Monthly Archives: October 2010

Agape

 
You Were Loved performed by Ashleigh

Dear Gracie, 

We have been moved into the pediatric ward in the children’s hospital, and  I am sitting in a recliner writing this letter to you because I finally have some time to  reflect. Parents usually have the best intentions to write a letter to their children, but always get too exhausted to start one. I felt like I should write you a letter to show you how much you have been loved in the first 36 hours of your birth. Agape is a biblical term for love translated from Greek into English. It is mostly ideintified in the context of Christianity with  God/Christ’s love with man.  In the past 36 hours, people from all regions of the state of NJ, NY, TN, and VA have taken time out of their day to visit you and shower you with gifts. At this point, the size of these gifts dwarf your size because you are not even 12 inches in length and weigh less that a pound and a half.  Tears  have been shed along with prayers and wishes.  Christians from different denominations have prayed for you while including you on their  prayer lists. Agnostics and atheists have reached across their lines and faith to extend their thoughts and well wishes. People have attempted to communicate to us via social networking, phones,  visits, texts,landline, and cell phone calls.  You are fighting for your life one floor above me with the assistance of machines, medicines, technology, knowledge and qualified individuals, but the gift and essence of life is something you own and can not be replicated by those items. Those items only play a supportive role.  

It would be completely untrue if I told you that your parents were perfect  in every way.  People have faith in you because they have faith in us. They have faith that we are not only going to be the best parents we can be, but also that we will share you with the world.  You will soon learn that the world sometimes makes  little sense and that you have little control over life. However, you will know that with  friends and family like ours anything can be accomplished. None of the battles in life can be won alone.

 Your name is Grace Ann Shu. In our opinion, a name is built just like your mother and I have built a home and life together. Grace represents your mother’s great grandmother who looks and sings alot like her and Ann comes from Aunt Shirley. Aunt Shirley was an individual  who could never be duplicated. She desperately would have wanted to meet you, because she always wanted Ashleigh and I to produce a child. She passed away last year from her  battle with  cancer. She was a fighter, but her faith was as resilient as her smile.  I had the honor of knowing Aunt Shirley for  three years. She was the first to welcome me into the family and her culinary skills were amazing. I found out that your mother’s culinary skills were atributed to the countless hours spent in Aunt Shirley’s kitchen. She made the best deviled eggs known to man.  Her kindred spirit could  light a room and her presence was irreplaceable during special occassions and holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas were perfect with her, not because there were expensive presents or extensive festivities but because she was the adhesive which made the family come together. Ashleigh and I can only do our best to duplicate the success of her life  through our friendships and family. Your presence with us so far has done the same exact thing Aunt Shirley did on a daily basis. You have brought smiles, tears and joys. People have decided to make attempts to resolve personal and professional conflicts to join in the goal to love you.  No amount of money in the world could buy those things.  We have missed Aunt Shirley greatly and thought that the greatest honor  we could give her was naming you in her memory.  In 36 hours, we have seen her in you. Her spirit has been somehow fused with yours. Her love catapulted an individual out of the darkness of loneliness. You have done the same thing by allowing your parents to hear stories from friends and strangers  spilling their personal stories filled with emotions and tragic experiences.  Aunt Shirley has given us the gift to love and listen even more than before.

People have opened up their hearts, tear ducts, and homes for us because of you.  The lesson I want you to learn is that the greatest assets in life aren’t measured by money, power, wealth or influence; it is measured by the number of true friendships and meaningful relationships you can have in life.  You have been able to make a person smile or cry just with a yawn or a limb jerk.  About this time last year Aunt Shirley left us; however, with her last bit of energy she came to my birthday party as a suprise with a grand smile.  Shortly after that she passed and that was the last memory I had of Aunt Shirley. She spent the last moments to be a part of my life. You have decided to share your first moments with us, family and friends.

Her passing gave us the strength to have you and to understand the importance of family as well as God’s love of man, agape. 

As you get older, you’re going to realize at some point that you will have lots of aunties in your life and they are all of different shades.  You will be surrounded by people who come from all different cultural backgrounds, but at the end of the day they will love you unconditionally while providing  you with the wisdom generated from agape. This is the greatest gift we can give you.

