When the hectic hospital day gives way to night, most normal people succumb to the fatigue they’ve been fighting off for hours. I have that fatigue, but I find it almost impossible to fall asleep. When I was in the hospital on bed rest only five months ago, I would turn up the monitor on Maddie’s heartbeat with the hope it would drown out my thoughts. I had so much fear then, I would have to block out everything to manage a mere 40 minutes of sleep – I would try to ignore the squirming baby in my belly and let the swishing of her heartbeat lull me into a trance. Just when I’d be nodding off, Maddie would shift and her heartbeat would fall off the monitor, and the silence would jar me into a state of panic. “She’s laying on her cord!” I’d think, “the doctors’ predictions have finally come true, and something has happened and my baby has died.” A nurse would almost always come in at that point and find Maddie on the monitor again, but the terror that would grip me during those moments of silence will never leave me.
There isn’t ever silence in the pediatric unit. A few nights ago, a baby was laughing with unrestrained glee into the wee hours. The night before that, a child was crying out in pain and frustration. Right now, I am listening to the familiar gurgle of Maddie’s humidified oxygen, but I’m also hearing the gurgle in her chest with each breath. Occasionally, an alarm goes off on her monitor, her blood oxygen saturation has dropped below acceptable levels. I can also hear another monitor going off down the hall, and the commotion in the nurses’ station as they rush to that room. We’ve been around hospitals long enough to know that sound – someone’s heart has stopped. Hopefully it’s a false alarm, but I find myself reflexively looking at Maddie’s monitor every few seconds to assure myself that it is not, in fact, her heart that has stopped. I can’t help but think about the parents of the child attached to that monitor. They’re feeling frightened, like the room has run out of air, and time is spiraling out of control. When I close my eyes, I’m transported back to first night I saw Maddie. I had checked out of the hospital against medical advise only 26 hours after my C-Section because I was told my daughter was going to die at a hospital three miles away. The alarms going off were overwhelming, the pitch of their beeps piercing. I won’t ever forget whispering to her, “be strong baby, mommy is here,” only to be told, “don’t talk to her right now, her senses are overloaded and she needs to focus all her energy on living.” I never want anyone else to feel like I did at that moment.
The hospital at night can really mess with you. I wish I could turn up a heart monitor on Maddie again, and drown out everything but the sound of her life.