Monday, June 10, 2013

Baby Blues

The glow of the neon lights cascaded in ripples of warm air that hit the skin unforgivingly. It took some time getting used to the heat in the neonatal ward.
But it numbed the post c-section backache that was making life miserable lately.
A line of white tents, as if pitched mid-air looked like luxury tents for tourists somewhere in the Sahara desert, glowing blue under a clear night sky and surrounded by gentle golden dunes that went on and on.
But this room was a far cry from luxury hotels. And as if as a reminder a wail from one the 'tents' interrupted this reverie.
Nothing luxurious about phototherapy beds. Just a fanciful thought.
In a flash a woman stood up from the floor, lifted the sheet from the tent, and scooped out a naked infant, bawling for attention. The white sheet lying between the glass and the infant was soaked in yellowish fluid. It was a good sign that the few days old baby was recovering from jaundice. Phototherapy was working in breaking down the bilirubin into a substance that could be digested and excreted with other wastes.
It was good to see infants recovering in the neonatal ward but the overpowering feeling of sadness couldn't be ignored.  There seem to be, in the air, a consolidated sadness of parents and family members of the tiny helpless patients.
So as I sat on the floor behind the phototherapy bed where my four-day old son was getting treatment, tears welled up my eyes.
Just then my sister and her husband walked by to say they were leaving. "Are you crying?" she asked. I said no. "Come on, I can see the tears glisten under the blue light," she said, trying to bring some relief to the tense moment. Tears started streaming down. "Well there's no reason," I said. "I am just crying."
It was the truth. And a lie too.
The drop in hormones after delivery was to be blamed, or so I've learned. It's called postpartum blues or baby blues. It was second pregnancy and repeat c-section for me, but the blues caught me off guard this time around.
Just a couple of months back, a friend was caught in a similar overpowering emotion that she simply sat on the bed in the ward and let tears roll down when her brother-in-law came in. "Don't cry," he'd consoled her, and instinctively handed her the chocolate he was eating. "Here, have some chocolate," he said.
She narrated the incident like it didn't matter and I felt much better.
Over the days, weeks and months such a situation could ease up and become only a memory. It meant, even for me it should only be a phase I'd overcome and become a 'been there, done that' moment.
The other day, as the milk came in and the breasts became engorged, I was overcome with a powerful emotion that I simply let tears roll. It was an 'Alice in Wonderland' moment. I felt like a giant crying gigantic tears, which were more powerful and capable of wetting the cloth than the milk I was expressing to get some relief.
I found myself unable to explain, so I blamed it on the engorgement. I simply felt blue.
Back in the neonatal ward, in the mothers room were baskets containing hot bottles and food, relatives with grim and tired faces, and  mothers recovering from labour and c-section. Most mothers preferred to sleep on mattress laid near infant's treatment bed. The two rooms, while identical were the opposite in terms of cleanliness.
The neonatal room was spick-and-span. The mother's room looked like a dharamshala. Without a bed I had to find a corner to stack my mattresses.
I sat on a bed of a stranger when I had to eat. My mother had sent soup, rice and scrambled eggs. And as I sipped on the soup, I couldn't help but let my lips curl down, like that of the fish in an aquarium I'd been face to face while stealing shots with a camera.
Outside, we could see the parking lot near the ER. It was a cloudy day matching my spirit and the spirit inside the ward.
I looked around the room and saw tired sleepy eyes, some nodding away while others looked stoned with worry and sadness. A parent draped in a gown, worn while entering the ICU trudged in and plonked on the bed, only to be called back to the ICU again. 
Something was desperately required to lift the spirit here. With each mouthful I blinked tears away.
The mood was so much different here than in the maternity ward where mothers and fathers cooed to their newborns and happy relatives visited with gifts and food.
The neonatal had the saddest aura about it and it didn't help for I had the blues.
Entering the phototherapy room was a task. I'd simply ignore the first few beds in the phototherapy where infants lay naked with tubes running through their nose and hand. They looked helpless with their tiny fingers and toes, limbs and arms. I dreaded what it'd be like in the ICU.
The two days and nights spent at the neonatal ward dragged. Everyone in the ward desperately wanted to leave, but not without their little ones safe and sound.
Day two in the ward was a Sunday and the testing facility staff had requested the ward not to send patients for bilirubin testing because the machine was down.
So on Monday, when the nurse instructed parents to take their babies for the test the ward suddenly seemed bright and alive.
With the lights out and the sheets hauled over the phototherapy machine, the room wore a different look- a very welcoming look. It was bright and airy and not under the haze of neon lights that seemed to have a drugging effect. 
After the test Leki came with the result. "It's 17," he said and my face simply dropped. I was that melancholy fish in the aquarium again. It had to be below 14 to get a yes from the pediatrician to go home. More importantly, it indicated my son was not recovering as expected.
"I am joking," he said. "It's eight. Can't you see? It's scribbled on the paper."
The weight in my heart suddenly disappeared.  We were headed home. 

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