As chaotic as life in the NICU can be, it is the daily routines that provide order. Parents and staff know that everyday there will be morning sign-out, daily rounds, a time for procedures, scheduled feedings, appointments with therapists, and which consulting doctors will come to see the patients at a certain time. No one could have predicted when they arrived to work on that fateful day that their daily routines would be abruptly disturbed as hospitals in NYC lost power due to flooding after Hurricane Sandy. To ensure safety for all the patients in the hospital, evacuation to other hospitals was the only option.
We watched on television as the evacuation efforts were under way. Our hearts went out to the families as we saw nurses carrying babies close to them on stretchers. We learned of the daunting circumstances that they had to endure to safely evacuate each and every patient from the youngest and tiniest to the oldest. They were successful!
As much as is possible in the NICU, we try to keep parents informed and prepare them for what will happen next. This may not always allay their fears. As we keep parents informed we support and empower them. What happens when a disaster like Hurricane Sandy strikes and routines, support systems, and trust that have been carefully built over weeks and months are immediately broken?
Intellectually we accept that the evacuation was the only option. EarnWithSocial However, emotions do not always catch on as quickly. Instead fear takes over. The initial fear is whether your preemie or sick newborn, who has been too fragile to handle routine care without dropping his or her oxygen saturation, will be able to tolerate the ambulance trip to a new location. Then there are the changes that you will have to endure. It took time for you to trust the medical team who has been taking care of your baby and your family since birth.
The journey of parents of preemies and sick term newborns is an emotional journey. After initial feelings of guilt and blame you came to a place of being willing to trust the doctors, nurses, and the team. Maybe you had just begun to allow yourself to receive support from them. Maybe you had just begun to release those feelings of guilt and blame as you accepted that the early birth of your son or daughter was no one’s fault, just as this untimely evacuation is.
As the safety of our NICU babies and their parents became paramount, moms and dads had to rely on blind faith. But fear of change and fear of the unknown still linger. Who are these new doctors, nurses, practitioners, and therapists? How will they care for my baby? What support systems are available for me at this new hospital?
For the moms and dads in the NICU the evacuation meant more than a change in location. Their routines shifted. They had to find new ways to commute to the hospital in the face of altered modes of transportation and increased traffic because of the flooding and power outages in the city. They had to familiarize themselves with new visiting hours and hospital policies. In the NICU, they had to adjust to new routines, different equipment, and different styles of delivering excellent medical care.
Hurricane Sandy was so much more than a natural disaster. She abruptly broke bonds that had been formed between parents and medical staff. These were bonds that had been carefully nurtured over weeks and months of tears and fears to finally come to a place of mutual understanding. With Hurricane Sandy there was no pre-discharge planning to help mom and dad prepare for what was next. There were no photo opportunities to commemorate their son or daughter leaving the unit. There were no goodbyes or best wishes from the staff who dedicated each day to the care of these precious babies. As the winds of Hurricane Sandy blew through New York, she took with her much more than can be measured.
Dr. Stephanie Wellington is a NICU doctor who works in the NICU at Bellevue Hospital, one of the hospitals in New York City who shut their doors due to Hurricane Sandy. She is also a certified professional coach and the creator of PostpartumNeonatalCoaching.com, a sacred space for moms, dads, and families to honor their emotional journey as the first step to healing and redesigning their lives. Visit http://www.PostpartumNeonatalCoaching.com to get your free copy of Breaking Through The Emotional Barriers In The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.