PICU PRESSURE is a month-long occasional series about my son’s 109 day stay at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of Hasbro Children’s Hospital. It’s also an attempt to raise awareness for the Hasbro Walk an upcoming charity walk to benefit Hasbro Children’s. If you like what you read please click on the banner above and donate to help Rhode Island’s children.
During Liam’s hospital stay Karin and I distanced ourselves from the outside world pretty effectively. Even close friends and family knew very little about what Liam was going through and had to realize that “no news was good news.” (a bit of a NICU/PICU slogan) If anything major happened, details would be spread through the appropriate channels, you know like press conferences and issuing statements through our agent. I realize now that it must have been very difficult. Judging by the response from this series of posts few people knew what we were going through. But the 109 days we spent at Hasbro were easily the hardest days of all three of our lives and discussing it on the phone wasn’t ever going to happen. The outside world was irrelevant to us at the time. Our house felt like a hotel because it was only used for a few hours sleep every night and the hospital felt like . . . well it felt like a damn hospital. There’s no forgetting that you’re in a hospital. There was one place where we found comfort though. There was comfort in the routine.
We used to get asked all the time how we survived our stay. I’d always answer the same. “You do what you do for your kids.” and it’s true, every parent reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. You make it though because you have no other choice. But I think that people were asking about logistics really. How does being at the hospital for over 16 hours a day actually work? What does a day in the life of the Olson family actually look like? Well it looked pretty much exactly like the day before it and almost exactly like the day after it. The routine is how we survived our stay. In the routine there is control. It was the only control that we had. So now I’ll answer again. How did we survive so long in the hospital? One day at a time.
A Day in the PICU life of the Olson Family.
7:00am — 7:30am: Karin and I wake and shower. Karin packs a bag for Liam’s room and I get all of my things ready to go to work later. We leave together for the hospital by 7:30am every day.
7:30am — 8:00am: Arrive at the hospital. Karin and I even had our own parking spot in the basement of the parking garage that we used about 80% of the time. It was always open because it didn’t really look like a parking spot and the hood of the car was kind of tucked under a large support of concrete but it was right next to the elevator into the building and made for a a quick easy egress at night. The elevator would take us to the ER of the adult hospital where we would reach Hasbro through a series of pedestrian bridges connecting the three different buildings. I’d buy a couple of coffees (morning blend), a bagel (cinnamon Raisin, for Karin) a coffee cake (for me) and a newspaper at Au Bon Pain on the way through the ER waiting room.
8:00am — 11:00am: Arrive at Liam’s room. Get report from nurse on how Liam’s night went. Wait for morning rounds. When Liam was not sedated I’d hold him and we’d watch sportcenter and fall asleep for a few hours. When he was sedated I would gently hold his hand and sleep leaning onto his bed. The docs would come through for morning rounds and we’d discuss the plan for the day.
11:30am — 2:00pm: Time for me to go to work. I work two buildings away in another hospital and my co-workers have always been supportive and understanding. Thankfully, they gave me a lot of flexibility in my schedule. If rounds was running late, I would wait until they came around before leaving. Karin would stay with Liam and help the nurses with care. Bathtime and changing his sheets and his clothes and any bandages he had at the time. Tests and x-rays ordered at rounds, and appointments with our case worker or any of Liam’s specialists would usually happen during this block.
2:00pm — 4:00pm: By 2pm it would be time for Karin to get a little break. She would zip home for a few minutes to feed the cats and maybe throw a load of laundry into the machine. Some days she even got a nap in there for a few minutes. 2pm is just after the lunch rush at work for me so I would walk back to Liam’s room on my break and hang with him for a bit while his mom got some rest.
4:30pm — 8:00pm: Work for me and Karin would be back at Liam’s bedside coordinating information. Test results from any tests in the morning and strategies for overnight care would be sorted out with Karin and the night nurse who would come on duty at 7pm.
8:30pm — 12:00am: I would leave work around 8pm and walk outside from one hospital to another. There are tunnels and hallways that make the trip possible without going outside but after work I would always walk on the street. The summer of 2009 for me consisted of 10 minutes a day sucking in as much fresh air as I could while clutching a 20 oz. coffee in each hand. Since it was summertime Liam and I would watch the Red Sox game every night while Karin and I would pick at whatever dinner we could piece together from the local fast food joints and the two hospital cafeterias. After the Red Sox game ended we would give Liam his late night meds and kiss him goodnight before heading home to try to get some sleep ourselves.
12:00am to 7:00am: As much as we may have liked to we weren’t able to just go to bed after arriving home so we’d watch a bit of TV to try to unwind. Hopefully each night we would both get some sleep, but usually it would only one of us. The other would toss and turn waiting for the phone to ring.
Repeat 108 more times.
So there it is. The watered down version of every single day in the hospital. Of course some days were more difficult than others but the only way we knew to even it all out was to make them the same. To find some comfort and sanity in the only place we knew we could find it. We found it in the routine.