A week after giving birth to my son Jharid 16 weeks early, I decided to take a short break from staring at him through the incubator in the NICU. It was incredibly hard leaving my one pound five ounce baby with just the nurses to watch over him, but it had to be done. I packed up my “pass the time” bag, my guilt and fear, and headed downtown to take care of some personal business.
A few minutes after I entered the store, my cell phone rang – and my heart stopped. It was the hospital telling me to come quickly, something was wrong with my son.
I ran out of the store, hopped into a cab and flew into Jersey City Medical Center. His dad was already there waiting. Jharid’s belly had turned bluish-gray, and he was having even more difficulty breathing. My greatest fear was coming true. I remember thinking; he is going to die right before our eyes. He looked so pathetic, so weak and so sick. What would make his belly turn blue that quickly? What had they done?
The doctor on call said that they had no answers, only possibilities. Tests had to be completed and decisions made. They wanted to transfer him to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, NJ. They could give him the best chance of survival at this point. The odds for 24 weekers were already low and 24 weekers with blue bellies were in serious trouble. With my permission, the ambulance would be on its way. His father and I consented, signed the paperwork for the transfer of our teeny tiny baby and waited.
After what seemed like forever the ambulance crew arrived. With them, there was a petite nurse with light hair, pretty eyes, and a serious demeanor. She came in and began to introduce herself to us. I could tell she was knowledgeable and honest – her name was Pam – and apparently she was sent there to escort Jharid to his new temporary home. She gave us a crash course in preemie parenthood; schooled us on how long his stay would be, the quality of the hospital he was going to, and the logistics for his transportation there. I was impressed by her handling of our delicate situation, but what stayed with me the most was her ability to stir the hope in my heart that was sinking when I saw how sick he was. She still thought he was going to survive, blue belly and all. It seemed that she was determined to help save his life. That became primary to me.
Shortly, after calming us down, she went to baby Jharid and delicately began packing him up. She talked to him in her soothing voice; she treated him as if he could understand every word. She was beginning his healing process. I felt that I could trust her with him on both the journey to St. Joe’s and through his hospital stay. She said she would see to it that he made it to Paterson safely and we could follow in our car. She had it under control.
At St. Joe’s, Pam became Jharid’s primary nurse. We found out that he had Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is a medical condition primarily seen in premature infants where portions of the bowel undergo necrosis (tissue death). NEC made his stay a bumpy one. He also had retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), and grade 3 brain bleeds. Through it all, Pam loved my son. She took great care of him. She took his life personally. She planned his care. After his surgeries, she made sure to be assigned to him. She gave him many of his “firsts” and monitored his progress. She made him a priority.
During those five months, it was her, his dad, and I. We were surrounded by wonderful nurses who are to this day like family, but she was his second mother. I watched her fret over him when he was having a bad day. I shared my biggest concerns with her; She helped me figure it out. Now that we are home, it is grandmas and aunts and sisters who have my back. But in that NICU, it was Pam. And we will never forget her.
I did not choose my son’s primary nurse. His primary nurse chose us. Your child’s primary nurse should be the one who cares for him the closest to the way you would. The way you do. It should just feel right. She or he should be highly skilled, nurturing, and willing to take great interest in your child. The primary nurse is your partner in making sure your baby makes it out of that NICU alive. That takes LOVE.
I am proud to say my son had a 2nd mom in the NICU. Unlike some moms, I wanted my son’s nurses to feel connected to him. In a way, she mothered me through that experience as well. Both Jharid and I were able to transition into home life because of her lessons in caring for a preemie child. She encouraged me to also take time for myself and to pay attention to the details. I am eternally grateful. Jharid is a healthy boy thanks to many of her lessons.
You know who your child’s primary nurse should be. It’s the nurse you can leave him with, run errands, and feel the most at ease. It’s the nurse you trust with his life. It’s the nurse who chooses your child. It’s the nurse who makes your child’s survival their primary responsibility.