I believe that any crisis or emergency becomes immediately ten times more frightening if it occurs during the middle of the night. Our awake brain is primed to handle the unexpected but when we are dragged from a blissful deep sleep to confront our biggest fears, well, that is quite simply every mom's worst nightmare. My middle of the night crisis came unexpectedly, contained all the fear, drama, and frankly humor you could expect from such a scene, and it left me completely changed.
We were very lucky that within a couple of weeks of the babies arriving home from the NICU, Al's parents arrived to stay with us for 7 weeks. We had never been so happy to see them arrive and we immediately put them to work. It is a good thing they love us or they may have never come back after those seven weeks! They still laugh about the trip when they would change beds up to 8 times a night because the babies threw up constantly on dialysis. At this point, our biggest need was sleep and help during the night so that we could sleep. Dialysis can only be performed by the trained parents so home nursing help was out of the question and despite the fact that Max still sporadically and unexpectedly stopped breathing, everyone seemed confident that we could handle taking care of these two babies all on our own. We, needless to say, had our doubts. So when Mandy and Peter arrived, we decided we would take shifts so that everyone could sleep uninterrupted at some point and there would still be an adult awake with the babies 24 hours a day. With my needing to work and Al needing to be awake in the day to deal with setting up dialysis and calling doctors, my wonderful in laws signed up for the middle of the night shifts.
Mandy and Peter were extremely self sufficient in caring for the babies in the dead of night. There were only a handful of situations they would need us to step in and handle, such as replacing feeding tubes or dealing with dialysis machine alarms. Or Max holding his breath and passing out. The last of those being our biggest fear and our main reason for needing someone keeping vigil all night. Since they had arrived, Mandy and Peter had seen Max in full blown Max attack mode only once but it was seemingly out of the blue and enough to scare us all like crazy. We knew to expect it if he needed a shot or a feeding tube replacement but sometimes he would have bad reflux or pain from something unclear and he would just go straight from fine to no longer breathing without so much as a warning. Thankfully these incidences were much more rare now and yet, at the same time, that did little to truly reassure us. They did not happen often but they happened enough that we were always well aware that it could occur at any moment.
The biggest scare we would ever have with his Max attacks happened one October night, or should I say very early one October morning. I was enjoying having the evening help and had a couple of weeks of interrupted sleep by that point and was taking for granted that I would wake up refreshed each morning. As I got ready for bed that night, I threw on this short, thin black nightie that I actually got from my lingerie shower before my wedding! I have no idea why I thought this was appropriate sleepwear that night but it was a warm night and it was there in my drawer so I didn't really think twice about it when I put it on and snuggled under the covers for a good sleep before I would have to wake up and head to work.
Several hours into my cozy sleep, I hear my name being shouted with panic. It takes my foggy sleepy mind a few seconds to recognize that this is, in fact, real and not merely part of a bad dream. By the time I have opened my eyes, the yelling of "ALISTER! STEPHANIE!" is louder and closer as Mandy is running down the stairs to get us. I was already up while Al was still blinking and trying to figure out what was happening so I follow her up the stairs while she fills me in that Max was totally asleep and then made a quiet choking sound and then stopped breathing. They started yelling for us when we was turning blue but by the time I made it to the top of the stairs, he was lying in his crib white as a sheet, still and limp and looking completely lifeless. My in laws were there in their own pajamas looking stressed and concerned. I immediately charge into my supermom crisis mode and yell that someone needs to lift him out of his bed and onto the floor. Don't worry about the cords right now, just get him out of his bed as fast as you can. Someone else get the oxygen tank wheeled as close to him as possible. As soon as Peter gets Max onto the ground I immediately lean over him, my silly nightie now wrapped somewhere around my waist, and start pushing air into him with the bag as fast as I can. He does not respond right away and I am getting absolutely terrified. What if he was been out longer this time? What if he choked and his airway is blocked and I am not going to be able to get it open? I'm pushing air as hard as I can, sweating and nearly crying while I am also trying to figure out what my plan B is going to be. I am sure this whole scene lasted only a matter of minutes but it certainly felt like an hour to me squatted down with my exposed body worrying to death about my son. About the time Al had made it up the stairs to see if I needed help, Max finally gasped and took a breath.
