Katie Williams delivered her son, Parker, at 28 weeks gestation due to complications from the flu. But that’s the short story.
The longer version is that the flu had debilitated her so severely that she had to be placed on a ventilator in a medically induced coma to adequately recover and allow Parker more time to grow. That was on Christmas Eve.
While the doctors and nurses did everything they could to keep her stable, four days later Parker was born in the Intensive Care Unit via emergency C-section at 2 lbs. 11 oz. Not only would Katie have to regain strength for herself, she would have to find the strength to also care for a pre-term newborn with his own set of medical challenges.
Here is Katie’s story.
What do you remember about your condition at the time you were hospitalized and put into a coma?
I had a prolonged cough that, after weeks of antibiotics and breathing treatments, kept getting progressively worse. A few days before Christmas it had reached a point that I finally accepted something was seriously wrong and it was time to go to the ER.
I had spent four days in the hospital when I started to cough up small amounts of blood. The small specks grew to larger spots until the mound of tissues next to my bed turned bright red. After test after test looking for an underlying, possibly autoimmune disorder, I was asked the one question that hadn’t been asked yet: “Have you been tested for the flu?”
At this point, I was coughing up a lot of blood – think Linda Blair in the Exorcist – when the results came back positive for influenza. I was moved straight from the OB/Delivery floor to the adult ICU. I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember, so my lungs aren’t the greatest and now they were hemorrhaging and I was struggling to breathe. There was blood everywhere.
It took some convincing by the doctor, but I ultimately agreed to be placed on a ventilator in a medically induced coma. It was Christmas Eve. The doctors and nurses did everything they could to get me to stable condition, even bringing in a rotating bed to help move the junk out of my lungs, but all my resources were going to Parker. I had plateaued and wasn’t getting any better. Four days after I was placed on vent, Parker was born in the ICU via emergency C-section surrounded by more doctors and nurses than you would think could fit into a room. He was welcomed into the world with cheers and applause.
What was it like to not being mentally present for Parker’s birth?
I had to rely on the accounts of my family and friends to tell me stories about that day. I’m told they shut down access to the ICU, confining nurses in with patients while the cesarean was taking place. They had held a coveted room open next to mine for Parker in case they would have to deliver him early. The elevators were stopped and one was held at the floor so Parker could be taken straight down to the NICU by his doctor and nurse and a security escort.
I have just a few photos of that day taken by family as a blurry isolette is being whisked down the hallway with just the barest hint of a very red, very tiny baby in the center.
When did you get to go see Parker for the first time?
I didn’t see Parker until seven days after he was born. It was even longer before I felt capable enough to hold him.
I wasn’t brought of the coma immediately after the C-section, and when they did start to wake me up, I remained on a vent for a few more days until I was capable of breathing on my own.
When the vent tube was finally removed and I was breathing on my own, the doctors let me recover for about a day and a half before I was wheeled down to the NICU to see my son for the first time.
Most moms, I imagine, are preoccupied with thoughts of if their baby is healthy. What do they look like? I was worried about being able to hold my head up to even see him.
The paralytics I had been given were wearing off, but my body felt like dead weight. When they sat me in the wheelchair to go see Parker, it was all I could do to keep my head help up. It took several days before sitting up for 10 minutes didn’t like I had run a marathon or for my legs to not feel like they had turned into cement blocks.
So when one of my doctors, a nurse and my husband wheeled me down to see my son for the first time, my immediate goal was to make sure I kept my head up so I could see him.
Parker was so, so small and there were so many wires and cords. I didn’t have much of a voice at the time, but I tried to let him know I was there. He opened his eyes and zeroed in on me immediately. I tried holding his tiny hand in the isolette, but my arms had also turned to dead weights and the small act of holding my tiny son’s hand was exhausting.
His NICU nurse opened his isolette and placed him on my lap for a minute so I could “hold” him and take a quick family photo. I cannot express the amount of terror I felt. Even though I was surrounded by medical professionals, all I could think was that I was going to twitch or move in some way that would cause him to roll off my lap and cause irreparable harm all because I didn’t feel in control of my body. It was the scariest minute of my life.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born premature?
For me it was the guilt and feeling completely inadequate to take care of my baby. When the doctors started waking me up my husband told me that Parker had been delivered. Deep down, I knew before agreeing to be placed on the vent that I wouldn’t be leaving the hospital pregnant, so I wasn’t shocked, but I did feel like I had failed.
The NICU staff had made a box of items of Parker’s for my husband to show me, including his little footprints, a teeny tiny diaper, and Parker’s first photo. I couldn’t bring myself to look at any of it.
When I was awake, the hospital offered to connect the TV monitor in my room so I could see Parker in his isolette, and I declined that as well. It’s hard to explain, and it’s taken a lot of self-reflection (and a few sessions of talking with a professional) to realize that I couldn’t bring myself look at his photo or watch the monitor feed because none of it felt real while at the same time I was flooded with overwhelming guilt. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was my fault.
I never presented with the typical symptoms of the flu – no super high fever, no body aches or chills. I felt terrible from the moment I became pregnant. The all-day morning sickness never went away and I was exhausted and hot all the time, so it was hard to tell when it went from typical pregnancy pains to being seriously ill. But I kept thinking of what I should have done so that maybe none of this would have happened. I should have insisted on a lung scan, I should have made them test me for pneumonia and the flu. I should have gone to the hospital sooner, I should have gotten my flu shot….coulda, woulda, shoulda on an endless loop.
It’s taken a lot of time to accept that what happened with me was a fluke – a result of a depressed immune system, a crappy set of lungs and a bad flu season. I was incredibly lucky to have had the team of doctors and nurses that I had – it very well could have been a much different outcome.
When did you get to hold your preemie for the first time?
My husband was actually the first to hold Parker because I didn’t feel confident enough to hold him. I insisted that he be the first because I felt Parker needed to be held and know that we were there and that he was loved.
I finally felt strong enough to hold Parker nearly two weeks after I first saw him. By then I had gained enough strength and mobility back that I felt enough like myself that I wouldn’t move in a strange way that would cause Parker to fly off my chest during the kangaroo time.
Read part two of Katie’s incredible story.