Friday, 9 December 2011

Visitors and the NICU

I wanted to blog about this, as its something I am asked about a lot in various ways, usually something a long the lines of "my friend wants me to visit, but not see the babies". Sometimes this is personal preference sometimes it is unit policy. So let me tell you about our unit.

Our special care baby unit changed its rules halfway through our stay. The first element stayed the same throughout, and that is visiting times were 3pm - 4pm and 7pm-8pm daily, with very little room for flexibility. There was sound reason for this, babies need their rest, and often procedures were taking place, and consultations. In baby units everything takes place "in house", x rays, blood tests, minor surgical procedures take place within the unit, babies do not go out.

Initally you could have 2 visitors + 1 parent by the cotside, and you could "relay", so for example have 2 grandparents, and 2 aunts and then swap.

Under the new rules only one parent and one visitor were allowed with no swapping, so that made it very difficult for people with large families. For us it was no problem. So that's reason one, it may be that the mother and father don't want friends visiting, and to use their visiting slots for relatives.

The second thing is, it can be very difficult to manage visitors expectations and prepare them for the reality. Let me tell you a story about one of Corey's aunts. She really wanted to see Joseph in week 2. I hadn't really prepared her, because she had had a very early premature nephew an earlier gestation than Joseph, so incorrectly assumed she would be ok.

In our unit they used to do Joseph's line change at 3pm, I did warn the unit that we were coming at 3 and to do it at 2 or 4. Now a line change is relatively straight forward, two nurses would go through the notes from ward rounds, check the dosages, refresh and change any of Joseph's IV lines that needed it, and renew all the syringes. It's quite technical as 1ml out can be the difference between a therapeutic dose and a deadly one, so they used to draw all the blinds and have total silence, just their voices.

We walked in this day, and the nurses had just started they drew the blinds in front of us, my heart sank. Then I turned to see tears streaming down the aunties face "they're working on him, they're working on him". I explained it was just normal procedure, and apologised, suggested we go and have a cup of tea and come back. She wailed "they just tell you that, this is serious, he may not make it". And with that she decided to go. And I was stood there. Alone.

After that day I banned visitors. I lied, and said NICU didn't allow any, and that once he had stepped down perhaps they would relax their rules. We invited a few close friends later on, and the beauty is that these people had followed Joseph's journey on Facebook and were prepared somewhat for what they would see.

As a parent its hard dealing with a sick baby, and dealing with other people's emotions is sometimes more than we can bear. For me, Joseph was my normal, the only newborn I'd had a lot to do with, and I didn't have the ability to empathise at that time, I couldn't see beyond my own drama, and I don't apologise for that, it was needs must at the time. There are also very practical fears of cross infection too, the more people coming and going, the higher the likelihood of a baby catching something.

If you are asked to visit, either parents or the NICU I think its fine to take a gift for the baby, perhaps just a small one, saving a bigger one for their homecoming. Little soft teddies or blankets, or even muslin clothes, I used them for everything! Even swaddling blankets. One of my favourite gifts was from Jenni, who bought me lovely blue printed muslins.

A gift for the parents is always welcome, sweets, chocolate, snacks, homemade biscuits, magazines, it doesn't have to be lavish, but if you do want to go a bit lavish, Crabtree and Evelyn handcream, particularly La Source, never goes astray!


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