Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How the ICU is like a Haunted House

As I write this, I'm sitting in the intensive care unit listening to machines assist my daughter's breathing. This is the 6th time (at least-maybe more) Jaycee has been in ICU for an illness or emergency. The worst ICU stay included 3 weeks on a ventilator. The "best" ICU stay for her was just 1 night after going into respiratory distress after a procedure. We are no strangers to the ICU though I would love to never return here again.

If you have never had a child in the ICU, let me paint a picture for you. It is like a haunted house. You know going into it, that something bad is going to happen that will scare you. Even when there is nothing scary at the moment, you are on guard anticipating the next scare. You know absolute relief will only come when you leave that place, but you don't get to decide when you exit.

The characters in this haunted house don't scare you with axes or other weapons. It's syringes, IV sticks, tubes, machines, suctions, diagnoses, or just the threat of these that makes you scared.

A new parent coming in to the ICU is like a small child who is easy startled by anything in the haunted house. Me, I've been through this haunted house a few times. There are some things that don't make me flinch at all that would probably horrify first timers. Being on bi-pap continuously doesn't bother me much although I know it's not ideal. Holding my child down to assist with a necessary blood draw or cannula placement is second nature to me. The ventilator, now that machine is one that terrifies me. It means she's dangerously close to an exit I hope I never see. Watching the placement of really long tubes isn't pleasant either such as placement of a ng feeding tube or a PICC line. I find a way to shield my face so I won't see what's happening.

There are no ugly decorations or darkness in this place. In fact, this place is rarely ever dark. Instead, this haunted house has simple monitors that display numbers that can give you a sense of relief or send you into a panic. The alarms the beep, buzz, ding, and sound at unexpected times can be frightening. The images of your child enduring such awful, unimaginable things as a result of those alarms will scare moms like me for weeks, months, even years to come.

But not everything in the ICU is terrible. There are some really nice people here. They are doctors, nurses, residents, and respiratory therapists to name a few. They mean no harm when they are part of the scary moments. In fact, they are trying to save your child's life which sometimes calls for things that make us parents squeamish.

So if you ever find yourself in this place waiting for an exit, do whatever it takes to fight off all the fears, imagery, bad news, and worst case scenarios. Find a positive song, verse, person, or activity to help you through. It won't be fun. It won't be easy. But when you leave that haunted house holding your child's hand, it will all be worth it.

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