New Semester, New Journeys

Lots of news in this post!

After six years at my place of employment, yesterday was my last day at work. Mr Minion and I decided that my focus should be on my school and spending time with Little Miss Minion before she starts kindergarten in the fall.

I’m excited and a little nervous to start this new phase of life. I’m very type A, so the thought of not having a schedule or consistent daily plan is strange. However, since I am so type A, I have decided to make my own schedule. I’ll be doing some school type activities with LMM so she is ready for school in the fall. I’ll be planning lots of trips to the library and the parks around here, once the weather warms up. And I’m going to have far more time to study.

That brings me to the next bit of news. The spring semester has started! This time, I’m taking Anatomy and Physiology II, which will cover the rest of the organ systems that weren’t covered in the fall semester. My lecture and lab are both on Saturdays, and the class is comprised of me and one other girl. Yes, really. We really have no excuse to not get an A, since we have practically personalized lectures. Today, we talked about blood, blood cells, etc in lecture, and in lab, we looked at the cells under the microscope and did a test where we were able to determine our own blood types based on which antigens and antibodies were present. Next week, we’re covering the heart and doing a heart dissection.

I’ve also made a list (because that’s what I do) of things that we’ve been meaning to do around the house since we moved in. It’s essentially a deep clean of every room and a clear out of everything we don’t use. I’m trying to get everything in order before I (hopefully) start nursing school in the fall.

Another adventure begins!

Happy New Year!

On New Year’s Day last year, we started The Jar. I cut up some paper into little slips and found a pen. The Jar, the slips of paper, and the pen sat on the counter in our kitchen all year. Whenever we remembered to do it, we would write down something memorable that had happened and planned to read all the slips on New Year’s Eve. We went to bed last night at like 10, so we read them this morning. It was pretty cool to see all the things we wrote down throughout the year. Little Miss Minion even snuck one in without us knowing!

Highlights:

Getting cleared for another year from LMM’s neurosurgeon.

Going to a cool Halloween tour at a historical house near us.

I got promoted in the spring. And again in the fall.

Taking LMM to the Home Depot projects.

Planning our cruise to Alaska.

My A in Microbiology. And my A in Anatomy and Physiology I.

Date nights with Mr Minion.

Baking zucchini bread with zucchini from our garden.

Theon Greyjoy Memorial BBQ.

Putting Christmas lights on the house.

2019 was a pretty good year. I have high hopes for 2020.

Now I have to go get The Jar ready for a new year of memories.

Another Semester Down

The fall semester of 2019 is in the books and I came out with another A! Anatomy and Physiology I was tough, but interesting. The best part is that I think I can reuse my book for the spring (A&P II). I know I can use the other half of my coloring book and flash cards.

The end of this semester also brings me to the halfway point of my return to school. I’ve been taking classes for 2 1/2 years now and I’ve got 2 1/2 left, assuming I get into nursing school this fall. I have the grades and the classes done-I am scheduled to take the HESI in January and then I can apply to nursing school in March.

In other news, Little Miss Minion had her first false alarm shunt incident at the beginning of the month. She’d been complaining of a headache off and on for several weeks, so we talked to her neurosurgeon. He wanted us to come in, since it had been going on for so long. One MRI later, he told us that her scans looked ok and whatever it was wasn’t shunt related. The bright side of this little adventure is that LMM hasn’t complained of a headache since then. The bad news is that this added a new, rather large bill to our “tab” at the hospital. We’re still paying off her surgery from October 2017! If our NICU and hydro journey has taught me nothing else, it’s that medical bills can be paid monthly and financial aid is a lifesaver.

In happier news, it’s almost New Years Eve! That means we get to open The Jar from 2019. At the start of this year, I took an empty mason jar and put it on the kitchen counter, along with a pen and some small slips of paper. The idea was to write down memorable, funny, cool, or happy moments throughout the year and then read them all together on New Year’s Eve. I’ll have to share some once we open the jar.

I hope everyone had a great holiday and I wish you all the best in 2020!

Prematurity Awareness Day 2019

Wear your purple today in honor of Prematurity Awareness Day!

There are so many lasting effects of premature birth that it’s hard to list them all. Not only do you have the ones that make themselves known around birth (low birth weight, breathing assistance, etc), you have all the things that could happen in the NICU (blood transfusions, surgeries, infections, caffeine, TPN, PICC lines, specialists, etc). Then you can have all the things that happen after the NICU, like early intervention therapies, more specialists, more surgeries, developmental delays, etc. Even in the best hospitals with all the available treatment, sometimes that isn’t enough to save the baby. Some are simply too early, too small, or too sick.