More Precious than Gold

As I am writing this entry,  the price of gold is $1340 a troy ounce. Ashleigh’s  colostrum was worth much more than that in gold.  During this pregnancy, we monitored our caloric intake, took vitamins, consumed fresh vegetables, and received plenty of rest and sleep. Fast food was a a treat once every one to two weeks. Our careful behavior got us this far and we weren’t about to let it go to waste.   I went into Ashleigh’s room and told her of my experience upstairs. The nurse took and printed a pic of Gracie; I later found out that she did it partially because pictures of babies stimulate milk production.  I always imagined  that I would have taken the first picture of my daughter.

I gave the picture immediately to Ashleigh because  I wanted her to pump as quickly as she felt up to it. When a woman pumps,her uterus contracts. Ashleigh’s uterus had just been filleted. The benefits of breast milk for babies are great, but breastfeeding for women is just as advantageous. It burns more calories to help the woman to return to their normal prepregnancy weight, helps decrease  the chance of breast, uterine, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, increases bone strength to fend off osteoporosis,  and offers the mother way to emotionally bond with her baby. A delicate balance had to be struck to preserve both the health of both the mother and baby.

I presented Ashleigh with Gracie’s first picture and asked her to request a pump while I  took her friends upstairs to visit Gracie. They loved the wall and one of her friends commented on how a coworker’s daughter was on the wall of survivors. The first thing people say when they meet Gracie is they can’t believe her size. One of the things I observed when these two friends saw Gracie was how emotionally shocked they were. Although these were seasoned mothers, they weren’t  prepared for Gracie. 

They eventually had to return back to work, and I went back to Ashleigh. She called the nurses and asked to see her daughter. The nurses got Ashleigh out of the bed and retied her gown, hung her IVs, bags and pain pump  on her wheelchair. I wheeled her up and we were buzzed into the NICU. The nurse gave Ashleigh hand sanitizer as i was washing up. I wheeled Ashleigh into the NICU; this was the first time we were together as a family.  The neonatalogist  told Ashleigh the same information he told me as he watched her tears pour down her face. However, I could see through Ashleigh’s body language that she was as confident in this doctor as I was.  We completed our visit and as we left the NICU were greeted by Ashleigh’s coworker and his wife who had a preemie on the unit’s survivor wall along with Ashleigh’s brother, his girlfriend, girlfriend’s sister and mother. I took Ashleigh’s friend and his wife in first and they knew the drill.  He congratulated me, and I said thanks. We walked over and visited Gracie and he mentioned that seeing Gracie almost made him want another one.  He educated me on some of the things that were worth looking forward to such as the kangaroo method and the 3 lb party. He was the first person to give me something to look forward to all day.

They left and I escorted my brother-in-law and his girlfriend and they commented on her beauty and size. I escorted them out and then brought in the gf’s sister and mother. They were appreciative and loved the opportunity to share our household’s most prized possession.  We went back to the room and were greeted with flowers, balloons and Ashleigh’s grandparents and another ex-coworker who screamed out Mrs. Shu.  Ashleigh preferred to stay in her wheelchair. I wish I could have been a little more enthused but I was more than tired. I walked Ash’s grandmother and friend up to the NICU and didn’t even think about looking at my watch. I picked up the phone and they buzzed us; we continued to wash our hands and a nurse advised us about the closed visitation times.  I had the cleanest arms and hands in the hospital that day. I had unknowingly broken the NICU’s cardinal rule of not bringing up anyone during 5-7 PM (Shift change) on the first day. I apologized to my guests and brought them back down.  

Everyone left shortly and Ashleigh requested a breast pump as she was assisted back into bed.  

Upon my return, I saw the hospital’s Aveeda breast pump on Ashleigh. It was a four foot contraption that looked a like a toned down plastic engine piston within a chamber. She was given breast shields, tubes, and  a pink plastic bin to wash the parts in along with a travel size of Palmolive.  Palmolive will never be the same in my eyes. 

