Sunday 15th August 2010
One year ago.
Six days ago, I began my neonatal transport job, transferring sick infants around the state. Generally, we take them from country hospitals to city ones; from places with fewer facilities to those with intensive care.
It’s a total head spin, the idea of transporting these fragile, sick infants in the back of a van. It’s not until you actually travel in an ambulance that you realise that this is all they are. Sure, there are the machines that go ping – life saving pieces of equipment and a state of the art incubator – but at the end of the day, the rear end of a van has suspension like the back of a ute. It ain’t a smooth ride.
My first serious transport was five days ago. We went lights and sirens, at peak hour, to pick up a premature baby in Geelong. There’s nothing quite like it, speeding past the crawling traffic over the Westgate Bridge at knock off time.
When we arrived, there she was. There was already a tube down her throat to help her breathe, and we injected surfactant into her lungs to help decrease her effort of breathing, placed tubes through the umbilical cord to give her fluids, and began inotropes to help her heart to beat a bit harder.
After all of this careful work, which required millimetre precision and technique, we carefully and lovingly loaded the incubator into ambulance. And then we proceeded to bounce our way up the Princes Freeway, like we were on the back of a bronco.
All the way back to Melbourne.
We arrived at 1.30am, carefully unloading our precious cargo, and delivered her unscathed. And this, by the way, is the cushy ride. Compared to the aeroplane, this was smooth. Compared to the chopper, it was like still waters.
* * * * *
Today, on a Sunday afternoon, I again find myself bouncing along the road, this time to Ballarat. There’s an eight-day old baby vomiting bile. We need to stabilise him, put him in our incubator, and get him back to Melbourne for surgery. In the back of our ute.
I look at my watch as we go. It’s 5.25pm. Just ninety minutes ago, I was at my niece’s second birthday party. There she was, a pink glow in her cheeks, bouncing balloons off other kid’s heads, laughing with delight as she did. Both of my brothers and their wives were there; both with their pigeon pairs. Libby and Jack were there too, as were their kids, Fletch and Lana. Six of my younger brother’s friends were there, each with wives, each with kids, at least one per couple. Most had two.
Kids ran amok. There was a constant flow from the toy box to the table, like an army of ants. Each time they returned, with grandma’s zucchini slice in one hand, biscuits in the other; like requisite uniform. Fletch charged around with little regard for his own safety, as long as he could get at more of the sweet stuff. My nephew stuck close to his dad’s leg like he was pinned there, not quite sure of the whole scene, nor why his father had him in a Hawthorn jumper. My niece continued to bounce around, puffing out her chest, waving her arms like a chook, fully aware of her crown as the birthday queen. It was gorgeous to be amongst it, to be handed compliant infants, holding them close, like warm kittens. Yet I couldn’t help but notice that, apart from my Mum, I was the only one there without a toddler, or a baby, or both.
Out of the twenty people present, I was the only one without a dependent.
I’d looked around the room, at this menagerie of fun, and just as I was starting to feel this squeeze, my beeper went off.
“Sorry guys, awesome party, but I’ve got to go.”
I don’t know that I’ve ever been this happy to go to work before.
* * * * *
Within thirty minutes I was at home base, in Carlton, ready to bounce down the Western Highway to pick up this vomiting baby. We’d loaded the van, plugged ourselves in, and off we went.
I check my watch again. It’s now 5.31pm. The rain is falling in sheets through the window. At the front, the ambo has the radio on, the excited call of the football barely splitting through the rumble outside.
I turn to look at the incubator to my right, it’s soft mattress inside, a tiny seatbelt ready to strap in our precious cargo. Lights all around announce its inner temperature, while other monitors and LEDs are ready for action, to keep us informed of this baby’s vital signs on the return leg. Resuscitation gear and oxygen tanks squeak as we hit the bumps in the road, wheels splashing through puddles outside, climbing ever further as we cut our way through the hills of the Western District. Outside, the light closes in.
We arrive, and make our way upstairs. The doors open up to the familiar surrounds of the nursery. We pull the cot over to the bed where a baby lies, a tube in its nose, green bile draining to the side. There by its side, holding a tiny hand, sits a mother, her face painted with fear.
At that moment, my pocket buzzes. I pull out my phone. There’s a message from the party; a photo of the room, of the joy I’ve just left behind. I see faces lit with joy. But it’s not the kids faces I see.
It’s those of their parents standing behind I notice.
The highs and the lows.
* * * * *