When something good happens, I like to write about it.
When something bad happens, I like to write about it.
When something so utterly mind blowing that I can’t fit it in to either of those 2 categories happens… you guessed it.
This isn’t me dwelling on the past, this is my way of processing it. (I know Dad will read this so I put that little nugget in there)
On Tuesday Nov 20, at 5:41pm, a little girl named Johanna made Keri and happier than we ever could have imagined. She came into the world a little on the small side (5lb 12oz and 19in), but with no shortage of spirit. She is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. In the hours that followed, Keri and I got a crash course in taking care of a newborn by the wonderful nurses at Swedish Edmonds and the doctors who helped them (that’s how we viewed the relationship). I want to call out this statement because as you read further, you may get the impression that we had a negative experience overall, and that could not be further from the truth. Everyone we came in contact with was wonderful, supportive, and friendly.
We slept very little, ate very poorly, and spent hours simply staring at this wonderful creature we had brought in to the world.
I had prepared myself to fall in love with my daughter… or rather, I thought I had prepared myself. There’s really no way to describe the feeling… there just simply isn’t 1 word in the English language that encompasses what you feel when you become a parent for the first time. If you are a parent, you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, just ask one… they’ll tell you.
The closest word I can think of is “Immersed.”
Immersed in our love for her, immersed in concern for her well being, immersed in the thought of everything that she is, and everything that she can become. Immersed in the wonder that is the creation of life, and the endless possibilities that come with it.
If it feels like I’m waxing poetic here, it’s because I am. And I don’t care. I have been inspired by a tiny little angel.
As with many newborns, there were some minor health issues that needed to be monitored closely. A low blood sugar reading here and there, a temperature that was ever so slightly below the norm due to her small size… nothing to be truly worried about, but still things that can’t be ignored. Around 2:00am I awoke from a short nap to find my daughter had been whisked away to the nursery for blood sugar testing. I panicked. Was she ok? Was this serious? Why had they taken her out of the room if it wasn’t? Why couldn’t I join her? As it turned out, the machine they had used was faulty and everything was just fine, and all my worries were for nothing. First lesson of parenting learned… not every bump in the road is the end of the world. But at the time, being severely sleep deprived, my emotions got the best of me.
I managed about 2-3 hours of sleep that night. Enough to keep me going the following day. Lots to do! Feeding, pumping, skin on skin bonding, washing, etc. Everything was going great! The doctors decided to keep us another night due to Hanna’s small size, and that was just fine by me. More time to get to know her and learn how to take care of her before we struck out on our own. I felt this was vital to our ability to “parent without fear” as my sister puts it. Little did I know how right I was.
At 7:15pm on the 21st, my little one barely a day old, we received a call from Keri’s friend Daphne. Daphne was scheduled to drop by at 7:30 to meet Hanna and visit Keri. But to our surprise, she called out of concern. “They won’t let me in” she said. There are fire trucks everywhere, the entire building is black and they won’t let anyone in.”
We opened the blinds in our 7th story room and were absolutely shocked by what we saw.
Dozens of emergency vehicles filled the parking lot of the hospital. Lights flashing, sirens (which we had been ignoring) blaring. Just then, the Charge Nurse (I think that’s the correct term) walked in and said “There’s nothing to worry about, but we’re asking everyone to stay in their rooms as a precaution. Everything is fine, we’ll let you know when things get back to normal.”
Keri and I were pretty caught up in our own little world, so we didn’t think much of it. But a few minutes later, Keri looked at me and said “do you smell something?” “No,” I said, trying to be optimistic, even though I thought I detected a faint odor. But within minutes, I couldn’t deny the truth… she was right. A strong odor had begun to permeate the room. Not quite smoke, not quite gas, but definitely concerning. It was at this time that the Charge Nurse returned and told us that there had been a very small electrical fire, but it was in the other end of the building and in the basement, so we were literally as far away as we could be, and there was no danger. But as a safety precaution, she was instructing everyone to stay in their rooms until they got the official word from the fire department that they could resume business as usual.
It was then that I looked out the window again.