The other unseen effect is what happens to the parents. Seeing your child hooked up to wires, unable to breathe on their own, fighting infections, needing surgery… these things take a toll. The rate of post partum depression is up to 70% in NICU moms, compared to just 16% in the general population (Graham’s Foundation study). PTSD is also a concern, with 53% of mothers and 35% of fathers developing it (Pediatrics Journal).

The final effect of prematurity is the What If syndrome, as I like to call it. It starts out with self-blame at the early arrival of the baby: what if I hadn’t had that cup of coffee each day? I know it was within the limits of caffeine, but what if I hadn’t? What if I had eaten more fruit and vegetables? What If syndrome then morphs into a trip through all the horrible things that can happen in the NICU: What If the baby catches a cold? What if the baby gets an infection? What if the baby has more desats and bradys? If the baby comes home, What If syndrome likes to go nuts: What If the baby stops breathing at night and we don’t know because there’s no monitors? What if someone comes over and they are sick and then the baby gets sick? What if the baby isn’t catching up to their milestones? What if they aren’t eating enough? What if we end up back in the hospital?

The final question that I’ve seen other Preemie moms deal with is: What If it happens again? The cause of many premature births isn’t known. Sure, I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and those are probably listed somewhere as the cause of delivery. But how did I end up with that? Could I have done something to prevent it? No one knows. Aspirin looks to be a big help in delaying preeclampsia, but it doesn’t always work. The same goes for things like incompetent cervix, premature labor, early water breaking. No one knows why these things happen. There are some treatments to help, but nothing is guaranteed.

Prematurity can happen to anyone. I’m so glad that we had such a good outcome (even with our 3 months in the NICU and the hydrocephalus diagnosis and surgeries). There are many people who aren’t as lucky. And I’m glad that I’m working toward being able to care for those babies (and parents) who find themselves in the world of the NICU.

Little Miss Minion and the Return to the NICU

As you probably are aware of by now, I volunteer in the NICU as a member of the parent support group. There are several facets of what we do, such as fundraising for activities, visiting moms on hospital bedrest, and hosting events for parents. The part that I usually do is doing a unit visit. I walk through the unit and drop off welcome bags for newly admitted families and talk to parents who are in the unit about how they are coping. This week, I volunteered to cover the weekly dinner we host for the parents. We use a conference room just outside the unit and it’s a nice place to relax, have a good meal, and talk to other parents who are in the same boat. I don’t usually get to do these because of my class schedule, but someone was sick and no one else could cover it. I remember how much Mr Minion and I looked forward to these dinners and I couldn’t let it get cancelled.

The only catch was that I would have to bring Little Miss Minion with me. Mr Minion was working late. I packed up the iPad and some coloring books to keep her busy and we went to the NICU after I picked her up from daycare. Little Miss Minion was very well behaved and so excited to be “helping the babies” at the NICU.

Once we had all gotten plates and were settled, I introduced myself and gave the short story of our NICU journey. It’s a lot different telling a story that involves pediatric brain surgery when the kid in question is sitting next you playing on an iPad. People hear the words “brain surgery” and “brain damage” and they picture a very sick kid. When I introduced Little Miss Minion as the kid in my story, the parents were shocked. Some of them are going through rough journeys of their own and I hope seeing LMM gave them a little hope.

LMM stayed pretty quiet through the dinner and the talking. We all shared our stories and struggles, as well as some of the funny things that happen. I talked about the time I fell sleep while pumping-I put on an episode of Good Eats to keep myself awake during my 2AM pumping session and made it about five minutes in before falling asleep for about an hour–that story always breaks the tension and helps people relax.

I sometimes get that weird feeling that I’m *meant* to do something and I got that feeling before I accepted covering the dinner. As people started to open up and share, one of the dads told his story. His daughter was born at the same weight as LMM and has been there for over 200 days. Much like us, they had a severe infection that resulted in dramatic damage–LMM ended up with meningitis, sepsis, and hydrocephalus. His daughter ended up with a mystery lung ailment that damaged her lungs.

I ended up talking to this dad for about forty minutes after everyone else left. His daughter weighed the same amount at birth as LMM and was a week earlier. He was very affected by seeing another Preemie who survived some pretty dire stuff and couldn’t believe that she’s had five brain surgeries. I think he needed that spark of hope, of seeing the light in the tunnel for his own daughter. He showed me pictures of his daughter and I showed him similar pictures of LMM.

