Thursday, March 19, 2009

the heartbreak of death

we got confirmation in the middle of the night (early on jan 7) that matthew made it to heraklion with no complications.

thank you, Jesus!

i didn't sleep the first night because i was so excited that we had our son! we made a plan for the week that ken would go with someone each day (so he didn't have to drive the whole 5 hours to/from by himself) and come back to chania at night to stay with me in the hospital. since i had a c-section, the doctor said i had to stay until sat., jan 10.

on ken's first visit, wed., jan. 7 he went with our base doctor and they all met with matthew's doctor. ken came back with great news! although matthew phillip was intabated he was not requiring any additional oxygen to breathe. he weighed in at 3.5 lbs and 16 1/2 inches. ken got to see him open his eyes and move his little feet and hands around! the doctor also let ken take a picture of matthew, which turned out to be the only one we have. the doctor also said that signs were good but any sign of infection in his blood may not show up for 2-4 days.

so we prayed. lots of people prayed.

the next day, thurs., i shared the picture of matthew with everyone who came to my room. i was a proud mama. :) lots of friends came to visit bearing gifts for both me and baby matthew. mostly i received premiee clothes since i had none. that evening, ken came back from heraklion. he told me they tried to take matthew off of the respirator but it was unsuccessful. he told me the doctor said it was ok because at 28 weeks lungs are not fully developed. they were going to try and take him off each day. suddenly sitting there, ken became very emotional. at first i thought there was more to the story; that something was terribly wrong with matthew. but ken was just overwhelmed at everything that had happened. i assured him everything was going to be ok.

i just knew God was going to keep our first-born son, matthew phillip schwalbe healthy.

on friday, i was moving around pretty well (truth is i was pushing myself really hard so i could get to my baby!). the doctor assured me i would be going home saturday but suggested i might take it easy that night and then go to the hospital on sun., jan. 11. i also started pumping so i could breast feed matthew when he was ready. the doctors estimated that in 2-3 weeks he could start receiving breast milk. he was being fed nutrients through his umbilical cord just as if he was still in the womb. before going to heraklion that day, ken went to the chania courthouse to get matthew's birth certificate. they wouldn't let him name the baby because i was not present. he tried to explain i was in the hospital recovering from a c-section with no luck. he walked away with a birth certificate that said baby boy schwalbe.

ken returned friday night and said it was hard to see matthew with his face covered up. he was getting his "sun tan treatments", something they do to all premiees to prevent jaundis. he also told me they tried again to take him off the respirator but matthew couldn't breathe on his own yet.

none of the things matthew couldn't do, e.g., breathe or eat on his own, discouraged me. i just knew he was going to be ok. a month to a month and a half in the nicu and i was going to take my baby boy home.

the thought never crossed my mind that i wouldn't.

on sat., jan. 10 i was discharged and ken decided not to go to the hospital to see matthew so he could help me home and we could pack. that night we got a call. the interpreter from the base had spoken to the doctor and told us there was a sign of infection, but the doctors weren't sure exactly what it was and weren't too concerned. so we weren't. we took down the christmas decor in our house and packed our bags for 2 weeks. the plan was that we would stay for 2 weeks, then drive back to do laundry and things we needed to in chania, and then go back for another 2 weeks, and so on, and so on.

on sun., jan. 11 we left the house around 9:15 a.m. about an hour into the drive we received a call from matthew's doctor and she talked to ken while he was driving about the infection. we told her we were on our way. 10 minutes after we hung up, we got a call from the base interpreter who works in the medical office. she wanted to know if we spoke to the doctor. we said yes and told her we were about an hour and a half from the hospital. we asked her to have the base doctor call us because we were starting to get scared.

were they trying to tell us things weren't going well?

our base doctor called and i heard ken say over and over, "oh, ok." tears started filling up my eyes. my heart was beating out of my chest. i was in shock because i just knew matthew was going to be ok. ken pulled over to tell me that our base doctor said that the next 24 hours would be critical and would determine if matthew was going to make it. we both balled our eyes out. we screamed out to jesus. we pleaded. we begged.

i said, lord, take me before you take my son!!

ken continued driving, this time faster, and at one point we fish-tailed on the slick road. we decided to just go a safe speed and continued to pray aloud. i also called my mom repeatedly until i finally got in touch with her. i told her she had to start praying. she felt as though God was saying matthew would be healed supernaturally. i felt much better after we hung up.

we arrived to the hospital and ken dropped me off so i didn't have to walk. he parked the car and met me at the entrance. we walked up to the nicu, put on our hospital gowns over our clothes out in the reception area and walked back where a doctor said the heaviest words i have ever heard.

"i'm sorry."

i burst into tears and screamed. "what do you mean, you're sorry?"

the doctor just nodded his head at us. i felt my knees buckle and i collapsed some into ken's arms.

i kept saying, "lord no!!!!! you can perform a miracle."

i kept thinking how amazing it would be if suddenly the monitor showed a beating heart and all the greek hospital staff were witness to it. they insisted we sit down while i was screaming so i could compose myself. after 15 mins or so, i insisted on seeing my son.

they walked us in the room where all the babies were and we went over to matthew's incubator. he was laying there with all his tubes still attached and his respirator still pumping. we reached into the arm holes to touch his little leg. we never got to hold him and after 5-6 minutes we were ushered out of the room. it was almost noon which was when all the families got to come in and see their babies.

we went back to the office and spoke to the nurse who basically said since it was sunday we had to come back the next day to talk with matthew's doctor, the chief of the nicu. i remember just sitting there in shock. ken and i held each other and cried and cried and cried. we called my mom and she burst into tears saying over and over. "no, jesus!" i couldn't take it so i told her i would call back later.

the thing that made me really angry was that the nursing staff came in and asked what they should do with his body. they were trying to ask us if we wanted an autopsy but didn't know the english word. looking back now, i also realize that the nurse probably thought we wanted to take matthew with us right then. here in greece, it is very common to have the funeral before sun down the day a person dies.

we spoke to our base doctor and he told us he and the medical interpreter would be coming the next morning. we asked the staff to wait until then before they did anything. they gave us a hotel recommendation and we left the hospital.

i couldn't believe i didn't get to see matthew phillip alive except for the foggy memory i have of him when he was first born.

i couldn't believe our baby was gone...


julie said...

I cannot imagine what you have been through. I am still praying for you both.

Dianebob said...

The only thing I can think to say is something I remember reading once...which was "give grief words". And you have done that and as difficult and painful as it is, I appreciate you sharing your story with us...and giving your grief accompanying words instead of keeping it to yourself. It hurts me to read but it also reminds me of what is most precious.

swtpgrl22 said...

I continue to pray. I don't pray to end your pain, but to help you and Ken cope, endure, never forget, and continue to live a healthy, worthwhile, meaningful life with all its joys and sorrows, for it's without those that life is not lived. It is WITH those joys and sorrows, those ups and downs, that give life depth, meaning, value and how God lets us know that we have lived. You both have great strength and I look up to you.

~ Debi R.

Stephanie said...

I am so sorry. oh, I am so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Cortney, I'm not sure you will even see this, since this part of your blog is old, but I'm SO angry that they didn't let you hold Matthew. Maybe it is just a custom in Greece that I'm not familiar with, but it makes me very sad and angry. would you ever consider using your new photography skills to volunteer in NICU's and take end of life photos for parents? These volunteers change lives. I've seen it.