I confess, I watch CSI. I find it mindless and the gore doesn’t move me at all. I switch over if my children come downstairs, and of course one of them asked me what I was hiding; why I watched something horrid. I had to think about that. I think it goes back to NICU. Once you’ve watched someone prick your baby’s foot and squeeze out a phial of blood twice a day, or seen a skilled doctor struggle to find a vein in an arm the size of my finger, made up TV gore is meaningless. It’s just ketchup and escapism, nothing like real blood and pain and fear.
I remember vividly one terrifying incident in NICU. I can still feel the sweet stickiness of blood on my fingers; I can feel the tension even writing about it. My eldest, Finn, had been in high dependency for about 3 weeks, but wasn’t doing all that well. He seemed to be moving off CPAP (a breathing system which inflates your lungs for you but has less risk of infection than a ventilator) but it seemed harder and harder. His breathing worsened by the hour. We had stopped thinking he could die any minute, but those thoughts came creeping back. He was blue rather than white and breathing seemed so much effort. The doctors decided to give him a blood transfusion, so he had some more red blood cells to help him along. He was 2kg by then (teeny, but almost twice his birth weight) so he got 10mls per kilo, that’s 20ml – two tablespoons of blood.
So Finn started his blood transfusion and we left him to rest. I came back to feed him. I had hoped to see an improvement, but he still looked bluey-white and sleepy. I resolved to be positive and feed him some quality breast milk. I organized myself to change his nappy, then I slipped my hands into his tiny warm bed to scoop him up. I felt something sticky oozing onto my fingers; a runny poo leaking out his nappy, out his vest, through his babygrow. I pulled back the covers. I realised my fingers were red and sticky, not yellowy-brown, just a split second before I saw the blood bath. My baby was lying in a puddle of blood, his tiny white babygrow saturated in scarlet, black where it had coagulated and dried. And he just lay there. I remember trying really hard not to scream but a weird noise came out of my mouth.
“It’s not his blood,” said the nurse, several times, patting my shoulder. “It’s the donor blood.” Finally I took in that the transfusion blood had leaked: those two tablespoons had spread very wide. The microscopic (almost) needle in his arm had blocked, so the blood had been pumped over him and his bed. He wasn’t allowed any more, as nobody could tell how much he’d had. That was very frustrating.
But two wonderful things happened. Firstly, he got better all by himself; his colour improved, his breathing self-regulated and he needed less and less oxygen. The second wonderful thing (now you see how shallow I am) was that to get the sticky blood off him he was allowed his first bath ever. That doesn’t sound very wonderful, but it was, because it was normal, it’s what mothers do with their babies, play with them in warm bubbly water and wrap them in big towels.
In less than a week we went from a blood-transfusion to a bubble bath; such was the roller-coaster of NICU; an incredible journey for which you don’t want a ticket.