My youngest was born full term (38 weeks) after a very long and dragged-out labor (after 3 previous births my uterus just didn't seem to want to do the job any more
); at a birthing center within a smallish local hospital. The next day, the new ped in our practice (did her residency in the NICU of a larger hospital south of us) mentioned that DD's breathing did not seem quite right, and that her O2 levels were on the low side. This was our first time meeting the new ped; so we consulted with one of the Sr partners in the practice, who told us nothing was wrong and not to worry. However, he mentioned that they planned to keep her in the hospital for another day or two for observation, just in case.
The next morning, when she was about 36 hours old, our baby's right lung collapsed without warning due to a pnuemothorax. Around 6:30 AM I had changed her dipe and was about to nurse her; and the nurse came in and wanted to take DD to the special care nursery to monitor her vitals for 20 minutes (they had been doing this every two hours as part of her observation b/c I had insisted that DD room in with me). Some time later, the nurse returned with forms for me to sign and gently broke the news that DD's lung had suddenly collapsed; she also explained that DD needed a chest tube immediately, and that a surgeon was on the way to insert it because the ER doc had never done a chest tube on a newborn. I signed the forms in numb shock and started praying. Soon after, the nurse reappeared with the ER doc, who told me that they just couldn't wait for the surgeon; and that he (the ER doc) had inserted a small catheter to release at least some of the air from DD's chest cavity so that her lung could inflate. They were working to stabilize her.
I didn't see my baby again until later that afternoon.
She was sedated and in an oxygen tent. She was unable to maintain her O2 saturation and they had no idea why her lung had collapsed...x-rays showed nothing amiss. The pnuemo did not seem to be resolving itself.
The new ped talked to us about transferring DD to the NICU at the hospital where she did her residency. The hospital we were in just did not have the technology to figure out this puzzle. Mentally, I had a hard time with the decision b/c I knew that by agreeing to the transfer I was admitting that DD might never come home. The hospital was an hour away and I knew that I would want to be there with DD; which meant making (possibly long-term) arrangements for the other three kids at home.
The next morning (Monday, DD was born on Friday) she was transferred. When we went to the car to follow the ambulance to the hospital, I lost it upon seeing the empty carseat. I had never before left this hospital without a baby. I saw the ambulance up ahead, sirens blaring and lights blazing, and I just couldn't believe that my baby was in there.
We didn't see her again for several hours. Upon arrival in the NICU, she had to be stabilized again and evaluated. Her case was a huge mystery...nobody had ever seen it before. The neonatalogists just didn't know what to tell us. The good news was that DD didn't appear to have any holes or leakages in her lung. The bad news was, they still couldn't solve the mystery of what caused the pnuemo in the first place. DD received a regular chest tube, because the catheter wasn't getting the air out of her chest cavity.
The next day, DD had an extensive CT scan. Finally, some answers were revealed. Several minute, air-filled cysts (here's a great medical term for you - they call them "blebs") were discovered on the outer surface of her lung. The docs theorized that, due to a congenital defect, DD's lung had been covered with these cysts; and that when she took her first breath and inflated that lung, the majority of the blebs had burst, releasing so much air into her chest cavity that her lung collapsed from the pressure. They optimistically predicted that once all the air was out, the remaining blebs would dissolve without incident and that DD would be fine; but, having never encountered the condition before, could give us no guarantees.
We were able to resume nursing on Thursday; and DD's chest tube came out later that afternoon. She was released from the hospital on Saturday, having lost only 1 oz of her birthweight throughout the entire ordeal! She received follow-up care from a pediatric pulmonologist for a year, at which point a CT scan revealed just one bleb present; and she was declared healthy and released from special care. She has probably been our healthiest child, overall.
We had an excellent NICU experience. Once the nurses discerned that I wouldn't freak out about stuff, they encouraged me to assist with DD's care in every way. I even held her while they drew blood from her head; and they convinced the doc to let me be there when DD's chest tube was removed. DD received ONLY breastmilk during her NICU stay - first in an OG tube, then in a bottle, then straight from the source as soon as it was possible. I was there for 5 days, and never saw one baby receive formula. There is a nice pumping room and a huge freezer, right inside the NICU unit; and the nurses and docs encourage ALL mothers to breastfeed their babes. Never once was formula even mentioned! The nurses were kind and caring, and gently reminded us mommies to get enough sleep and nutrition. I could be by my daughter's side any time, except during the nursing shift changes (1 hour 2X/day) and doctor's rounds (approx 2 hours every morning). They always encouraged us to use that time to eat and/or catch up on our rest. My DH and our other kids were welcomed in any time, as well. The nurses patiently answered my kids' many curious questions, and encouraged them to bring photos and pictures to decorate DD's area.
I did butt heads with one nurse (over picking up my clingy and still-nursing DS, who didn't understand what was happening and needed his mommy), but I firmly told her to mind her own business and she left me alone. There was also a "gopher" girl with a major attitude who bugged the living hell out of me...I finally let her have it one day, and she avoided me after that.
All in all, I had a wonderful experience in the NICU. They treated me with respect, and they saved my daughter's life. I couldn't ask for much more than that.