Thursday, July 21, 2011

Having a loved one in the NICU.....

If you have read my last two posts, they have been about our newest little grandson....who decided to arrive a few weeks early and is now in an NICU.  I have had folks ask me what it is like in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Well, for me personally, this is a familiar environment as I work in a hospital setting and have experience in a NICU.  However, it is a whole different ball game when you are suddenly the family member and not the health care provider. Add to that a couple of young parents who are experiencing this scenario for the first time.

So, I decided to show you what the experience is like.  There are very strict rules surrounding the NICU which are primarily for the safety and protection of the infant.  Above is the scrub sink. Everyone entering the NICU has to scrub their hands and be very, very clean.  The water is activated by a motion sensor and the bottles of 'gel' to clean your hands are activated by...

this foot pump.  (I secretly always wanted one of these for my home...but was not to be).  This is necessary so that faucets and handles are not touched and thus contaminating clean hands.

This package contains a scrubbing sponge and a nail cleaner.  These are used to scrub the hands for 3 minutes.

There are very strict procedures posted on the door....which has a special lock that can only be activated by a code for those entering.  There was also another sign that talked about cell phones.  Not only were they to be turned off so that the signal did not interfere with the life saving technology, but also they are considered to be a high infection control risk.  Think about it, these devices go everywhere with you, and have little crevices.  How many of you disinfect your cellphone?

Pain is carefully monitored and managed.  Here is the scale used to determine the infants pain level.  Pain can certainly come from needle sticks and invasive procedures like the placement of a Ventilator.  But, you may be surprised to learn that light, sound, positioning, and touch can also be painful experiences.  Consider that this baby should still be in utero and is not 'built' to be experiencing these sensations this early.

A monitor is placed on the baby's foot to monitor it's oxygen saturation levels.  Respiratory issues are very big in premature infants so this needs to monitored constantly. Little brains need oxygen.

Computer monitors shows several different measures all on one screen.  Heart rate, respirations, etc are tracked and monitored so that instantaneous changes can be made. Premature infants are very fragile.

IV's  and electrodes are also used to help monitor vital functions. It is hard for parents to see 'tubes and wires' coming from their infant. They are awkward to manage when you finally get to hold and feed your infant, but certainly can be managed.  They are lifesaving connections for their young baby.

For those infants who present with Jaundice, they are placed under UV lights as a treatment.

Little eyes are protected from the light as well.

However, as a grandparent, I am grateful to the medical professionals who use their skill and training to assist my grandson as he attempts to manage his new world. This NICU operates very differently from the units I have worked in with some aspects being positive and some being negative.  However, the end result is what my little grandson is now in the 'step-down' unit which means he is no longer in an Incubator and is in an Isolette breathing room air.  His parents now can dress him in his 'cute clothes' and do all of his cares while they are there. The last hurdle is feeding.  This little one just doesn't have the strength or endurance to take full feedings yet.....and the coming weeks will be focused on this very important skill.

Finally, these kids have great insurance.  As a former manager.....I subconsciously look at the costs of things at times.  As I visited the NICU with my adult children and saw the one-on-one staffing for my grandson, the instrumentation, medications, etc....the numbers added up very quickly.  I wouldn't be surprised if their bill to date was now in the hundreds of thousands.  However, the portion owed by this infants parents is doable.  So, now here is a soapbox need health insurance!  This is a very important part of being self-reliant and prepared.  Imagine if these parents did not have insurance.  How could they have foreseen an a premature infants arrival?  This bill alone could have bankrupted them.  So, be loving enough to your family to protect them. Look at your means and make the choice to be financially prepared by having health insurance.  You never know when you need to rely on my adult children found out this past week.


Heather H said...

I so agree about having insurance, in early January I had our fourth baby, then a day later burst an artery on my uterus and ended up needing an emergency hysterectomy at 32 yrs old. The bills were over $40,000, but thanks to insurance we only had to pay $1,000. I hope your little grandson gets better fast.

The Little Red Hen said...

Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to hear that you had this happen to you. However, I''m glad you had the foresight to have financial security by being insurance. Enjoy your little one!

Michaela Stephens said...

I think that this post does a fabulous job of explaining some of what can be expected in the NICU. Part of preparedness is mental preparedness, knowing what to expect. I think you've done some parents or future parents a service here.

The Little Red Hen said...

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope the information is helpful.

Building Place said...

Thank you for your post - it brought back many memories of our week in NICU with our youngest.

For those that may be experiencing a NICU in a teaching hospital, there is an added complication you should monitor closely. There were easily a half-dozen or more times during our daughter's stay where residents (student doctors) came in with various equipment to "do tests" that we were not informed about ahead of time.

In every case, these were really "teaching moments" - not necessary tests or procedures based on our daughter's medical condition. In one case a conversation with the attending physician led to the withdrawl of an unnecessary ultrasound - only to see the machine come back again 12 hours later under the watchful care of the next shift's resident.

We learned quickly to "be in the room" every second that we were permitted, and to remain nearby when it was necessary to step out. We also learned to question everything, which had the (intended) consequence of eventually training the residents to look elsewhere for their "training moments."

A week was seven days too long in the NICU - I deeply empathized with those parents who had a newborn in NICU care for weeks or months. In the end, however, what is most important is that our now teenage daughter is whole and healthy.

The Little Red Hen said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am sorry you had the added worry of unnecessary testing and procedures. Thankfully, that has not been the experience of my little grandson or his parents.

How nice to know you have a teenager...congratulations. I belive that 'aging' is the best gift to those who start in the NICU.

Best wishes,

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