Immediately following the birth of our 25 week-old twins, I was whisked away to the 4th floor of Cedars, while my wife was wheeled to a 3rd floor recovery room following her c-section. In a somewhat numbed state, I entered the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Like Alice, or perhaps more appropriately Alex in Wonderland, I had fallen down a rabbit hole into a very strange world of giraffes, jets, and isolettes. Cedars’ NICU has a capacity for 45 babies spread out over 6 bays and a couple of extra rooms for isolation purposes. Although its NICU is continually unranked in national polls, it is nonetheless an impressive display of the best that technology has to offer. It is equipped with the latest in climate controlled incubators called Giraffes and their smaller cousins, the isolettes. Surrounding each Giraffe, you’ll find monitors, ventilators, screens, and an assortment of tubes and wires leading to each of its inhabitants. Bays 1 through 4 are for more intensive care, while bays 5 and 6 are for those babies preparing to graduate and begin their lives amongst the rest of us. As fate would have it, we wound up in Bay 4, nicknamed “The crazy bay.” Two weeks prior to our arrival, business was so slow that two of the NICU bays had been shut down. The weekend of our arrival must have been High Holy days for preemies and other assorted special needs babies as the house was full. Amidst the flurry of activity and a chorus of various alarm bells and flashing lights, I was given forms to read and sign and instructions on what to do and expect. Through a haze of adrenaline, worry, and concern, I was introduced to Joan, the nurse charged with watching over our little girl. Joan’s presence was calming and reassuring, something gained from 28 years as a NICU nurse.
Cedars-Sinai’s NICU has a battalion of some 130 nurses that rotate on 12 hour shifts. As our midwife had pointed out to us, NICU nurses don’t work in the NICU just because they need a job. These are very special individuals filling a very special need. Some of the nurses, whom we liked to call our Super-nurses, filled that need extremely well. Our super-nurses were Joan, Gilda, Debra, Dalys, Vanji, Tysson, Pam, Kathy, Wendy, Yvonne, Anne, Monica, Macy, Lorna, Adrienne, Judy, Meera, and others. The nurses are the workhorses of patient care in every hospital and no less so at Cedars. Styles vary tremendously and while some embrace the parents in their rightful role as the primary caregivers, others treat them as the enemies. Many of the nurses that I spoke with talked of having dreams about the alarms going off. In this world, babies come and go, and live and die frequently. According to Cedars-Sinai, 27% of the NICU babies don’t make it. Nationwide, the average is much higher at 45% (http://www.csmc.edu/8921.html). For caring hearts, being a NICU nurse can be a very stressful way of life.
My wife’s entrance into the NICU wasn’t until the next day. Following surgery, mothers are first required to have a bowel movement prior to leaving their rooms. By the next day, she had two of them (sorry honey, but its part of the story). This became the hot topic amongst the maternity floor nurses. Nurse after nurse came into her room to inquire how this miracle of God had taken place, as most mothers take several days to a week to accomplish this task. Like most medical centers, Cedars has very little knowledge about functional nutrition. Functional nutrients are proven to be more readily absorbed, transported, and utilized than most synthetic and inorganic nutrients. Cedars-Sinai relies heavily on synthetic nutrients to address the real-life needs of their patients. In the case of post-partum mothers, they use ferrous sulfate as an iron supplement to compensate for any blood loss during birth. Ferrous sulfate is a form of iron that causes constipation, bloating, and other symptoms. To compensate for the constipation, patients are given laxatives that work by irritating the bowel wall. Neither product works very well, leaving the mothers feeling miserable and longing to see their newborn babies. We used a natural food and herb-based product called Floradix to address her iron needs and trace minerals to assist with moving the bowels without causing irritation. In less than 24 hours, a mother and her babies were together once again.
To its credit, Cedars-Sinai has a unique philosophy toward the parent’s involvement in the NICU. Their philosophy states that the parent is the most essential and constant member of the infant’s health care team and promotes parents as active and equal participants in order to instill confidence and empower them in their role as the primary caregivers. Well, at least that’s what it says on the plaque on the wall outside the NICU. Inside the doors of the NICU however, it’s doctor’s egos, nurse’s preferences, hospital policies, standards of care, and defensive medicine that take precedence over the care, comfort, and individual needs of each child. If there’s room left over, then the parents might have a voice. This “voice” was something that my wife likened to hostage negotiations. Although they may be willing to listen to what you have to say, they proceed with their own agenda.
As the week began to creep along, my wife was discharged from the hospital and we began our daily treks back and forth between home and the hospital. Everyone told us that our lives would change once we had our babies, but this wasn’t the change we had been expecting. Both doctors and nurses told us to plan on bringing our babies home around their original delivery date, August 16th, some 100+ days later. With cell phones permanently on in case the hospital needed to call us for an emergency, our previous lives faded away and we waited nervously for what was yet to come.