On the seventh day of Christmas, the NICU gave to me: 7 monitors chiming, 6 nurses charting, 5 needle sticks, 4 brain surgeries, 3 minute scrubs, 2 blood transfusions, and a micropreemie in an isolette.
The chiming of the monitors is the background music to life in the NICU. After scrubbing in, we would walk down the hall to her “pod,” and check the mega screen tvs that held a realtime stream of every monitor in that pod for the nurses. We could see her heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure, and respiration rates before setting foot in her room. Sometimes, her section of the screen was quiet. But sometimes, there would be flashing lights and alarms, followed by an immediate sense of panic as we saw what the problem was. Perhaps her heart rate had dropped. Maybe she had forgotten to breathe again. Or, with our brains in hyperactive NICU parent mode, maybe she was crashing. Luckily, that never happened.
The monitors in each room were linked so that any alarm would split the screen so all the nurses would always be in the loop. It also kept all the parents on edge, because the alarms sounded the same whether they were in your baby’s room or not. Some days, the pod would be quiet. Some days, it seemed like every baby in the place had conspired to set their alarms off in five minute intervals. Some days, you heard silence from your baby’s alarms while another baby set theirs off constantly. I remember watching the monitors one day, early on in our stay. Mr Minion had dropped me off that morning because I still couldn’t drive, so I spent sixteen hours a day there. Little Miss Minion had behaved herself that day, and her alarms were mostly silent, but I watched her monitor split several times an hour as another baby had a very rough day. I watched the blood pressure drop, I watched the heart rate drop, I saw apnea after apnea, and blood oxygen drops into the fifties, forties, thirties. At some point, I know I went down to the hospital coffee shop and got a frozen mocha and took a walk outside in the courtyard, because I was sure the kid wasn’t going to make it. I happen to know that he did make it, and he also happens to have hydrocephalus, caused by a brain bleed.
One of the requirements to be discharged from the NICU is to go a week without setting off the alarms. Her nurses wouldn’t ever say specifically that she hadn’t set off her alarm as, as a kind of superstitious joke. They would just say that her room had been very quiet.
To hear the sound that will haunt my dreams forever, click the link below.