I was worried about Ashleigh’s uterus and wanted reassurance that it would be up to the job and that the pain medication wouldn’t affect the quality of the breast milk. The nurses gave us the go ahead.  Suddenly, I felt tired. My wife and mother-in-law felt it and told me to get some rest. Thankfully, the room had a pullout single chair bed. I was too tired to pull it out all the way so I just passed out face first with my legs hanging off.  My mother in law and family friend decided to go and pick up the car from Bristol Regional and bring it to me so I could go home.   I dozed off and  was awakened by different women crying. This woman was a coworker of Ashleigh’s. As I was still tired, I opened one eye and saw her crying and talking with Ashleigh. I dozed in and out and then she left quietly.  I later woke up to my mother in law and wife preparing a list of Ashleigh’s essentials. She had just finished a mostly balanced liquid meal. That was the only gauge of what time it was. It was dinner. My mother in law had unpacked the gifts the seasoned mothers left and brought personal hygiene products. She and Ashleigh were hashing out what I would need to bring back from home. After they completed the list, I left and was told by close family friend that the car was parked in the Holly section in the parking lot. I stumbled around the hospital until I found the exit of the Niswonger hospital. The sun along with the fact that I hadn’t  bathed in more than 24 hours made my skin itch.  I got in the car and had the loneliest ride of my life. When I pulled into the driveway the sun was just setting and the insomnia hit me like a sledgehammer. I wanted to crawl out of the car to my front door. I stumbled drunkenly from exhaustion to the front door and went into the house and took off my shoes. I proceeded into the direction of my bedroom and collapsed onto my wife’s pregnancy pillow on the sleigh bed and crawled towards my alarm clock where I somehow managed to set the alarm for  45 mins.  My mother in law called me before the alarm went off and asked me to add something to the list.  I got out of bed and went to take a shower. The hot  shower did nothing for my comfort and neither did the shave. I stumbled into the kitchen and warmed up two day old Long John Silvers’  fish and chicken along with coleslaw and hushpuppies.  It tasted bland so I poured on the hot sauce and still no sense of taste.  My appetite and sense of taste had become null and void just like all of my other senses. I grabbed a suitcase and packed Ashleigh’s bag along with a few of my things. This is when I realized that I was essentially packing our go bag for February. I grabbed my SLR camera and laptop and some snacks and left the house.  I rolled the suitcase through the children’s hospital entrance and continued to Ashleigh’s room to relieve my mother in law and the family friend.

Ashleigh was ready to pump and we had a progress chart along with directions to pump every three hours. She was immobile, so I programmed the alarm on my phone and laid down. Ashleigh’s first pumping was at 10 and she produced 2 ccs. I went and washed and dried the parts. Then at 1 AM the alarm woke me up I stumbled around without my glasses and hooked up the pump parts to the pump and let Ashleigh do her thing and went back to sleep for 30 mins. My deprivation of sleep continued as I woke up every three hours, slept during her 30 min pumpings, got back up to empty the bottles into syringes, record, label , drop off the syringes at the nurses stations for refrigeration, came back to wash the bottles and then fell asleep. Somewhere in between, I was woken by doors opening and closing due to nurses taking Ashleigh’s vitals.  At some unbelievable time in the morning, a doctor of middle eastern descent came in and introduced himself as the attending physician and said he was with Ashleigh in surgery. I shot up and he told me I could go back to sleep.  He spoke about the surgery and how her uterus was filleted and checked her incision while explaining to her the risks of  future pregnancies.  Then, he proceeded to talk about the baby and warned us about the potential effects of Gracie’s  gestational age and told Ashleigh to take advantage of the pain medication.  I walked over to our breast milk chart and added the total milk produced. The final tally? 10 ML.

The Wall

The Wall

Outside of the NICU

The elevator came to a halt and the doors opened. The nurse walked out and I was the last one to leave. She led us through the hospital as we passed the Doug Lawrie NICU wing. As we continued to navigate the hospital I realize that this is unlike any hospital I have been in. I  have always held reservations against hospitals due to the negative experiences, but this environment felt different. I  forced myself to memorize the path to the NICU by using kids’ framed construction paper art as path markers.   On the last turn to the NICU, the nurse pointed out the wall of  NICU survivors’ multicolored footprints and handprints along with their names, birth dates and weight. I couldn’t muster the courage to look at the wall.  I couldn’t handle the fact that Gracie had a 50 percent chance of survival and may not even be able to see the wall or the light of day. The odds presented to me were unacceptable.  The NICU sign on this blog’s header  is the one sitting on top of the NICU entrance. Our guide picked up the phone and it connected directly with the NICU unit. The nurse announced that the dad and family of the Grace Ann Norris- Shu baby were here. The door buzzed and we walked  in. We were approached by a nurse and she gave us direction on how to scrub up to your elbows with hot water and soap for 3 minutes. This was to prevent the spread of any contagions or bacteria within the NICU which would lead to fatal consequences.

