Wednesday 6th February 2013
The story of Danielle Griffiths, whose baby Sam spent 11 weeks in an Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, highlights why the NSWNMA continues to put safe patient care and ratios front and centre in all our campaigns. Our Public Health System 2013 campaign will seek to improve nurse numbers in this and other vital areas.
Danielle Griffiths gave birth to son Sam at 27 weeks: more than three months premature. Sam was her second baby and his early arrival was a huge surprise as her first pregnancy went full-term and was drama-free during pregnancy and birth. Sam’s dramatic and sudden birth began, without warning, while Danielle was at work.
“I was in a meeting. It was about three o’clock and I thought ‘this feels a bit regular, maybe it’s a contraction’.
Danielle said she didn’t realise – but her boss did – that she was breathing like she was in labour.
“My boss said ‘you’re not okay you have to go! But I still stayed through the whole meeting (like an idiot) and then went back to my desk until my boss said ‘you need to go. Can I call you a taxi?’
“I said ‘no I’ll get the train’! When I was on the train it started up – full on labour. I was crying and trying to call my husband. Everyone on the train was staring at me.”
After being met by her husband at the station Danielle went first to her private hospital but, as they did not have the facilities to deal with such a premature birth, was immediately transported by ambulance to Liverpool Hospital.
“I had him at 8.30pm. There were 20 people in the room when I was having him, including doctors and nurses from NICU who were in the corner waiting.
“I was so terrified. What would he look like? Would he be fully developed? Would he be alive? I kept saying ‘I’m scared, I’m scared’. I made eye contact with one of the neonatal nurses. I just kept looking at her. She was so focused on me. It was so reassuring.
“Then he came out and we had a little boy and my husband said ‘he’s perfect, he’s just small’.”
Sam spent 11 weeks in neonatal intensive care and Danielle says the hardest thing was having to say goodbye to her little boy every day.
“It breaks your heart. Your job as a mum is to love them and it’s so hard to leave them every day.”
She says the care and attention lavished on Sam by the NICU nurses made the parting tolerable.
“They loved your baby when you couldn’t – the way they handle them, touch them, talk to them. They were amazing. You appreciate them so much.
“I could go away at night and know he would get a cuddle. That meant so much to me when I couldn’t be there. Their job is to look after babies but the unofficial part of their job is to look after the mum and dad as well. They put their arm around you, they offer their friendship.
“Sometimes you want to forget and talk about anything and they’ll sit down with you and talk about anything you want and have a bit of a giggle. They are patient and tolerant. They handle it beautifully. They carry you through. They got me through the darkest days. Truly.”
Danielle says the stakes are high for all the babies in NICU and nurse numbers and resources are critical.
“It’s an hour-to-hour proposition for these babies. It is life and death. The nurses do a great job.”
Danielle said the environment that NICU nurses were working in, physically and emotionally, was unbelievable to her.
“I was in there for 11 weeks. At first it was so overwhelming. There are always alarms going off. It’s very stressful – there are 30-something babies.
“The days when other people’s babies die is horrible. You form close bonds with their mums. It’s horrible when you see someone lose their baby in front of you. It happens every day for these nurses. Imagine having to go to work and having to deal with that? It’s awful. The nurses are so compassionate.
“They shouldn’t be put under that much stress when there is so much at stake. A tiny little mistake like not washing your hands properly can be fatal for a baby only that big.”