My newborn has been sick with a cold. This is significantly worse than it sounds. Babies under two months old don't know they can breath through their mouths, so when their noses block up, they simply stop breathing. I thought Mary and I were coping reasonably well by taking the baby in shifts and pumping saline solution up her nose as required, but when we took her in for her six week checkup, the doctor immediately sent Kasia to hospital.
Seeing one's infant connected to various monitors is unsettling, even when the doctors confirm that the RSV virus (a more serious condition that often masquerades as a cold) is not present. My daughter is so tiny, she seems completely dwarfed by the monitors. The pulse/oxygen level reader, for example, that normally hooks over the end of an adult's finger, completely covers my daughter's foot. And the readings themselves are both more reassuring (when the readings are what they should be) and more terrifying (whenever they aren't) than simply watching the baby snuffling at home. The monitors are alarmed to go off if the levels reach scary highs or lows, summoning the nurses, but the parent's are supposed to stay with their baby to keep track of pre-alarm trends and to administer the saline drops as appropriate. Naturally, my wife ended up with the more brutal night shift, since she had to breast feed every two hours, while I got to go home with my older daughter to a more or less normal night's sleep; but I did what I could with a single bottle feed to give my wife at least one four hour complete break mid-day.
So here I am on shift one afternoon, pacing with Kasia in my arms, when Kasia's readings start to show distress: her breathing starts to be too rapid, indicating a problem getting air in, and her pulse rate starts to shoot up, indicating either panic over oxygen deprivation, or a reaction to the drug they were giving her to open her airways. The trend is slow enough, and common enough, that at first I do not react, beyond trying to calm Kasia by pacing a bit faster, adding a bit of a jiggle to my hold on her, and patting her on her back, all of which usually sends her back to sleep. Instead, she starts to cry louder, and the monitors reveal a rapidly worsening trend. I redouble my efforts, but within seconds Kasia reaches crisis levels – the alarms go off, the nurse rushes in, and my heart stops in sudden dread as my daughter's pulse exceeds 220/minute.
The nurse takes one look at me, and starts to leave. I sputter something incoherent about the readings along the lines of "Do something!" and thrust my dying baby in her general direction. The nurse pauses, and with professional politeness says, "I take it your wife didn't explain to you that the monitors work by detecting sound and movement – your baby's reading's are fine; you're just making them go off the scale by pacing, jiggling and patting…"
But for a minute there, I was one panicked Dad as my daughter's life flashed before my eyes.