counting on Blessing
I stared at the monitor in the ICU in Kijabe with my head tilted. . .an unconscious habit that follows me from taking photos to moments of perplexedness.
The tiny patient’s oxygen had been okay moments before, and now, it was plummeting.
94 – 82 – 71 – 63. . .
It was 7 pm and I had walked into the ICU on my first call back at the hospital just to check on things, and the clinical officer smiled, shook his head, and said, “I promise, this just happened.” And we set to work to solve the problem.
Blessing, our 2 month old patient, was a living miracle. Born in Kenya with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), she found her way to Kijabe early, had a tube placed by a visiting doctor to drain the fluid, and still had a paralysis of her vocal cords that stopped her breathing days after surgery – a consequence of her brain not having enough space to grow correctly in her head.
Our friend David, the ENT, had done a complicated lifesaving surgery 2 weeks before placing a temporary tube in her airway to hold it open. She had been doing well and then the night before, the tube clogged and one of her lungs collapsed. My friend Mardi and the pediatric surgeons re-expanded the lung and fought through O2 saturations in the 40’s for several hours.
The next morning, as I walked into the ICU on my first day back, Blessing was looking at me – covered in cords and tape and tubes, but looking at me. Her body was not devastated from the low oxygen or her brain not growing correctly or the vocal cords that had refused to stay open. Her gaze was intense, and she let me know in that instant, she was a fighter.
As we watched the oxygen drop that evening, our team set to work to fight with her.
Her oxygen would only come up if we were pushing air into her lungs by hand with the clear purple bag I had brought from the US. We attached it to the temporary airway on her neck holding it precisely to keep the air moving into her chest.
Breath by breath, squeeze but squeeze, we kept her alive.
Mom walked into the room and looked at us quizzically – she saw the concerned looks on our faces and stood vigil with us awhile. We added her to our team and continued to try to fix the ventilators, reassured each other, traded places, and talked through ways to fix this tiny baby’s lungs. And hour later, satisfied that we were caring well for her child, mom patted my hand and said she was going to rest.
Now 3 hours into taking each precious breath for the baby, we continued to work on a more feasible solution. The clinical officer told me about new methods they had learned while I was in the US. A visiting adult doctor talked through the different possibilities for the change with me. We tried to reproduce what we were doing with our hands with the machine. . .
And now, it was midnight. . . 5 hours in. We had made it to tomorrow, but we were still hours from daylight.
So we came up our umpteenth idea . . and we held our breath and waited.
And as we connected her, the oxygen number finally rose. . 74. 82. 91%. A collective cheer went up in the room and I felt every muscle in my body relax.
With the help of a team who refused to give up – she had defied the odds again.
At her birth, she had needed a faithful neurosurgeon who came back from retirement to be in Kijabe for her.
At two weeks, she had needed an innovative ENT who has been on call almost every night for 2 years to keep her breathing.
The night before she had needed a pediatric surgeon who is training to go back to his country in Cameroon where there are no other pediatric surgeons.
Every one of those nights, a different pediatric colleague of mine had fought along side them to do the impossible to save her.
And that night was my turn. Blessing worked along side us, eyes wide open, urging us not to give up. She held eye contact with us, keeping us companying as we helped her.
And that night, as we counted on her to continue to defy the odds, I was tired, focused, and amazed that I get to do this. I am so thankful that I get to walk with these precious mamas, love these beautiful children, and work with a team that sees the struggle is worthwhile.
It is so good to be back in this amazing place.
*picture below of Blessing with her trach out and “dressed up” for a picture. Today she is off oxygen completely and we are working on getting her home with her mom ! (may 1)