We walked up to Gracie and she was in an incubator. To her right was a ventilator and to her left was an LCD screen  with her vitals and a lot of drip bags and ivs.    Most parents  greet their babies with open arms and as a family. Here I was transported and introduced to my daughter by nurses and through plexiglass. Her first moments weren’t spent in the arms of her mother or father, but inside a box away from the light of day.  I had no idea  how Ashleigh would take this.  The neonatologist came out to greet us and explained the risks of preemies and how critical setting milestones were at this time. The milestones were the first 24, the first 48 and then the first 72 hours. If the preemie made it past the 72 hour mark she would enter into the honeymoon period and then transition into the rollercoaster period. He explained to us that Gracie would have a long road ahead of her and that her pure oxygen intake had been reduced from 100 percent to 28 percent in 4 hours. To manage our shock with the situation, he suggested that we measure her progress with milestones and not by the hour. He almost demanded that the mother start pumping because breast milk is specifically formulated for each baby.  Again, he asked me if I had any questions, but I could not even process the information he was giving.

The nurse brightened up the mood by telling us that black female preemies were the hardiest. Followed by white female preemies, black males and white males had the lowest survival rates.  Again, a wealth of information came at us like a tsunami. I had no idea on how to process it. She strongly urged breastfeeding because of the colostrum.  Colostrum is a mild laxative which helps the baby pass its first stool filled with excess bilirubin while helping to prevent jaundice.  It carries antibodies and stimulates gut growth which is the immune system’s first line of defense due to its  bloodstream absorption properties. Colostrum is essentially liquid gold for preemies. The nurse drew me a diagram to process the way colostrum fortified cell walls.  The nurse opened up the incubator and let my mother in law and our pastor  touch Gracie’s limbs and we prayed. Afterwards, I was handed a bag of syringes, id tags and tubes to be filled with “liquid gold”.  She told us that visitation was not allowed between 5-7  and that parents were the only ones allowed to bring guests. She gave me paperwork to fill out regarding photo releases, important contact information, release of patient conditions, parental rights, blood transfusions and risks,  breastfeeding, NICU information, and other things.  My mother in law and pastor left me in silence as I sat in the front of Gracie’s bed signing and reading potentially life altering documents.  Ashleigh and I have a checks and balance system when signing important paperwork.  Doing this alone was necessary and uncomfortable, but I heard Ashleigh’s voice saying “I trust you.”  I asked if  I needed my wife to sign off as well. The nurse informed me that in the state of  TN  if the parents are legally married one parent’s consent is sufficient enough.  I thanked the nurse, grabbed my copies of the paperwork and breast milk containers and left the NICU. I ignored the wall by looking out the windows and recalled the path back to Room 1512.

The Pressure Cooker

It seems that the most dreadful things in life require us to wait. The attending OB/GYN, with a russian accent came in and spoke with us about Ashleigh’s surgery. She proceeded to explain to us what a classical c section entailed. Her uterus was cut vertically and a traditional c section was performed on the other two layers.  All future births will have to delivered at 36 weeks.  She warned us about potential caveats such as future preterm labor  leading to potential preemies. She also answered our questions about what caused the preterm labor.  It was in the attending’s observation that Ashleigh’s placenta somehow lifted itself from the uterus and it caused a clot/rupture which then produced toxins and the uterus automatically detected a threat and started contracting.  The classical c section was performed because Gracie was in the breech position. She asked if we had any questions and asked to schedule a follow up appointment in her office in two days.  A cleaning staff member came in afterwards and cleaned the room and mopped the hardwood floors. All I could do was stare at my own reflection in the wet hardwood floors.

