Written by Elaine O'Connor

Giving thanks for little things and little ones

02/12/2015 9:10:10 AM | 0 comments |

As seasoned first-responders, Valerie L. and her husband Brandon were used to dealing with emergencies.  Until it was their own.

The couple were expecting their first child. When nothing went as planned with the pregnancy or delivery, they found themselves dependent on another first-responder team: the doctors and nurses of Langley Memorial Hospital’s Maternity Unit.

In July, Valerie was in her third trimester when she was overcome by abdominal pain. The couple rushed to the hospital. Valerie spent a week in bed, dosed with painkillers. “We were so worried,” Brandon said. “We didn’t know if it was to do with her or the baby.”

Over several days, physicians Dr. Elaine Mah and Dr. Kim Suvajdzic ran dozens of tests with few results. A final test revealed Valerie had a rare blood disorder, porphyria, which can trigger intense abdominal pain. “They were all compassionate and made sure I had everything I needed,” Valerie said of her care during that difficult week. “It was nice to feel supported.”

Even so, nights were especially hard. Valerie suffers from anxiety and panic attacks triggered by darkness. Stuck in a strange bed in hospital, in pain and pregnant with her first child, she struggled to stay calm. It was crucial that Brandon remain by her side. Langley’s facilities had space for him to sleep on a couch in her room. But late one night, another patient was moved in and he felt he’d have to leave. When he explained Valerie’s condition to nursing staff they took action immediately.

“It was something so small, giving us our own room,” Brandon said. “I’m sure at 2 a.m. the last thing they wanted to do was reshuffle beds. But it meant a lot to my wife that I could be there for her. That was huge.”

The rest of the pregnancy was a blur of appointments at Royal Columbian Hospital for follow up on porphyria and treatment at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Clinic for gestational diabetes. Valerie’s water broke at 6 a.m. on September 28. Back on Langley’s maternity unit, the couple were delighted to see many of the same nurses as before: Joy Reynolds, Arielle James and Carolyn Marshall, plus nurses Hayley Pongracz and Kayda Kurtz.

Kayda provided one-to-one care for most of Valerie’s eight-hour labour, which progressed well. Finally, something was going smoothly. Baby Avery was born at 3:14 p.m. weighing six pounds, one ounce.  Her parents strained to hear their newborn’s first cry. Silence.

“It was excruciating,” said the new father. “We were trying not to panic.”

The team of nurses snapped into action, rubbing the baby with a towel, suctioning her lungs and providing air. They worked on the infant for five minutes that felt like forever. When their baby girl finally screamed it came as a relief.  She was here. They were a family.

Looking back, the new parents say the little things: a warm blanket, a soothing voice, a cup of ice chips, helped them get through their sometimes frightening experience of childbirth.

“Maternity nursing is a really special area where you see people when they are really vulnerable,” Kayda acknowledged. It takes a special touch: being present, genuine and personal.

“We can be crazy busy,” she explained, “but before I go into someone’s room, I take a deep breath and walk in like they are the only person on the unit. It’s really important not to carry that stress to our patients.  It’s such an honour to be a part of their life for something so special. It’s a privilege.”

In their own careers intervening in crisis, Brandon said, they’ve found “often people do fantastic and selfless work but never hear any thanks.”

So at home with their perfect daughter, the couple wrote a heartfelt letter with a simple message.

Those nurses may go through hundreds of deliveries and not hear anything,” Brandon said. “We just wanted to say, ‘Thank you.’”

To hear more of this story, listen to this audio clip

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