Blue Light Special and the Yellow Baby


(Written as a post script to the events that happened just after our first daughters birth in 2003. It’s hard for me to even recall the events and emotions I felt at that time so I’m glad I kept this record)

Volume #9

So now I’m a father with all the responsibilities and rewards that go along with that title and right out of the gate we have problems. Our brand new daughter has shoulder dystocia, which happened during the difficult last couple minutes of birth when Kathleen’s heart rate was dropping and the doctor did what he had to do to save her life and get her out into the world. The end result is a left arm that has no mobility as the nerves too it were damaged or in a worst case scenario severed but she is able to grip things in her hand so there is hope she may recover some if not all function in her arm. Were greeted by a physiotherapist that gives us a series of exercises to perform on her once a day, the reason being to keep her young muscles working while the nerves work on developing and regenerating.

Just in case that wasn’t enough they give our little girl a blood test called a Billy Rubin which indicates to them the presence of jaundice which would also explain the yellowish color in her eyes and mouth. I’ve heard the word jaundice before and know it’s some sort of liver aliment that turns the patient yellow but short of that I know nothing, it can’t kill her can it? Again the doctors give us the worst-case scenario of liver failure due to her premature arrival but assure us that with preemies this is normal. Her young liver may or may not be ready for full-time processing duty but given a little time she’ll probably come around. I wanted to ask what happens if it doesn’t but was more afraid of the blunt answer I’d hear so I kept quite. Here we think we have this perfect little girl she sleeps lots doesn’t cry a lot is pretty lethargic while awake which we find out is all bad. Already we’re having problems and we haven’t even left the building yet, are we really ready for this?

In order to remedy the jaundice the pediatrician has ordered light therapies, which were told, is painless and can happen in JoAnn’s room so she can stay close by and still breast feed her as needed. It’s just a rolling stand with a light unit holding four blue fluorescent lights that is positioned directly over her crib, Katie is given time on her back and tummy at regular intervals like cooking a roast in an oven. They cover her eyes with gauze than place a headband on her head to hold the gauze in place, they also take off her diaper and fashion a sterile mask on her bottom like a string bikini. They place a clear plastic lid on the clear plastic crib she’s in and ta -da you’ve got the blue light special “shake and bake baby”. She only cries a little and before you know it she’s fast asleep in the warmth of her little cocoon her arms over her head enjoying the rays as if she were laying on a beach in Hawaii.


Kathleen is two days old and she’s got a seemingly endless staff of doctors and nurses looking in on her and two overwhelmed concerned new parents that were not prepared for this sort of start to her life. I think JoAnn and I both saw us having a healthy child and in two days heading home to our new life together much like the couple in the next bed did earlier that day but fate had something else on it’s mind for us. Our first test as parents was upon us and neither of us studied this chapter “your newborn with health problems”.

On top of this I have nurses casually asking me about JoAnn’s mental state as they notice she’s pretty emotional which I agree she is. Is she freaked out? “Yes”, is she emotional? “Yes”, is she upset? “Yes”, by all accounts the staff was just doing their job but after thirteen years I think I know my wife. After four days in the hospital leading up to the birth with an IV every four hours day or night plus stuck on the same ward unable to leave she was already going a little stir crazy. She just needed to be at home where she was in control of her own life. Being as JoAnn is usually the one organizing other’s lives when she’s at work she was not wholly used to the idea of having little to no say in what she could do or where she could do it. It bothered me to see her this wound up and I set out to try to relive her tension. If they wouldn’t let her go home I’d bring our home to her.

Hospital food being what it is we’d been bringing in take out every night and after six days of this we both needed a change so I went out picked up some supplies and went home and made her some of our favorite foods, BBQ chops and grilled veggies and packed them up with our own cutlery and dishes and brought the whole works to the hospital for a picnic. My somewhat romantic gesture had it’s intended effect and it brought JoAnn’s mood up to a point where through all the stress of the situation we faced I could see she was still the same happy girl I married eight years earlier and I knew once we were home she’d be fine. Apparently my gesture did not go un-noticed as it was all the talk around the nurse’s station and I think I inadvertently put a lot of pressure on all the other husbands visiting their wives.

The next morning after a pretty good night with spirits up we had the wind knocked out of us again when the pediatrician visited Kathleen and told us her Billy Rubin number from that morning’s test was actually higher than when they first diagnosed the jaundice. He had one look at the light set up and told the nurse it was all wrong as the clear lid all but counter acts the effect of the light thus rendering the past twenty-four hours of treatment useless. The nurse that originally set up the light was there and our feelings were very easy to read, we were quite upset that our daughter had been getting worse right in front of us because someone didn’t know how to administer the light therapy properly. I made no bones about how mad I was and JoAnn tried to calm me down while she became very emotional, we were both out of control we just manifested it in different ways. It’s about now another nurse asks me about JoAnn’s emotional state and I tell her it’s not her but me you better worry about because I was ready to hurt someone.

It’s not to say I take postpartum depression lightly in fact Kathleen’s name sakes older brother, my great-uncle experienced it to the maximum degree in the 1940’s when his wife smothered their new-born then committed suicide but I didn’t feel we were anywhere close to this ourselves. I just needed to get JoAnn home where she could be surrounded by her own things and make plans for herself and where she could sleep in our own bed, if they didn’t release her today I didn’t know what she’d do but I knew she was at her breaking point, any reasonable person would be. The nurse who set up the light felt terrible and quite honestly she did what she thought was right, I just wish the doctor hadn’t waited a full day before checking that his orders were being carried out correctly.

After a few hours of moping around the room and counseling one another looking at our little girl again under the lights (correctly set up this time) I left for a walk to find a coffee. I took a long walk and tried to figure out what I could do to help JoAnn through another night in the hospital. I felt as if I let her down blowing up in the nursery in front of a group of nursing students and though I felt vindicated to do so I was ashamed. I wasn’t there to help her I forced her to try to calm me when truly she was the one under more stress having just given birth, a new mom with a sick child and stuck in the hospital herself. I came and went as I pleased, spent every night at home and truly failed in my role as support to her. It just proves to me that women are a lot stronger than men ever give them credit for.

When I finally return in a few hours still pretty down on myself I find the JoAnn of old happy and up beat packing her bag as Kathleen’s Billy Rubin numbers are headed down dramatically they decided to let them go home, maybe it was my threat that scared them but no matter they were both being released. That is provided Katie passes her child seat stress test, which my little girl does with out so much as a peep as she’s ready to go home to.

So now we find ourselves in new territory as we say goodbye to the nurses that took care of them the past eight days and the second roommate she’s had in a week and we walk off the ward as a family for the first time. I’ve come and gone so often out of the hospital I forget this is the first time in a week JoAnn has gone down this elevator and actually left the building. At long last we were all finally going home, a moment I’ve been waiting for but still can’t believe is finally here. We could hardly contain our joy as we left the hospital and strapped Katie into the car for the very first time for her first ever car ride. We knew the coming days, weeks, months and years were to be full of firsts but this was the first of all firsts us leaving as a family as we set out to begin this new chapter in our lives.


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