To read Part 1 click https://jaznajalil.com/2014/07/09/ma-wednesday-giving-birth-in-qatar/
Another dawn approaches. J’s body seems to be running on reserve mode. Sleeps for minimum possible time. Eats just enough for sustenance. It is amazing how quickly gaiety can turn into utter desolation. All J wanted was to go home. With a happy, healthy baby….
J is fraught with anxiety. Like every other blood test before, the impending one too brings with it hope and worry. Hope that things will take a turn for the better. Worry about what will happen otherwise.
Lil’ Z spends another distressed night in “The Box”. The nurse had said she would come in at 4 am to take Z away for the blood test. The clock seems to be stuck at 3:30 am. J wills the clock to tick by. A nurse finally comes in at 5 am, and wheels Z away. She comes back half an hour later, the little one appearing calm and asleep, but J knows all too well how much crying and pain preceded the sleep.
The results usually take an hour. Sometimes more. J prays with all her heart. Even an atheist would. Mr H is also present. His mere presence makes J stronger. As for Mr H, just holding hands with the little one in the box is comfort enough.
They barely make it. The magic number is 250 (and under), for discharge. Lil Z’s level is 235. They can go home. For now. Finally.
How sweet home.
Discharge procedures barely take any time. The good nurses at Hamad, prepare all the papers in advance. They hope to see the H family take their baby home. They sympathize with, and feel for the young, new parents. But Lil Z is not out of the woods yet. She is not cured. She is just well enough to leave the hospital. She still needs to be closely monitored. She has to come back 48 hours later (or before if anything appears “off”) for another blood test.
For now, Mr H and J don’t want to fester on the fact that this might not be over. They instead just try to sneak in some joy. Joy at being able to take their baby home….at last.
The car ride home seems unreal. Almost like they are watching themselves in a movie. As if it’s all happening in third person. As if the past week never happened. As if it was all a dream ….A dream from which they would wake up and find J to be still pregnant and whining about minor niggles and annoyances.
The little one enters her home at last. Cradled in her dad’s arms. Almost ten days after she was due to come home.
There are no “welcome home” banners. No “it’s a GIRL” posters. No confetti or decorations. No delighted grandparents or curious relatives, no raucous friends or helpful neighbours. No fanfare….Just the vexed, bone-tired parents and their harried little- one entering their empty home. A home that’s been unused for many days. The air smells slightly stale and musty, there are unwashed dishes in the sink, the laundry basket has brimmed over onto the floor… Mr H seemed to have lived a very basic and detached existence the past few days.
J takes a long, hot shower. Hoping to wash away the fatigue and the events of the past few days. She wants to enjoy what she has accomplished. Despite the current circumstance, she has a perfect little being to call her own. She steels herself for whatever is ahead. No more tears. No more “why me”. No more of the whiny, weepy existence.
The H family closes ranks and live in their own bubble for the next day and a half. Ignoring the surgical tapes on the little limbs, the scores of prick marks and purplish- green bruises on the hands and feet. Tuning out the very obvious yellow color of the little-one’s skin- they do all the things that new parents do. They stay up at night, change dirty diapers, marvel and stare at the tiny being, feel overwhelmed…. They are as normal as they can possibly be, in their own little bubble. They enjoy a day of calm and normality, a brief interlude amidst chaotic times.
The bubble soon bursts though….
Two days later, Mr H and J take the little one back to the hospital. For her follow-up test. The doctor takes one look at her, and immediately asks the nurse to draw some blood. He then asks the couple to immediately take her to PEC (paediatric emergency centre). Her levels are now dangerously high…
They should have known…. They did maybe…. Lil Z was soooo yellow….
Even then, it is a blow. J who till now shed no tears, has a meltdown. In the hospital corridor. In public. She does not care. This is very, very, very far from what she had envisioned. This is not what having a baby meant. As if the pain of childbirth wasn’t enough…
First trip to the PEC…
The paediatric emergency centre is always chockablock. Depending on the severity of the condition (which will be assessed by a nurse at the entrance), there are levels of priority. The nurse peeks at Lil’ Z and sends the H’s straight to triage.
The vitals are checked. And the H’s wait for a doctor to be assigned. The place is packed to the rafters, and cries of little humans fill the air. The staff are in a state of perpetual hurry and the parent’s seemingly in perpetual worry. For a brief moment, J and Mr H are distracted….
The doctor comes in, takes a history, does a brief exam and orders blood tests.
The blood tests and getting an IV line in a neonate is hard. Getting it in a neonate whose every vein has already been compromised is harder still. For the parents who have to hold their newborn while three nurses prod and squeeze blood out for a sample, and then prick again a dozen times to get an IV access, then tape the leg rigid; while the little human screams her lungs out, catches her breath and then passes out is akin to a trip to the deepest portals of purgatory.
