I’ve posted a lot about the more traumatic hospital experiences of Gabriella’s first two years. But not every trip to a medical facility is for removing cataracts or for clubfoot surgery or, as I described last time, for excising a bump that came back on the frozen section as cancerous. This week I had planned on completing that story, but after our weekend, it will have to wait.

Today I’m writing about patience instead.

Gabriella’s deteriorating oxygenation started on Thursday. Each night when we get her ready for bed, we attach a pulse oximeter to her toe, which enables us to track her heart rate and her oxygen level as she sleeps. With a baby monitor, we often hear beeps through the night; most of them mean nothing, but many require going downstairs to her bedroom to check. So it was that night.


A concern about aspiration led us to monitor her breathing more closely. As we feared, her O2 rate hovered around 90, so we set up the oxygen concentrator to get her what she needed. This large gray box shrieks when it’s turned on, then settles into a dispiriting hum, and as a result one of us needs to stay close by. Because Gabriella wasn’t laboring as much as she sometimes has, we arranged it to blow air from nearby rather than using a mask or a nasal cannula. Every time the pulse ox sounds more than once or twice, we had to make sure the sensor had not become dislodged, to shift her bodily position to improve the flow to her lungs, to move the tubing an inch in either direction to better direct the blow-by. This happened many, many times that night.

More patience.

On Friday her oxygenation was better, but we gave her extra respiratory treatments every four hours. Nevertheless, at around midnight she wound up back on the blow-by. That meant more sitting up, monitoring beeps, interrupted sleep.

I have never been a patient person. But I try.

By Saturday morning, we knew we had to do something. This situation wasn’t as threatening as a growing bump on our daughter’s skull, but it held its own insidious risks, so Lisa wanted a chest X-ray. To avoid the emergency room, we tried a nearby clinic; if the scan showed anything of concern, we could still take her to the ER. But the staff at the clinic worried about being able to X-ray her while she was lying down, and said that even if they could, it was unlikely they could get a reading before Tuesday. So off we went to the hospital.

It was a bright new day, and I felt optimistic: maybe we wouldn’t be there for too long…

By the time I dropped them off and parked the car, Gabriella was checked in. Just like the nurse at the clinic, the staff here expressed relief when Lisa handed them the medical history. They agreed we needed a chest X-ray, plus bloodwork and a urinalysis. They proposed an intravenous drip for antibiotics, and the nurse succeeded on his first try – it often takes blowing multiple veins before one holds – so we held Gabriella’s hand for hours to protect that IV, that vein.

Hospital stays have always been a challenge for my inborn impatience. We know the RNs and interns and techs and orderlies are doing their best, but it seems like we’re waiting most of the time. Waiting to see a doctor or nurse. Waiting for transport for a test or an X-ray. Waiting for a result. And most of all, waiting for discharge.

When we’re admitted after surgery, we expect a long stay. On visits like this one, when we were pretty sure even before we arrived that she had congestion (and likely an infection) in the upper airway and not much else, when our primary goal was a confirming X-ray and antibiotics…that’s when the tedium is awful. The cramped space in the ER, the sounds of rolling gurneys and beeping monitors, the pitiable sight of sick people and worried loved ones – all of it becomes oppressive. But we do what we must. We wait. And we wait.

And then suddenly it’s time to go and the nurse is unhooking the IV tube and we’re locating one last diaper for a change and receiving discharge papers and a prescription and we’re using a two-man lift to hoist Gabriella back into her chair and we’re wishing everyone a happy end to their holiday weekend and we’re off to the pharmacy downstairs with 20 minutes to spare before they close and I’m navigating the construction throughout the hospital to get to the parking garage to get the van and I’m pulling around to pick up Gabriella and Lisa and we’re putting seven inert hours behind us and heading for home.