Then the dreaded wait for the neonatalogist came into fruition. The neonatologist  was a medium stature man wearing a long sleeve Polo dress shirt with a window pane pattern coupled with khakis.  He identified himself and asked if  I was the daddy. My daddy bracelet gave it away.  This was the first time I was addressed by the title since Gracie’s birth and it felt like someone had just punched me in the gut.  It solidified my belief that the title of dad has to be earned as a badge of courage and not just by a donation of genetic material. All I wanted to know from this man was how long I was going to hold the title. I let doctor do the talking and he presented us with some dark facts. Gracie was on 100 percent oxygen, she was completely supported by machines, and had a 50 percent chance of survival.  He gave us other information, but said that he would give us more information in three hours after he completed Gracie’s assessment. He wanted to prepare us for the worst while realizing that there was another side to the coin. He was surprised when we told him that Ashleigh received excellent prenatal care.  

His knowledge gave me the confidence I needed.   My mother in law had previously asked my grandmother in law to get ahold of our church pastor to come and pray. Ashleigh was finally rolled back in from recovery and was crying and apologizing. Her mother and I kept telling her that it wasn’t her fault.  Ashleigh kept asking us if we blamed her and we kept insisting that we didn’t and that this was just part of the plan.  Ashleigh asked how Gracie was and it took every ounce of restraint to tell her that she was going to be ok while refraining from producing the dismal statistics. She asked her mom and she replied with a “touch and go answer”.  She was thirsty so I fed her ice chips with a spoon. Ashleigh friends had called previously and dropped by before her return to offer to buy clothes, garments and transitional items for her hospital stay.  Their presence and knowledge of motherhood was invaluable. They came in as Ashleigh was apologizing.

They gave Ashleigh hugs and got a briefing. One of her friends gave Ashleigh her Medela double pump. We are still using this pump and I am convinced that it is a beast.  The pastor arrived and was introduced by Ashleigh to her friends. He grabbed Ashleigh’s hand and prayed. We gave him a briefing and my mother in law hinted at visiting Gracie. This gave me the courage of going out to find the NICU. I attempted to navigate the labyrinth of the women’s surgery wing, but I ended up back where I started.  One of our nurses sensed my confusion and asked if I needed help. I asked her for directions and she offered to guide me there. I asked if she would mind if I grabbed my mother in law and pastor.  We went back and I had the nurse as our guide while being flanked by my mother in law and pastor. We finally ended in the lobby of the children’s hospital and she pressed the up button.  The elevator rung like a timer and announced that it was going up and that too was where my faith was also heading.

Chaos

Well this is a site designed to keep people posted on the progress of Grace “Gracie”  Ann Shu and the rest of the Shu family. Gracie came 4 months early and the chain of events leading to her birth were a little less than ordinary.

Ashleigh started cramping at 8:30 PM. I rubbed her stomach and spoke with Gracie and the cramping  subdued. As 1:00 AM rolled around Ashleigh was cramping badly and Ashleigh decided to shower and get presentable in order to  leave for the hospital at 3 AM. We thought the culprit behind the cramping was because of either a urnary tract or bladder infection.  We arrived at the Emergency Room at Bristol Regional and they immediately trasnferred us upstairs to the OB/GYN unit. Apparently if you are over 22 weeks you get transferred immediately to the maternity ward. Ashleigh was wheeled 20 feet to the emergency room doors where I had to pick up and drop off 200 yards away in the East Plaza. Ashleigh and I walked to the elevators and went up to the maternity ward. There we checked in with the nurses station where they ecorted us to an observation room and we filled out paperwork while Ashleigh shared her symptoms  and was hooked up to a fetal heart monitor as her vitals and contractions were monitored. Then one of the doctors came in and checked Ashleigh and spoke with her about her symptoms. The on call OB/Gyn was called in  and she checked Ashleigh with a speculum and realized that Ashleigh was 4 cms dialated with contractions 3 mins apart. This freaked out everyone in the room as everyone suddenly rushed into a GO mode. Ashleigh made me call her mother and we attempted to get in touch with Ash’s family. Ashleigh’s phone was dead  as usual and we had to manage by memory. What I mean by GO MODE is that everyone ran everywhere and needles were being shoved in Ashleigh. The only thing I was able to gather from everything was that Steroids were being injected into Ashleigh to get Gracie’s lungs developing. Also medicine was given to Ashleigh to slow down the contractions.  Meanwhile the attending physician spoke, cried and apologized to Ashleigh. All I kept hearing was ” I am so sorry”.  This floored Ashleigh as she became the centrifuge of emotions and broke down. Then Ashleigh started apologizing to me as she went deeper into labor. Dr. Harmon was great in not only consoling Ashleigh but also explaining to the shocked dad the steps that were being taken to transport and stablize his wife. I had nothing to say because I was dumbfounded by what was going on around me. I kept hoping that all of this was a nightmare that I was going to wake up from. However, here i was carrying Ashleigh’s clothes, a banana, Ipod touch and a book. The reason for the Ipod touch and a book was because I figured this was all due to a bladder and a urinary tract infection that was going to result in one of the typical 4 hour long emergency room waits.

