Sunday, February 9, 2014

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

I thought it was over.  I thought that as the doors to the NICU swished closed behind us for the final time and Jimmy and I, giddy with excitement and trepidation, wheeled Hazel Grace down the hall tucked safely in her carseat for her first car ride home, I thought that I was turning the page...

I thought that I could look back, wipe my brow, and say, 'Whew!  Well, we made it through that one!' and move on to the next chapter in the book of our life with our baby.

And it's not like we have had to go back to the NICU.  Praise God we have been so far spared that trip, but we have had to go back to the hospital for check up appointments and routine exams.

Getting ready for our first trip out of the house and to our first follow-up appointment was a bit of a challenge.  I had made a list and checked all the items off:

Spare clothes?  Check
Diapers? Check
Feed pump?  Check
Spare extension tube?  Check
Emergency MIC-KEY button?  Check
Oxygen tank?  Check
Water for flushing...syringes for flushing and meds...feeding bag?  Check, check, check.

I think I'm ready.

And I was.  There was nothing that we needed that we didn't have on that first trip back to the place where it all started.

But what I was not prepared for, what I had forgotten to fully prepare, was myself.

I'm not even sure that there is a way to prepare for it:  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

I know it sounds silly.  I was in the NICU, for Pete's sake, not a war zone, and there were no bombs dropping and no sirens blaring...

or were there?

As I headed down the hall toward the clinic where Hazel had her appointment, I passed by one of the elevators that is reserved for staff and patients.  At just the moment that I was passing, I heard the soft ding and the doors slid open, and there it was

an isolette

with a baby inside.

My stomach dropped to my knees which were feeling weak, and my hands got a death grip on the handle of the stroller where Hazel lay sleeping peacefully.  I peered past my white knuckles to instinctively check the tiny bundle inside the stroller.  Is she breathing?  Is she blue? How is she saturating?  Panic began to rise and along with it my breakfast, but my throat was so tight that nothing would have made it past it anyway.  The nurse peered at me.  'Are you ok?'

'Yes' I choked out and reminded myself to breathe and forced my feet to continue walking down the long hall that now looked too bright, was too noisy and was altogether way too long.  I realized that I could leave the NICU, but the NICU would never leave me.

I know that Hazel Grace feels it, too.

We have a bottle of the same hand sanitizer that the nurses at the hospital use, and for the longest time after she got home, when we would use the sanitizer and then approach her, she would tense and cry.  The memories too fresh for the gentle tones of our voices to overcome the fear of the unknown.  Or I guess I should say the fear of the known...the blood draws, the pokes and prods, the rough hands of strangers...the scent brought it all back.

She seems to be over that now.  She doesn't seem to mind at all that we approach her after using the lotion, but there are still signs of her recall of the time she spent in the NICU.  We got her one of those bouncy seats, you know the ones that have the vibrator in them that the babies just seem to love?  The first time we put her in it, to give her another view of the world, we switched it on, and a look of pure panic and terror came over her tiny face.  Her eyes flew open and her back arched, arms splayed, legs tense, and she started to cry.  A deep, heartfelt cry.  A cry of pain and fear and complete terror.

We immediately turned the vibrator off and took her out to comfort her, and it took a while for her breathing to return to normal and her heart rate to slow down.  What we realized was that the vibrating must have reminded her of all the time that she was intubated in the hospital.   The machine that breathed for her through a tube down her throat vibrated her bed very strongly such that you could feel the vibrations through the whole isolette.  It must have felt very similar to the vibrations of the seat.

We still put her in the seat, but we have taken out the batteries so no one can accidentally turn it on, and she lies there peacefully, looking up at us with a look of trust and dependence.

And I know that I will do all that I can to protect her from ever having to experience anything like what she had to go through the first 5 months of her life.

It is over,

But it's not.

It has deeply affected our family in ways that I am sure will continue to surface long after the whole ordeal is 'over.'

And in the meantime, we do what we can to protect and support one another, trying to keep in mind the raw and tender nerves and emotions that sit just beneath the surface of all that appears well and good,

And as I stroll down the halls of that big hospital where Hazel's life was saved and our lives were torn apart, revised, and thrown back at us in disarray,

And as the elevator doors ding and the wheels of the isolettes whisper their sticky swishing sound as they make their way down the hall in the opposite direction, going in  where we so recently came out,

Instead of turning my eyes down in panic and uncertainty, I will turn my eyes up.

I will turn them up toward the twinkling blue ceilings of that impressive hospital, and I will breathe the prayer that I have sighed so many times both over my baby going out, and that baby going in:

Numbers 6:24-26
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you;
The Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Italic emphasis mine)

Because I can't take away what has happened to us, and I can't stop what will happen to them,

All I can do is turn it over to God and pray peace over all of us.

And as my eyes burn and the tear threatens to fall over what has happened and what is to come, I know that His peace is enough.

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