When will I stop packing a bag? I threw it together in 4 minutes. It sat in the backseat. A change of clothes, 2 sets of Tucker’s pj’s. His favorite books, some toys and of course, his sidekick Snoopy. I had just gotten off the phone with the pediatrician, “Yes”, she’d said, “I want to see him.”. My message to the triage nurse had gone something like this: “Hi, this is Tucker’s mom, he sees Dr So and So. He’s a former 24 weeker. He’s had a cold for 5 days. It’s not getting better. I listen to his lungs every few hours and no rattling, no wheezing. But his pulse ox reading is dropping below 94. We’ve tried to avoid bringing him in because of the germs but he’s not getting better.”
Colds are the preemie nemesis. Often worse than a stomach bug. Worse than a rash. Worse than those toddler 24 hour mystery bugs. Colds linger. Colds are deceptive. A cold makes preemie parents panicky and anxious. Because colds move. The no-cure, not-so-innocent cold moves and cruelly settles to the one place all preemies are weakest. Their lungs. Colds that make their way to a still-diseased respiratory system, and weakened preemie immune system, turn into RSV. Pneumonia. And hospital stays.
So my first instinct when I hung up the phone with the pediatrician, without giving it a single thought, was to pack a hospital bag. It felt normal. Somehow familiar. As if it were totally logical that the doctor would likely send us straight to the hospital from her office. But that’s not normal. Moms don’t automatically pack a hospital bag when they take their kid in for a cold. They don’t expect that a cold will turn into anything more serious. They never expect to be in the hospital. But I do. It’s my starting point instead of the last resort. It’s what I know, what I expect. My mind has been re-wired to think this way. My hand hovers over the panic button at every sniffle, warm forehead, strange behavior and sneeze. I jump right off the logic boat.
It’s not without good reason that I’m overly anxious. Clearly, the NICU experience set me up to forever be on the far end of the anxious spectrum. I’ve seen that things spiral quickly. The inside of the NICU is the manifestation of slim chances. Every story in there started with, “The chance of XX happening is very slim.” We’re jaded to those phrases. And once discharged, we were bombarded with threats from specialists and pediatricians that we cannot, at all costs, let our NICU grad get sick. We’ve seen and heard the horror stories about re-hospitalizations, severe complications and the heartbreaking outcomes of preemies who made it to discharge only to succumb to a secondary infection once home.
So, I wonder when I’ll find a true balance. Between logic and panic. As I took the hospital bag out of the backseat, I wondered if there would ever be a time when my mind won’t automatically jump three steps ahead to the worst outcome. Will my hand ever not hover over the panic button? I’ve started conning myself into believing that I’m a normal mom. But then I pack a hospital bag when my kid sneezes twice in a row. And I pull out the stethoscope just because his eyes look different. And I do a spotlight, full body scan every night when I put on his pjs to make sure there are no rashes, knots, weird colored bruises, yellow tints or any other general weirdness that might require medical attention. Darrin calls it the “nightly once-over”. Who does that? Me. Bag-packing mama, NICU jaded mama, that’s who.
Turns out, Tucker had an old fashioned ear infection, his first one (amazing). We’re on our second round of antibiotics. With isolation behind us and over for good and as Tucker gets older, our pediatrician recently reminded us, he is slowly coming out of the woods. I am overjoyed about that fact. But I’m also not exactly sure how to handle it. I’m not sure how to be the mom that doesn’t pack the hospital bag. We’re headed out of town soon and at the top of the packing list, are the stethoscope, the thermometer and the pulse oximeter. I understand that this is not typical. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to let that go. For now, I’m ok with it. But at some point soon, I’m hoping the antenna relaxes. I’m hoping that I soon feel less anxious about a cough or a sneeze. I’m hoping that I don’t feel the need to pack a “what if” hospital bag. I’m hoping the trauma of the NICU fades. I’m hoping the next time, that bag stays in the closet.
Birthday pics in my next post. Promise. In the meantime, take a look at this cuteness from a recent photo shoot.