An hour later, Lil Z is admitted to the neonatal unit. The box is back. There is a rocking chair beside it, for the mother. The father can stand. Another dark night begins….
First night among the screaming angels and the walking dead.
The neonatal unit is packed to capacity. The wails of tiny humans ring through the corridors for the entire night. J catches snippets of conversations. One little one has short-gut syndrome. Another has a cardiac problem. One has meningitis. The diseases are varied, their consequences all are the same- crying babies and horrified parents.
The parents walk around with dread and worry writ large on their faces. Since it is the neonatal unit, the mothers there have all given birth recently. Just like J. All have raccoon like dark circles. Some can barely walk. Some are in wheel chairs. The fathers look helpless. They all look like the walking dead. Like zombies in a cheap, low budget Hollywood movie with crass make-up artists.
In a weird way, the miserable ambience grants some solace to Mr H and J. They are not alone. Theirs is not the only sick child. Collective misery is easier to bear.
Doctors, and more doctors….
Here, the system is such that Lil Z is never seen by the same doctor twice. Shifts change and so do doctors. Every doctor asks the same questions, and J can rattle off the progression of Lil Z’s illness minute by minute since birth. They nod. They flip pages of the case sheets…. They fill more pages. J knows the system….
Sadly, J feels like Z does not have a doctor at all. No personal bond is formed. No doctor knows exactly why she is here. The doctors seem to be treating the case- sheet instead of the human patient.
But this is the best hospital in the country. With the greatest resources and most advanced infrastructure. So they had to stay put and bear the system. It’s not like they could travel home with a sick baby…
Z’s levels come down again after a couple of days of therapy. Just enough to leave the hospital. Again.
The baby that arrives home in no way resembles the apple-cheeked, rosy, plump cherub that first entered this world. She is a muddy- brown, dry, shrivelled, scaly, dehydrated, ill- looking shadow of her former self.
Pricks, and more pricks.
For the next five days, the H family make daily trips to the PEC. For blood tests. Each prick is still like a nail in the parent’s heart but they learn to remain stoic and deal with it.
The levels keep rising everyday. On the sixth day, it is high enough to warrant admission….again!
Back to the neonatal unit.
This time gaining IV access takes almost an hour. The horror makes a grown man who never sheds a tear, almost cry.
Lil Z seems to be at her wit’s end. Seems like she is getting sick of the whole ordeal. The levels are almost high enough to consider exchange transfusion….
J and Mr H hang on. They have to, for Zoe’s sake. They turn to each other for strength and support. They take turns to watch over and console Zoe and to break down.
Blood tests now are being done every four hours. J refuses to watch Zoe getting pricked anymore. She sits, stunned. One sample shows abnormally high potassium levels. The consultant fears cardiac problems. J breaks down. For the second time.
The scare turns out to be a false one. Lil Z’s organ systems are doing just fine. God probably just wanted to have a laugh by scaring and toying with, the already petrified parents.
Next, Z’s haemoglobin levels fall alarmingly. The specialist on call, has a grim chat with J…..
J understands what is happening in her little daughter’s tiny body, more so than Mr H. She knows what the numbers mean and why they are significant. Knowing it all makes it a million times harder….
The hour is darkest before dawn.
The bilirubin levels start to stabilise. They don’t fall drastically, they are still abnormally high. Zoe is still very yellow. She still is anaemic. But atleast, now they are not rising. So, the specialist on call decides to send her home. Neonates are prone to infection and every second spent in the hospital is an open invitation to infections. So the doctors do not like keeping tiny humans in hospitals unless absolutely necessary.
So, Lil’ Z goes home. For the third time.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The daily visits to the PEC continue. It becomes a ritual for the H family. By afternoon, J starts getting herself and the little one ready. Mr H comes home from work and they all leave for the hospital. The bags are always ready and packed and stowed in the boot.
Zoe does go back to the neonatal unit one more time. But is discharged soon. The blood testing continues for another week after that. The levels are high, but stable.
Then one day, one fantastic, blessed day- the level FALLS. Almost six weeks of hospitals, and nurses and doctors and blood reports ….one day…the doctor looks at the piece of paper, SMILES (a first!) and says “ You can go home and please don’t come back unless she looks more yellow than she is now!”
What J and Mr H feel at this moment cannot be described in a mere word. It is super- intense relief mixed with guarded happiness. They know that Zoe is not completely well yet. But they know she will get there. It is a far cry from the fear of losing the precious being. The have truly been tested with fire. And it will probably make them stronger for life.
They also realise that only the battle has been won. The war remains….
They will worry for their child every single day, it is inescapable- for any parent. But they can take the worry in their stride. Hopefully, the darkness is behind them….Hopefully Z will grow up to be a delightful little child….
Till next time…
*Image – http://www.cuh.org.uk