The number of emergency vehicles in the parking lot had roughly doubled, and there was a steady stream of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars pulling on to the campus. A police barricade was restricting civilian access.
Something didn’t seem right.
I walked out in to the hall and was immediately hit by an overpowering scent of… something. I couldn’t tell what, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to be breathing it. And more importantly, I knew it wasn’t good for newborn lungs. Keri and I quickly moved Hanna in to the bathroom, which for some reason had less of an odor, and I walked out in to the hallway to demand answers.
“Sir, stay in your room” said a nurse. She was just doing her job. I was just doing mine. I told her no. This is an unacceptable environment for a newborn and I wanted to leave immediately.
“There’s nowhere to go. The elevators are shut down and the fire escapes are filled with smoke and fumes. Everyone needs to stay here.”
What the hell happened to “everything is fine?”
I demanded that my baby be taken to an area where she could be protected from the fumes or given an oxygen mask. They took her to the nursery. I still have no idea if this helped save her from exposure, but for my own sanity I’m telling myself that it did.
It was at this point that I made the decision that I could no longer count on the hospital to tell me the truth, or to keep my family safe. Clearly this was not the small incident they had described, and for all I knew the building was engulfed in flames. That might seem overly dramatic, but when you’ve been lied to in order to keep you calm and you’re on very little sleep, your imagination takes over. And besides, it could have easily been true. I walked back in to the hallway and demanded that they let my family leave the moment the stairs were clear. I was told that this would not be possible until we were discharged, at which point I became irate. Not obscene or belligerent, but I made it clear that what they were doing was unacceptable and that they were going to have to detain me to stop me from evacuating my family the moment I thought I could. The whole time I was second guessing myself, but it just didn’t feel right to stay.
Meenwhile, we could hear one of our doctors in the hallway talking to a couple of nurses. “This isn’t safe,” she said. “We need to get people off this floor now.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist.
When a different Charge Nurse walked in to my room with a security guard and reiterated that it was unsafe to exit the floor, I told her I understood this, but that the hospital had lied to me and I no longer felt safe with my wife and newborn daughter in their care. Not because I thought that they were incapable of giving us the care we needed, but because I could not trust them to tell us when and if we were no longer safe. “I’m just doing what I’m being told” she said.
“I understand,” I replied, “and I’m not angry with you, or any of the other nurses. You are just doing your job. But someone made the decision to tell us that everything was fine. It’s not fine. They fucking building is on fire. You can’t keep us here, we’re going to another hospital.”
This is the one and only time I cursed at a hospital employee.
She finally relented and told me she would inform me the moment we were safe to leave and cleared medically. I told her to clear us medically now because she wasn’t going to stop me once stairs were safe. Keep in mind that at this point, we were still expecting to have our daughter monitored for another 24 hours, and had not discussed many of the important things new parents need to know… what are the red flags, what should we monitor, what should we ignore… we hadn’t done the hearing test, car seat test, and a number of other things. I wanted them to contact another hospital and transfer us. She said that because it wasn’t necessary for us to vacate, she would not comply with my request. While all this was going on, other nurses were trying to help us. Calling our pediatrician to try to get us released, keeping our baby “safe” in the nursery, doing everything they could to do the right thing, but within the rules by which they were bound.
A short time later we were told that we could leave. Our pediatrician felt we were ok to take our little girl home. We wanted to take her to another hospital, but since they wouldn’t transfer us we decided to run while we could. But even then, they tried to keep us. They gave us no instruction on how to leave (which I don’t fault them for as they were likely being pulled in 8 directions at once and would have gotten to us eventually). I went back to the hallway and approached 2 firefighters in full gear who were talking to someone I didn’t recognize who looked like he might have some answers.
“How do I leave?” I asked.
“Why are you leaving?” he replied.
I looked at him as if he had just asked me why I needed all of my limbs… “It’s not safe here for my baby and I no longer trust your hospital to tell me the truth” I answered calmly. “Get us out of here now.”
