine, the second my son hit the 5 pound mark my husband raced down to the hospital with my clothes, the baby's clothes, and against the doctor's advice I checked us both out of there. (As you can also imagine, the nursing staff was ecstatic to lose me as a patient!) I was told that my son would lose weight and stop breathing and I would be back within 48 hours.  I knew that would not happen and home we went. When I took him in to the doctor for his 6 week check up the boy weighed in at 11 pounds, 6 ounces and he had no problems with breathing or feeding with a full sized bottle.  The doctor was happy and so was I.

Yes, it was a struggle.  I had so little sleep for that first 6 weeks it is a near miracle that I didn't become ill myself. My husband took time off work to help out and we willed life into that little boy.  God gave us strength. He answered our prayers.  The nursing staff at the hospital finally forgave me for being probably the worst patient and least compliant new mom they had ever dealt with, and they rejoiced with me at his healthy condition when I returned him to hospital at 8 weeks for a small surgical proceedure.

It all worked out. My son is a healthy and productive member of society. That old hospital has been torn down and a lovely new facility stands in its place.  It is now unionized and so the disasters the staff at that time faced have been replaced by new disasters, but they have never had to deal with me again.  Nor I with them....

We are all happy campers.

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