I continued for a couple of minutes to squat beside him, blowing oxygen on his face while he slowly recovered. It had been such a long spell that he did not just immediately pink up and breathe normally. He continued to gasp and then not breathe for close to a minute before he finally seemed to be stabilizing. At some point in that minute with my true panic having passed, I took a moment to reflect on the ridiculousness of this current scene. Me with my nightie no longer serving any function wrapped somewhere around the middle of my stomach feeling very embarrassed and exposed, even though I know no one in that room was thinking about me at all during those terrifying moments. My poor in laws looking scared and frazzled, my husband looking half awake and as much puzzled by the commotion as truly scared, since he had missed the worst of it. Max laying on the floor wrapped in his own cords, slowly coming back to life. It was around that point that I was scanning the scene that I also noticed the laptop set up in the corner of the room and startled faces staring out from it. Mandy notices it then as well and calls out 'We'll be right back!' and I realize then that Mandy and Peter had been on Skype with my brother and sister in law when all this happened. My first selfish thought is wondering exactly how much of my bottom in the air they saw! Then, of course, I realize I hope they saw as little as possible not because of my silly vanity but because I knew that none of us who had seen Max like that were going to recover quickly.
As we started to return order to the room, Al offered that I should go back to bed and he would stay up with them. I went back to my bed and stared at the clock that said 4am and knew that I would not be getting any more sleep before I needed to get up for work in under two hours. I lay there in my bed, praying and thanking God for protecting Max. Worrying about what would have happened if my in laws had not been there and we had slept through his warning choking sound. Thanking God again that my in laws were there and knew to call for us. Praying for Max and his future. Praying for my heart and mind to calm down. Then I couldn't think about it anymore so I tried to make myself think of anything else. At one point, I was lying there forcing myself to plan their first birthday party. Don't think about what you just saw, think about cupcakes!
Two hours later I drag myself from my bed and my restless last few hours to throw clothes on and head to work. I taught that morning and then sat down to lunch with my friends. I felt like I had to tell them about what had happened. And yet, I couldn't really describe how bad it was. I couldn't put words to it. I couldn't put them through imagining that or knowing how scared I was. So instead I sat down and said "So last night, I performed CPR on Max while wearing lingerie in front of my in laws" and proceeded to give as humorous of an account as possible of exactly how hideous of a sight I would have been with my twisted black nightie and sweaty panic. They all listened and generously laughed at my descriptions, even though I know they knew it wasn't funny either. But, I chose to tell the funniest part of a story that I could find because it was the only way I knew how to cope. I hoped that if I could focus on the humor of such a dramatic situation, that I could convince myself not to worry every night as I went to bed.
It would be a long while before I really slept soundly again and even now, sleep will never be the abandon all cares experience it once was. For a long time after that night, I would lie awake sweating in my flannels afraid to go asleep and have something happen, worried about hearing my name during the night, never knowing when it would happen again. The aftermath of these moments definitely took their toll on us. But, nights passed and my sleep was uninterrupted and over time I did heal and move on from that night. The haunting images of Max lying there became blurrier in my mind and I was able to remember that night partly with humor but more with wonder at the things we endured during that time. I also am able to remember that night as evidence of another time that God was looking out for Max and had just the right people there at just the right time. I can remember it not with fear that it happened but with thankfulness that he survived it and with confidence that Max has endured so much in his life because he has such an important purpose. In so many ways, I have completely recovered from that middle of the night crisis. Having said that, never again have I slept in anything sexy again and I go to bed every night nice and covered up, because hey in our life you really do never know and the next time I wake up to a crisis, I intend on being completely decent while I save my child's life!