By Melissa Kirsch
Jane was the prime example of the dream NICU stay for a 25-weeker. Her progress was slow, yet steady, consistently making small steps toward home. However, her NICU stay wasn’t void of setbacks and scares. She encountered many of the common micro-preemie problems: PDA (an opening between her heart and lungs), low blood counts, bradycardic events, prolonged respiratory support, retinopathy of prematurity, and feeding issues. When she was two days old she had a pulmonary hemorrhage; they were suctioning blood out of her breathing tube for at least a week. It was traumatic for me but didn’t seem to create respiratory distress for her, and it resolved on its own.
At about three weeks old, Jane had symptoms suggesting a common problem preemies face, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). It is essentially a condition that creates inflammation in the intestines, causing intestinal tissue to die. NEC is a scary and difficult problem for preemies to overcome and can have lasting effects on digestion. The Neonatologist wasn’t convinced Jane had NEC, but treated her with antibiotics as a precaution.
When Things Got Scary
At three weeks old, Jane also had her breathing tube removed and was put on non-invasive ventilation! She had been extubated for five days when her heart rate and oxygen saturations began to repeatedly drop. Because of her PDA, it was normal for her saturations to bounce back and forth. Many preemies have their heart rates drop and are able to recover on their own. They actually give these tiny little babies caffeine for this common problem. Much like me today – solving life’s problems with a good cup of coffee.
But the frequency at which Jane’s heart rate was dropping was becoming concerning, setting off the alarms every few minutes with another event. Her nurse was very attentive and tried “all the things” to help. But after doing all she could, she gently told me Jane might need to be reintubated and called the Nurse Practitioner to come assess Jane. The Nurse Practitioner listened to Jane’s heart and lungs, then called for the doctor, also saying Jane may need to be reintubated. The doctor ordered X-rays, thinking NEC could be the root cause. The room quickly filled with people bustling around, trying to help Jane.
As a person who is easily worried, this was an environment that had serious potential to trigger my inner worrywart. I was very aware of how little I could contribute to the situation, so in an attempt to stay out of the way, I stepped back to the corner of the room, watching it all take place.
There was a scripture hung above Jane’s isolette that read: “But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, ‘Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” (Luke 8:50, King James Bible). In all the hustle and bustle, my eyes locked on this scripture and I repeated it over and over again in my head. For the first time in my life, I felt like my first reaction was not fear. I didn’t feel afraid. I kept telling myself, “All you have to do right now is believe – it’s just that simple. Don’t be afraid, don’t be worried, don’t be anxious, only believe. You can do that.”
And just like that, Jane’s heart rate stabilized and her breathing settled. As her room began to clear out, I reached into her isolette and held her hands. One hand wrapped around my index finger and the other around my pinky finger.
In the time it took for the X-rays to be reviewed, Jane was already back to normal. They ruled out NEC and decided to stay the course. She didn’t need to be reintubated.
Thank you, Jesus! The following day, we had the same nurse and she told me she had been sure Jane would be intubated when she came back that day.
I don’t care to ever know what caused that eventful night for Jane. What I do know is that Jesus took care of it for her. I’m convinced it was Jesus instructing my heart not to worry that night. Those words arrested my fear, I believed, and Jane was made whole. From that day on, she continued to make only forward progress toward home.
Melissa is a mother to three earth-side children, as well as one daughter she looks forward to reuniting with in heaven. Her twin daughters spent 198 days in the NICU after a premature birth at 25 weeks.