I think I’ll have to start volunteering to cover these dinners more often. It was nice to see the parents in a less tense environment (the bedside is sometimes an awkward place to try to talk about the stress of the NICU). I think LMM had fun too, even though she didn’t get to see the babies.

2 Year Shuntiversary

Tomorrow marks two years since Little Miss Minion’s last surgery. This is the longest that we have gone between surgeries (*knock on wood*), and she has changed so much since the last one. Before her last surgery, she still wasn’t really talking and was having some minor gross motor issues. The shunt malfunction that caused her last surgery was a slow breakdown, and I suspect that it was putting pressure on the part of her brain that controls speech. She is a chatterbox now, and enjoys singing to herself and talking to her toys and anyone who will listen.

Another interesting facet of this milestone is that she is old enough now that she will remember any future surgeries that she needs to have. She will notice the shaved patch of hair, and will remember the feeling of having stitches. I hope that she will remember the specific feelings of shunt failure, so that we can compare any headaches to the Shunt Headache. I have been told that Shunt Headaches are subtly different from regular headaches, but how can I explain this to a little kid? How do you explain to the kid that you have to go to the hospital for a lot of tests because they have a headache? What about when you (the non-shunted person) say that you have a headache? If the hydro kid understands the severity of THEIR headaches, how do you explain that YOURS are just inconvenient and don’t require a hospital visit?

While this Shuntiversary reminds me of the last five surgeries, its also a great statistical milestone. Half of all pediatric shunts fail within two years. After that, the failure rate is much lower. This is a great thing for Little Miss Minion and I hope we make it a long time without another brain surgery.

School as a “Returning Learner”

As I have mentioned before, I am returning to school in pursuit of a career as a NICU nurse. Currently, I am taking Anatomy & Physiology I, which consists of a lab and a lecture. Having already been to college once (for a Bachelor’s degree in English Education), and being slightly older than the average first-time college student, I am classified as a “returning learner” for student purposes. Among other things, my background means that I do not qualify for FAFSA (free student financial aid), but it does mean that I have already experienced college, which I am beginning to see is a huge advantage.

This semester has been an interesting ride so far. From new online programs for coursework that didn’t work, to only using an online version of the book (until I bought the paper version last weekend), to my professors not knowing how to use the online coursework site, it was a rough start. I am already a very Type A person, and I prefer my schedule to be organized and itemized as much as possible. Knowing that this is the first “make or break” class of any medical program, I began preparing before the semester even began. I took a one week prep course that covered what you should know going into Anatomy & Physiology. I took notes and printed them out as a reference, sticking them in the back of that binder I use for class. When the textbook listing came out for this class, it included some study aids. After determining that I would actually use them, I purchased them–a huge set of flashcards and a coloring book (more on this in another post). I have heard from several people, some of whom are now nurses, that Anatomy & Physiology is a divergence point in the coursework of becoming a nurse. I was taking no chances.

The first lecture class was similar to most of the others I have taken. The professor lectures off a PowerPoint and posts the slides for the students to print and take notes from. Neither of the two students on either side of me had printed them. Instead, they were frantically scribbling down every single word on each slide, unable to focus on what the lecture was covering because they were trying to transcribe slides that they already had access to. Every so often, they would glance at me with a “what are you DOING?” look in their eyes. I was taking occasional notes to clarify or expand on a topic, perhaps highlighting something. I actually sat in a different seat at the next class because they were making me feel anxious with their frantic scribbling.

The most recent class was similarly notable. The professor couldn’t go two slides without someone asking if this would be on the test, or if we had to know this for the quiz. I gave up trying to hide my irritation after about the fourth time someone asked the same question. During the break, a few students were complaining to the professor that this was too much to learn, that they couldn’t memorize the book, that they didn’t know where to start, that they needed a study guide. When she finally lost patience, her reply was that this is an upper-level class for people who want to go into the medical field. We need to know ALL OF IT.

My lab class has different students, but similar attitudes. When our professor said that spelling would count on the lab tests, there was an audible reaction from most of the class. Her reply was that, as nurses, spelling something wrong can have huge repercussions, even cause an error that costs someone their life.

 

I think my favorite quote related to the mindset of going to nursing school is that we should be trying to become the nurses we would want to have if we were patients. I can tell that some of the students have this mindset, and are determined to learn as much as they can. These tend to be the older students, maybe the “returning learners.” The rest seem to want the answers for the tests handed to them. If it isn’t going to be on the test, they don’t want to hear about it, don’t want to learn about it. I figure that this class is the basis of every other class I’m going to have in nursing school, and I want to be prepared.