Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Life in the PICU - part 2

You might expect that this part would start out with, "The next 5 hours were some of the longest and hardest of my life." Not true. (And I'm going to note right here that I'm typing this from memory, not checking my notebook full of notes, so some of the details might be distorted.)

We knew, because the nurses and doctors had been very thorough in educating us, that the most dangerous times were going under and coming back up. And we were still sure that Ellie wasn't going to survive the surgery. I mean, they stopped her heart! Who hands her baby over to a stranger to stop her heart? I felt like an awful mother. After all, this was "elective" heart surgery (without which she would not have lived very long, but hey, it's an insurance world).

Paul and I retired to to the surgery waiting area, where there was a private mini-room just for us. My parents and sister arrived laden with goodies and brought all of our stuff down from 7 West, so we were 5 adults and way too much stuff in a tiny space. We waited. I knew that it would take a while to get her prepped and ready, to do the "cut down" (slit her wrist to put in a line), to take her under, and to hook her up to the heart-lung machine. Finally, the nurse came in and told us that she was successfully under and they were beginning the procedure.

Immediately, a fog lifted from me. The world came back into focus. I felt alive again. I knew that my baby was going to live. I became more animated, talking to my family. I pumped, because I wasn't going to be breastfeeding anytime soon. We began to play a spirited game of Bohnanza.

Ellie's kickass Cardiologist came in a little later, to let us know that the procedure was successful and they just needed to finish up and close. I was surprised at how little time had elaspsed (under 4 hours) but I was not surprised that the surgery had gone well. I already knew that, somehow. Dr. Sharkey seemed a bit surprised to find us happily playing a game.

Thanks to my good friend Tina and Spencer's Fund, we had a wonderful lunch delivered right to the hospital. We were eating enthusiastically when the surgeon, Dr. Huddleston (referred to by some as Dr. God) came in to give us the run-down and tell us that it would be OK for us to go grab a bite to eat; Ellie would be transitioning to the 7th floor PICU and we could see her in about 45 minutes. Surgery was sucessful. Very slight mitral insuffieciency, as expected. This was later downgraded to "insignificant" - in other words, she has a very slight heart murmur. Dr. Sharkey assures me that Ellie can go out for soccer next year, no problem.

We moved all of our stuff back up to the 7th floor, still unable to find lockers in the family waiting room, and waited for the nurse to tell us that we could see our daughter. The appointed hour came and went. After about 15 minutes, I marched in the PICU and asked the woman at the desk when I could see my baby. I was getting anxious again. What was the delay?!

She called Ellie's PICU nurse, Mary, who came out and got us. As Mary walked us back to Ellie's room, she tried to prepare us for how Ellie would look. We'd been warned about this. She would have tons of tubes and wires coming out of her. She would be on a ventilator. She would be on an external pacemaker. She would be very sick. I was stunned when I saw Ellie for the first time after surgery. I didn't care about the tubes and wires and noises. She was there! She was warm and pink! Her chest was rising and falling. She was alive!!!

This is the first night, after they cleaned her up a bit more. Those are my hands. Don't the PICU cribs look like little jails? She wore a diaper for "modesty" since she was catheterized.

Now that we've gotten through preparation and surgery, the next part will be about our days in the PICU. I also want to talk about our short time back out on 7 West before we went home, and those first days at home.


Mustang Sally said...

So, so glad everything went well!! yay for Ellie! Will the PICU nurses let you give her secondhand cyber-kisses?

Sarahlynn said...

We were allowed to hold her (and kiss her!) after the first couple of days, and that was wonderful. When we weren't holding her, we had hands on her almost all the time. Touching really helped. But this was a year ago and now she's happily moving all around, and you can barely see the scar (as you might have noticed from the bathtime pictures below).

trisha said...

Whew! I am glad I already know the outcome of all of this. It still makes me nervous! You are strong and smart.

Thanks for continuing the story...