When I was a little boy one of my favorite things to do was play my Mattel Handheld Football Game. It was a little bigger than an iPhone. It was about 6″ long and 3.5″ wide. William was barely twice that size when he was born. It was all white and had 6 small buttons to play defense, kick, and score touchdowns. The object of the game was to defend and score. I loved it. I’d play it for hours and lose all sense of time. When you scored, a cluster of beeps would play. I’ll never forget the melody.
As I sat at William’s bedside in the NICU I’d often hear a cluster of beeps. Kinda like my Mattel Handheld. Similar but much different. This was no game. The beeps were indicators, not touchdowns. Indicators of oxygen flowing. Indicators of breathing. Indicators of life. The beeps were constant in the beginning. Intimidating. Overpowering. Annoying! They seemed to play for hours. I’d lose all sense of time. After while, it was just background noise. Until that dreaded squeal! A high pitched sound followed by a really lowww, dull growl. I’ll never forget the melody.
I loathed that sound! It meant apnea and bradycardia. Apnea meant that William stopped breathing for more than 20 seconds and caused his heart rate to fall under 100 beats per minute, bradycardia. (Sigh.) Normal was 120-160! His immature nervous and muscular system gave him a condition called Apnea of Prematurity. Meaning, at times his brain either failed to tell him to breathe or his immature muscular system wasn’t strong enough to keep his airway open. When William lost his breath, I held mine. When his heart slowed, my heart raced and sank. The 6 small buttons to defend and score were no where in sight. I felt helpless.
There is scared and there is afraid. I was afraid! Look at William, look at the monitor, look up for a nurse. Look at William, look at the monitor, look up for a nurse. LOOK AT WILLIAM! LOOK AT THE MONITOR! LOOK UP FOR A NURSE! Finally, a nurse! She gets William settled, resets the monitor, “He’s fine,” she says, and walks away. “Phew!” I’d exhale. Kinda like when I was a little boy when I thought I lost my Mattel Handheld. Look in my room, look under my bed, look under the couch. My mother would find it, hand it to me, and walk away. “Phew!” I’d exhale. Similar but much different….