What started out to be a normal Thursday ended with a race to the children’s ER with my six-month-old. I was terrified. My adrenaline was pumping. My baby was struggling to breathe. The day before, he had been diagnosed with RSV. A simple cold to most healthy toddlers and adults turned out to be life threatening to my infant.
 
Once we were admitted, I knew this was serious. I knew he was in danger. I could sense the concern and urgency in the doctor’s voice. I knew the gravity of that wing of the hospital he was being wheeled into. The PICU. A portion of the hospital I never wanted to be familiar with, I now am. I am haunted by our time there. I watched my baby panting like a dog for 48-hours straight. The oxygen blasting into his nose was cranked up high, and he wasn’t recovering at the rate they predicted and expected. 

We spent days there when I thought it would only be hours. I thought we were there for a breathing treatment and ended up spending five days and nights sitting at my baby’s bedside. There I sat, counting breaths and watching monitors. I watched him struggle to find comfort, fight bottle feedings, and scream as his throat was suctioned. It was absolutely gut wrenching for a mother to watch, and I felt helpless.

But through the experience, I learned a lot about the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit: 

1. Nurses are a godsend
It takes a special breed of nurses to work with sick babies. They have a magic touch and not only for their patients, but for the parents too. They are there changing out IV fluids, administering breathing treatments and dulling out compassion in giant doses. They helped our baby figure out how to get comfortable enough to sleep through the beeping monitors and the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff on his tiny leg. They helped me make my little couch homey for my stay, wiped my tears, and gave me hugs when I didn’t know I needed them. They also convinced me I was stronger than I believed, and gave me the strength to function on little sleep and a lot of worry. 

2. Child Life Services save the day time and time again 
I saw the emotional toll our stay had on our six-month-old. I’m sure he could sense my stress level drowning us all in the room. Children are far more perceptive than any of us give them credit for. The Life Services team recognized my baby needed a distraction from all the tubes attached to him and the difficulty he was having taking in every breath. They brought in toys daily to make him smile, and to blow bubbles for him so I could sleep. 

They also knew the stress our older boys were under having their brother and mama gone for five days. My big boys knew hospitals were for two things: sick people and new babies. As much as we tried to shield them and keep life normal for them, there was nothing normal about their baby brother and mama being away for several days. The Life Services team understood our baby’s homecoming would be special and exciting for big brothers, too. By sending Brady home with care packages for his big brothers, they filled our home with joy even after we walked away from those hospital walls. 

3. I am my child’s advocate
I left the hospital with a backbone and a voice about keeping germs away from my babies. After the traumatic events of our hospital stay, keeping Brady healthy was my top priority. Tiny germs that give us a common cold, can turn into a fight for a baby’s life given his sensitive immune system. I learned to trust my mom gut. I’m no doctor, but I know my babies. I know when something is not right. Although I do not possess a medical degree, I do know my child better than anyone on this planet, and I am an expert on each of my children. Because my baby was so young during his hospital stay, I was his sole voice. I was his biggest advocate. 

4. You must take care of yourself, too
This is something I have always struggled with as a mom. I always put my kids before myself. In a lot of ways that’s what Mother Nature designed us to do and so many times I feel that pull is completely out of my control and totally instinctual. BUT my husband always reminds me I cannot take care of my kids if I’m not taking care of myself. Just like my baby couldn’t sustain himself breathing so hard for long periods of time, I cannot run on empty for a long period of time, either. I stayed by my baby’s side for the majority of his stay in the PICU. I left only to shower, rest my mind, and see my other kids for one hour a day. It was magic what a one hour visit at home, outside of the hospital walls, did for my sanity. Never underestimate the power of a dance party in the living room with two toddlers! 

5. Sometimes a mama’s touch is the best medicine
My baby struggled to take every breath for five days. Watching him fighting to get well broke my heart into a million pieces. I felt helpless, but I soon realized that although I couldn’t fight this fight for him, I could hold him; I could rock him; I could feed him; I could provide the best medical staff I could find for his well-being. Holding my sleeping baby with tubes in his nose, arms and feet, was the best thing I could do for my baby at that time. I was his comfort. He needed ME almost as much as he needed the medical care the hospital was providing. 

After being a mama of a PICU patient, home never felt so good. It’s true what they say that troubling times give you great perspective. My heart grew with a fierce kind of love for my youngest baby that week. I learned that he is a fighter—and I am, too. At six months, he was stronger than I ever gave him credit for. And at the end of our stay in the PICU, we BOTH came out stronger. 

Michelle Tate

A native Texan, born and raised, I married my college sweetheart, and now spend my days raising our three young boys. In another life, I was an elementary school teacher, before diving deep in my true passion for my own babies and writing.