Dr. Harmon advised us that a transport was being arranged to Johnson City because they were the only ones capable of handling a baby of this gestational age.  As this was going on my wife was being plugged with machines by nurses and surrounded by doctors. When the transport arrived I hustled to get a plastic bag for her belongings and then jumped into the front seat of the ambulance. We roared out of the parking lot with two EMS workers, a doctor and a nurse in about ten minutes and went the back way from BRC to Volunteer Parkway on our way to JCMC. It was a lukewarm feeling to roll pass the Bluff City traffic trap without getting a ticket. I just wished it was under different circumstances. We rolled into the Niswonger Wing and a team of people were waiting for my wife.

I thought the chaos at BRMC was bad, but the experience in room 1512 was exponentially worse. We had attendees, residencts, nurses, and anaesthesiologists reaching and climbing over each other asking the same medical history questions.

Did she get prenantal care? Do we have records here? How far along is she? Is she allergic to anything? Is this her first pregnancy? Preexisting medical conditions? Previous surgeries? Family history?  Do you want us to do everything we can for the baby? These questions were asked over and over again to my mother in law, Ashleigh and myself. Meanwhile Ashleigh was in the background asking me to not divorce her over this.

The anaethesiologist came in and explained the risks of the needle in the back vs putting her completely under.  We had to go with the latter option because there was too little time for the anaesthesia to work. At first the doctors thought that they could put the needle in her back,  but then they realized that she was 10 cm dialated and the baby was breech.  This all happened within 5 mins. The anaesthesiologist calmy explained to Ashleigh that there were risks to take into consideration such as death, but the chances were about the same as going out and getting killed by a car in the parking lot.  Then the surgeon came in and spoke with Ashleigh about the different c sections. Ashleigh was getting a classical c section because Gracie decided to invert herself at the last moment. These conversations were back to back. Somewhere in between I called a coworker and my boss to tell them of the situation. With little time for absorption and comprehension, I was procssing information so quickly that I  had no time to ask questions or even to react. I wonder what would have happened if  I have had said no to anything. Before we knew it Ashleigh had a bonnnet slapped around her head, buzzing clippers while someone was tilting her head to help her down some horrible liquid to assist with the tracheotomoy used in sedation. As they wheeled her out they told us that we could wait in front of the Operating Room which was flanked by the newborn nursery. People going in and out were talking about mumbling about a missing neonatalogist. Surgery took about 15-20 mins. Time was relative at that moment. A nurse came out and told us that the surgery was fine and the baby was moving when it was removed and that Ashleigh was being moved into the operating recovery room and would be moved back into her room in 2 hours. After that they rolled out with Gracie and she was tiny and surrounded by specialists. She had been incubated. They told us that it would be three hours before we could visit her. Gracie was born at 7:49 AM. They told us that we could go back into the room and wait for Ashleigh for two hours.

With half a battery charge I called one of Ashleighs close work friends and asked her to call Ashleigh’s friends and tell her bosses. Her friend from work’s husband in turn told one of my close friends. My mother in law turned around and called all of the family members. The one hour of sleep finally hit me like a pile of rocks. I realized that a new day had started because the sun started to rise outside of Ashleigh’w window.  On a typical weekday like this I would be in my car driving to work. Now I was answering phone calls and waiting for the dreaded conversations with  doctors.

Hello world!

One of things suggested to us by a hospital social worker was to create an online journal to interpret and examine the sudden change of events of our lives. Our journey has been long and difficult, but a cakewalk compared to what Gracie is having to endure daily.