Monday, August 23, 2010

The one-pound, six-ounce wonder turns fourteen!

Fourteen years ago today, Chris came hurtling into the world unexpected and very, very sick and tiny. Back then, I chafed when anyone--medical or otherwise--referred to him as sick. Now I can look back on that and recognize that as denial, pure and simple. The poor kid was in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on a high-frequency ventilator for approximately 6 weeks, with his own private, highly qualified and trained nurses around the clock. He almost died countless times. He experienced all sorts of highly experimental treatments and medications, in addition to four surgeries before he was 5 pounds. The doctors and nurses chased his blood pressure, oxygen saturations, respiratory status, and other medical conditions up and down to try to get them stabilized. Now I know that he was very, very sick indeed. At the time, I had to cling to my hope (and denial) just to get through each day and survive all 117 days he was in the hospital.

We finally got to hold him after 6 weeks. I will always remember that day as one of the happiest days of my life.

In addition to the first time we held him, during those first few days, weeks, and months in the NICU, we celebrated every single little milestone and did not take any of them for granted, such as:
  • When he reached 1,000 grams (he started out at 610 grams)
  • First time he opened his eyes (at about a week old)
  • First time we saw his face (at a ventilator tube change)
  • First time we changed his diaper
  • First time he wore clothes
  • Second bath (one of his nurses gave him his first bath, a transgression I will never forget!)
  • First time he took breast milk by feeding tube
  • First kangaroo care
  • First nursing
  • First time his grandparents--or aunt--held him
Milestones got us through those long weeks--and the much more difficult and painful experiences (such as the life-threatening infections, everyday NICU setbacks [having to go back on the ventilator after coming off it], scary surgeries, excruciating eye exams, and those horrific days when it looked that he would die for sure). Each week he reached, we would buy a mylar balloon in the gift store and hang it on his isolette, so that he had 17 when we finally went home. (They no longer allow mylar balloons in the NICU.) I also made him a sign that we hung at his bedside. This was the first one I made:

Another thing that got us through those difficult times was the fantastic outpouring of support we received from most of the people we knew. Chris was born on the birthday of my boss at the time (also named Mike), and he completely supported me through my crisis by allowing me to take as much time off as I needed to and providing me the flexibility and backup I needed. Friends and family from church, work, and elsewhere brought food, food, and more food, to the point that we didn't have to cook much for most of the time we were in the NICU. We received so many flowers that we could have opened a florist shop.

And it was the cards, letters, baby gifts, and special touches that gave us the most hope. Like my cousin Tim declaring that Chris would be just fine, because he had the ornery family gene. Or the journal given to us by a woman at our church who had also had a preemie. Or this beautiful drawing from my cousin Elena, who was 9 or 10 at the time. It received pride of place at Christopher's bedside--you can spy the hospital tape on the top:

And now look at this wonderful teenage boy--I truly cannot believe that this is the same person as the one-pound, six-ounce, 11-inch long baby we worried over for so many days, nights, weeks, and months. I believe that preemies (or any child who has endured a life-threatening illness) have a keen, innate appreciation for life. Chris is easy-going, enthusiastic, forgiving, and kindhearted. He has been richly blessed with life and a beautiful heart--and he will always be my hero. Happy birthday, sweetheart!

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