Dear PICU (or CVICU or NICU or any other ICU) Mama, You are a Warrior.
When a child is critically ill or injured, it is impossible to describe the suffocating feelings
of helplessness, fear, and frustration that rip through a mother. Beyond that, it is impossible to describe how the experience will change your identity. You become a warrior. The PICU is a black hole, a time warp, a place where days blend into one another, with the only differentiation between night and day is the shift in staffing. Moms of children in the intensive care unit who pass one another in the hall on the way to the bathroom or the family snack room for a cup of ice can stare into one another’s eyes with the same battle-weary look and just know what the other has endured. We are warriors, joined by the common fight to take our child home again.
We meet with the care teams and relay messages to praying friends and family. We text back, “no, we’re fine”, because sometimes there’s nothing to be done but pace the ten steps around the bed, back and forth all day long and wait, hoping for some promising change from the day’s adjustment to the dosage of medication or the new scan or imaging. So, we pace, we stroke our child’s face, and we pray. Within us, we battle the anger that fixing our baby is not within our power.
We watch PICC line changes, IV insertions, wound care, harsh medications enter our children, drug withdrawals, difficult things. We see painful procedure after procedure, and we can’t stop it, so we remind ourselves that the battle’s worth it to win the war. We hold back our own tears while our child cries, unable to comfort them from the pain that brought there to begin with. We battle the guilt and sadness that we couldn’t stop the cancer, the heart condition, the accident, the illness from coming. We monitor vitals, stare helplessly at screens, watching numbers rise and fall, willing them to inch in the right direction. We glare at the IV trees, ventilators, and other machines with a strange combination of appreciation and hate. We feel grateful that these cumbersome machines give us hope for healing or hope for more time, yet we loathe them and wish them away. We long and physically ache to pick up our child, to rock them, to hug them, and talk with them.
We sleep in waiting rooms, on plastic couches, folded up like origami in too-small chairs, in hotel-like hospitality houses away from our own bed and pillow, or more preferably, in the hospital bed right beside our child. Sleep is never really sleep when you’re really just listening for the monitor to blare its alarm or waiting for the phone to ring from the on-call physician.
Despite the emotional and physical exhaustion, PICU mothers fight on.
We advocate for our child, seeking to understand medical terms outside our realm of expertise. We research and scour page after page of medical journals and mom blogs for some alternative treatment, something to try to heal, comfort, or save our child. We keep notebooks of notes, folders of scribbled pages and computer printouts. We hang every word spoken to us by specialists and intensivists. We fight to make sure that every box is checked and every possible solution, medication, or trial has been considered. We stop at nothing to ensure our child has had the best care.
We never, ever give up on our children or stop fighting against what rips their lives and their health away from us. We don’t give up. We battle our fears of inadequacy, the worry that we have let down our spouse, our parents, our siblings, our jobs, and especially our other children, who all must go on and manage without us while we stop our entire lives for our sick one. We miss birthday parties, special events, and holidays. We spend Thanksgiving in the hospital cafeteria and decorate the ten by ten bedspace for Christmas by hanging stockings, hoping it will be enough, that it will be okay that there’s no tree this year. We watch the calendar with fear that there might not be a
tomorrow, fearful that we can’t imagine the next year, much less the next month.
Dear PICU mamas, we are warriors. We are fierce. We face every mother’s worst fear, and we power through it, somehow. We embody strength. We have been refined with fire. Our love for children reaches palpable levels that inspire hope and touch the soul. We are tired, we are hurt, and we hate everything about what we’ve experienced, but we fight on.
We are warriors, y’all.