|By: Jon Burks, father to "Jr. E-Males" Austin (37 wks) and Eric (28 wks)|
|Welcome back to E-Male,
the Early Edition column that addresses the preemie
parenthood experience from a Fathers point-of-view.
I suspect that everyone reading this column is pretty
intimately familiar with life in the NICU, either from
first-hand experience, or vicariously through friends or
relatives. To some extent, it becomes a shared experience
for us: the long nights sitting by the isolette, the
endless trips back and forth to the hospital, the
web-surfing to learn details about medical conditions you
never even dreamed existed, the bingeing on Oreos to
relieve the stress of the whole ordeal (okay, so maybe
not everyone experiences that one). I think everyone
comes out of the NICU with a somewhat different
perspective on things, based largely on the long-term
prognosis of their preemie. In our case, we were pretty
optimistic, as the docs hadnt identified any areas
of long-term concern for Eric. I guess thats why we
were a little surprised when he was diagnosed as being
asthmatic last November.
He hadnt had any breathing problems in the NICU, and hadnt been on oxygen for any significant period of time. Turns out the blame falls on Dads dirty genes (as opposed to Dads dirty jeans, which is a whole nother column. How many of us preemie parents have houses that look like New York City in the midst of a garbage strike?). I guess I was a wheezer as a kid, so I shouldnt be surprised that Eric is prone to this problem too, especially since his lungs were called into duty 12 weeks early.
Anyway, he had had a couple bouts with asthma, and he responded pretty well to nebs and steroids, when we got cold-cocked this past week. Eric had been to see his pediatrician the day before, and he told us that the little guy was wheezing more than we thought and we should start nebbing him twice a day. Well, in less time than it takes to say "Albuterol Sulfate Inhalation solution 0.083%," he was wheezing like a rusty steam engine. Heather and I are still pretty new to this asthma stuff, so we arent really in tune with what constitutes a serious situation. It wasnt until he vomited on our bedroom floor that I felt a call to the Pediatrician was in order. After hearing him wheezing over the phone, she told us to meet her at the Emergency Room. And thus began our first post-NICU hospital experience.
I had been in the Emergency Room before, but never as a parent. Its funny how you begin to resent the other sick people there for delaying treatment of your child. You know, thoughts like, "Its only a gun shot wound, you big baby. Itll heal!" I was halfway hoping that Dr. Doug Ross from "E.R." would come bursting through the door and take our case. Fortunately, we didnt have to wait too long before our Pediatrician met us. She took one look at Eric and scurried off to arrange for immediate nebulizing. After about 90 minutes of treatment, part of which he was literally sucking on the neb pipe ("Great," I thought, "Ill bet this is how crack addicts get started."), he finally started to loosen up and show some signs of life. They transferred him upstairs to the Peds floor, while they waited for a bed in the PICU. I guess nebs every hour and continuous oxygen are a bit much for the regular ward to handle.
We finally got him into his room, and got settled in: Mom or Dad sitting in a chair with the nebs and/or O2 blowing in his face, and the other trying to get some rest. It wouldve greatly simplified things if he hadnt refused a nasal canula, but the one thing he did come out of the NICU with is a strong tactile hypersensitivity, especially where his face is concerned. I figured it was worse to force the canula on him and tire him out any further, than to just sit up with him all night.
We operated like that for several days, even after they transferred him out of the PICU and onto the Peds floor (turns out using ones crib to try and place an IV isnt exactly conducive to one feeling safe in said crib. Sort of like what Hitchcock did for showers.) And as I sat there holding him, I started ruminating on the differences between life in the NICU and life in the Peds world.
For one thing, I think the NICU experience colored my perception of hospitalization. I figured if he could make it through the NICU, he can make it through anything. It was almost like taking your car to a mechanic to be fixed (although I never sat by my car in the garage all night when it had to have the water pump replaced). His hospital stay seemed more like a nuisance or an inconvenience than anything serious. Continued on page 22
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