An ER nurse and the nurse in charge of taking care of us helped gather our things and escorted us down the fire escape to safety. I’m not going to say that they lied about the safety of the stairwell, but I will say they did a hell of a job clearing it, because by the time we got there it was clear that sitting in the stairwell would have been safer than staying in our room.
As we exited the building we found a large group of patients congregated just outside the emergency exit. It was about 35 degrees. I rushed to my car, drove the wrong way down a one way, and helped the nurse put my daughter in her car seat for the first time. I thanked her, hugged her, and wished her well… I’m sure her night was far from over, and wasn’t about to get easier.
As we pulled away we took stock of our situation and realized that most of our child’s nutrition was coming from colostrum that Keri was producing using a pump, which we did not have at home. Insurance companies require you to use approved vendors and often won’t even start the process until the baby is born. Fortunately I was able to drop Keri and the baby off at the house and make it to Babies ‘R’ Us before they closed. I must have looked like death because the woman who helped me offered me a hug, which I kindly accepted. It was at this point that I could no longer hold back tears.
It had been several hours since my baby had eaten, so when I got home we set up the pump immediately and went to work. Unfortunately, since we had not had any instruction, we didn’t know what we were doing and had little success. We managed to get a little bit of the liquid gold, but not as much as we wanted. Hanna was trying to nurse… while laying on MY chest. As a new parent, this was heartbreaking.
At some point during the night, we found out that at some time after we had left, they had decided to evacuate and transfer all the newborns on our floor. Maybe someone should have listened to the doctors and parents. But then again, there was no need to leave, right? *deep exhale*
We stumbled through the night, dealing with crying, vomiting, explosive tar-like meconium poops (perfectly normal but, as I said, we had not been given an “orientation” and didn’t know if the volume was healthy). We had no idea if any of this was something to be concerned about because we never had the chance to do an “exit interview” if you will. But at 4:00 in the morning, when I put Hanna on my chest and she felt cooler than usual, Keri and I made a snap decision to rush her to Providence in Everett.
Thank god we went with our instinct.
When we arrived, we were immediately seen. Hanna’s temp was a mere 95.9. She was placed under a heat lamp and immediately went back to normal, something we had been unable to accomplish with blankets alone. We had slept 0-2 hours in the last 24 and were scared silly at the thought of our baby being in distress, less than 36 hours after entering the world. Even as we were being told everything would be all right, we could barely keep it together.
We were admitted and before we knew what was happening, all of our concerns were vanishing. Hanna’s temp remained stable without a heat lamp. She was no longer vomiting the volumes that she had been. The new breast milk pump was working and we found out that one of our issues with our home pump was easily fixable. The nurses and doctors understood our extreme distress and were extremely comforting. They recommended that Hanna be kept overnight, which is what we had wanted all along. Finally our daughter was back in the hands of people we trusted. At 8:30am we finally dozed off, secure in the knowledge that she would be safe without our constant supervision, and that we would be able to leave the hospital soon with the confidence needed to deal with the situation, something we were sorely missing.
As I type this, my wife and daughter are finally resting. I’m about to feed Hanna so that Keri can continue sleeping, something she has neglected in the name of taking care of her child. What a wonderful, selfless mother. I am truly fortunate, and so is Hanna.
We hope to go home tomorrow, and already feel more prepared than we ever had. I do not blame the staff at Swedish for this, they were absolutely wonderful. We just ran out of time.
We will draw strength from this experience. It will make us better parents. But as of this moment, I can rest easy, knowing that the first two major parenting decision we had to make, leaving Swedish against recommendation and rushing to the ER at 4:00 in the morning, were unequivocally the right ones. And we got the desired result.
I love my baby girl. I love my wife. I love my parents who stayed with us and supported us when things at Swedish went South and we needed help at home, even though it was late at night. They went to the hospital with us at 4:00am. I love my Mother in law who would have come in a heartbeat if we had asked. But overall, I love family. This experience has reinforced my opinion that family, in the absence of any other immediate need, is the most important thing we have. They will do anything they can to help you, any time you truly need it. You don’t pick your family, you simply ARE a family. And now Keri and I have one of our own. And we’ve never been happier.
Every story can have a happy ending.