The first time I saw my child on a ventilator he was 30 minutes old. My second child earned his first intubation at six months. I cannot tell you the number of times I have sat in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with one of my two children sedated and medically paralyzed while a machine did their breathing for them.
After watching my children on a respirator, I’m begging you to please, stay home.
If you add up our total PICU stays, I have probably lived in a hospital — sleeping, showering, eating — yes, living, for over a year of my life.
When one of my sons was almost four years old, he was hospitalized with respiratory distress. The medical staff tried their hardest to avoid intubation. They threw a BiPAP machine on him in the ER and sent us to the PICU. BiPAP is like a CPAP machine that’s used for sleep apnea, but it allows patients to get more air in and out of their lungs. While neither of these devices might sound particularly alarming, remember that this isn’t someone who has trouble sleeping; this is my three year old.
The doctors quickly realized that this wasn’t enough. They told us they had to intubate and then quickly forgot we were there. Twenty people gathered in the hallway and in my son’s room. I knew I didn’t want to be there and usually they ask you to leave for this part, so I walked away. My husband did not.
To say the next part haunts his dreams is an understatement. They removed the BiPAP and without the pressure my son’s lungs closed instantly. It was the middle of the night. In the waiting room outside the PICU I watched out the window as every floor lit up with flashing blue lights and I heard the big voice in the sky calling “code blue PICU,” over and over. I watched as more people ran into the PICU.
Inside my husband watched as a PICU nurse jumped onto the table and sat on top of our son to pump his blood for him. He was gone.
Fortunately for us, PICU nurses and doctors are amazing and we were in arguably the best children’s hospital in the United States, if not the world. They saved him.
Quickly after they had him intubated and alive, the doctor came out to tell us that he qualified for a study where they would essentially freeze him to give his heart and brain time to recover, and they needed permission. It had to happen quickly if he didn’t show proper neurological function right away.
Because of these incredible men and women in the PICU, my son just turned 11 and he has no lingering issues from this episode.
This is a story from a time when there were enough ventilators and there were 50 doctors and nurses who were able to rush to my son and save him. With a growing critical shortage of ventilators in the United States, it hurts my heart to think about what it might be like if there wasn’t one available for my son. What it might be like for the family who loses their loved one. What it is like for the nurse giving CPR with no way to permanently save their patient.
This isn’t political; this is life or death. We must do everything in our power to provide these doctors and nurses with every piece of equipment and protective gear that they need. They needed these things yesterday, and today is not soon enough.
I tell you all this not just to scare you, but to scare the living daylights out of you. Stay in your house. I am happily sitting at home watching Netflix in my own bed while hugging my children. In the PICU, a child has so many wires attached to them that you’re afraid to touch your baby for fear of harming them.
So watch TV in your underwear at home, eat a piece of cake, and keep yourself, your babies, your grandma, your aunt, your neighbor and my babies safe.