After spending two days in the NICU, my son was taken off oxygen and we were ready to be discharged by Sunday…or so I thought. At some point on Saturday, I started having chills. Mild at first, by Sunday, it was full-blown – bed-shaking, teeth-chattering chills accompanied by a 103° fever.
“Are you having chills?” a nurse asked when she found me shivering uncontrollably in my bed.
Isn’t it rather obvious? I wondered. Unwilling to expend energy on speech, I nodded mutely.
She clucked sympathetically. “Maybe your milk is coming in. Some women get a fever when that happens”, she continued as she checked my chart and gave me my medication.
I nodded as I took the pills from her, swallowing them without looking. I was used to the routine - there was a pill for gas, vitamins, antibiotics. I was used to the routine and I was tired of it. I’d been in the hospital for three days and had barely spent any time with my newborn son, only visiting him in the NICU for snatches of time. Seeing him hooked up to all the beeping monitors was heartbreaking. Hearing one of them go off was alarming and scary. Watching him suck hungrily on a pacifier soaked in sugary water was even worse, because he wasn’t allowed to have milk for the first day. Having him off the oxygen and ready to go home was an incredible blessing and I was looking forward to taking him home and cuddling him as much as I wanted.
But, then the chills came. Desperate to go home, I tried to disguise it. I just need to pop a couple of Tylenol and I’ll be okay, I reassured myself. After all, the nurses seemed to think it was just my milk coming in. No worries. I wasn’t sick and I didn’t want to spend another day in the hospital. The room was actually very nice – the walls were a nice forest green, decorated with framed artwork with green nuances. Though narrow, the bed was ultra-comfortable and there was a pull out couch where my husband or mother could sleep at night. I could watch all my favorite shows and I didn’t even have to get up to reach the remote, as it was conveniently connected to the bed. The nurses were nice and friendly and the nurse-assistants always slipped me extra packs of mini-saltine crackers and tiny juice cups, which I stockpiled for when I got the munchies. Everything was very nice, but I still wanted to go home.
And I kept thinking I would get to do just that until my doctor told me I had an infection in my womb. My visiting privileges with my son were revoked and I was placed on a brutal round of antibiotics. The fever and infection cleared, but somehow I got sicker. My blood pressure skyrocketed to 200/150. Alarmed, my doctor placed me on more medication. Potassium pills, magnesium pills. Pills, pills. More pills.
“Why am I taking so many pills?” I asked one of the nurses.
“Well, because that’s what your doctor prescribed” the new nurse answered.
“But, what’s this pill for?” I persisted, on my way to getting very agitated.
When she couldn’t – or wouldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, I called my Dad – who happens to be a surgeon – and asked him what he thought. He expressed some misgivings, which tallied perfectly with my own concerns and frustrated me even more. Why were they giving me all these drugs when all I needed was to go home? The fever was gone and the infection had cleared. True, my blood pressure was high, but I felt like it was partly due to having so many saline drips and my anxiety over being able to see my son.
Suddenly incensed, I glared at the nurse “I’m not taking that medicine.”
“But, your doctor ordered it!” she exclaimed, shocked that I would even consider going against the doctor’s orders.
“I don’t care. I don’t know what that medicine is for and I’m not going to take it.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as she struggled with her own anger. Her chest rose and fell with emotion and she finally said with admirable restraint “Well, if you don’t take your medicine I’ll have to call your doctor and tell him.”
Did she think that would scare me? ‘Go ahead’ I dared her right back, still fueled by my anger and frustration.
A couple of hours later, the anger that filled my chest dissolved into tears when my doctor sat beside me, holding my hand and patiently explaining why he placed me on that medication regimen. Emotionally exhausted, tears rolled down my face as I listened to him…and I finally caved. I took the medicine, ignoring the faintly smug look of my new nurse who had been on vacation for the bulk of my stay.
My son and I ended up leaving the hospital 9 days after we first got there for what was supposed to a routine C-section. During that time, I had an ECG, EKG, a diagnosis of an enlarged heart (which made me think of Kanu Nwankwo and start plotting all the ways I could live a healthier life) and enough blood tests to last a lifetime. In the end, my discharge was rather unceremonious and lacking in drama.
“Ms. Odunze, there’s nothing wrong with your heart” the cardiologist announced. “Your blood pressure is high because you’re anxious and you want to go home. So, here. Take this blood pressure medication and go home with your son.”
And so we went home with our brand new son. I rejoiced in him and marveled at his baby soft skin. So soft and smooth. So perfect. I looked at his tiny feet. Ten tiny toes. So cute and so perfect…wait, what was that? My son’s right foot hung at an awkward angle. Try as I did, it wouldn’t sit straight like the other one. We had been in the hospital for almost ten days and he had been seen by a pediatrician every single day, but no one had noticed this? Turns out my son had Metatarsus Adductus – a condition where the foot points downwards. They said it was probably because of his size (he was a big baby) and his position in the womb (he was breech). After several consultations and unsuccessful castings, we ended up opting for surgery when my son was about 14 months old.
“It’ll be a minor surgery”, the orthopedic surgeon reassured us. “He’ll be under anesthesia for about twenty minutes and we’ll just go in, make a tiny cut and elongate the tendon. And that’ll be it.”
It sounded simple, but no surgery is ever minor. I was filled with trepidation, but we trusted God to protect him and he came out of the surgery no worse for the wear, with his right leg in a cast which he wore for one month. We all waited, hoping that he would start walking…but he wasn’t ready yet. Instead, he concentrated on fine-tuning his crawling; going from a military-style elbows-on-the-ground kind of thing to his knees and hands and finally to what I like to call ‘butt-scooting’.
My son has been through so much since he was born – no, he doesn’t have a chronic disease, or a life-threatening condition (and I’m eternally grateful that he doesn’t), but his quality of life has been seriously challenged. Multiple ear infections led to far too many doses of antibiotics and finally double-ear tubes; his formerly perfect skin became hard, scaly and extremely itchy due to eczema (which in turn is due to allergies); his previously robust frame shrank down to a shadow of his former self from many bouts of illness. Slowly, but surely, God has been working to restore him to full health. We’re seeing an allergist now and figuring out his triggers so we can avoid them. His skin is smoothening out and the previously frantically itchy skin has been upgraded to just ‘itchy’.
He’s been through a lot, so the day he took his first steps at almost 19-months old, I was beside myself with excitement. His two feet were planted flat on the ground, practically indistinguishable from each other. As he tottered forward, I breathed a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Even though I didn’t have my camera to document the moment, I knew it was one I would never forget. It was Mother’s Day and I had been given the best present ever.
PS: CJ is twenty months now and practically running! Seeing him walk around confidently still amazes me. Thanks for reading, everyone. Stay inspired...