By Heather Michon |
Caitlin King only got to hold her newborn twin girls for a few precious moments before they were whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). That’s where their journey began. Born at 32 weeks and six days, Abbie May and Gardner Grace weighed just four pounds each.
Caitlin describes the NICU as a whirlwind, filled with fragile little babies attended by a team of nurses. “[They were] the most amazing people I’ve ever experienced,” says Caitlin. “The NICU nurses were everything to us.”
She was awakened in the middle of the night by the news that the medical team was having a hard time finding good veins on the girls’ limbs. The nurse requested permission to insert intravenous (IV) lines into their bellybuttons.
The umbilical vein remains viable for about a week after birth and it is sometimes used to take blood samples. Umbilical vein catheterization (UVC) is recommended when good peripheral veins can’t be found, but it does carry risks. Some of the complications include a potential for infection, bleeding from the umbilical vein, and embolism.
Caitlin gave her consent, but was concerned for her daughters. “After the nurse left, I just lost it. I started crying and it just sounded so scary,” she admits.
The umbilical line worked for Gardner Grace, but not for twin sister Abbie May. Staff finally inserted the catheter into a vein in Abbie May’s scalp.
Scalp vein catheterization is even less common than a UVC and most consider it a last resort. In some ways, it’s an excellent location: there are several veins in a newborn’s skull that are easy to visualize and because a baby tends not to move their head the way they move their limbs, the catheter is less likely to be dislodged. Statistically, it seems to carry no greater risk than a line in the arm or the leg. However, it’s avoided when possible because it’s more upsetting for parents, especially since it often requires the area to be shaved and can leave a scar.
Caitlin had previously worked on a project with a medical research company, giving her some familiarity with IVs. “Every NICU nurse we had, I told them ‘I don’t know anything about medical stuff except IV infiltration. So you have to make sure that my kids’ IVs don’t infiltrate,’” she laughs.
One day, she looked at Abbie May’s scalp and thought the area around the catheter looked puffy–one of the primary signs of infiltration. She called the nurse over to check it, and the nurse agreed that she was also concerned when she looked at it. Examination showed the catheter had infiltrated and was leaking fluid into the surrounding tissue. It was quickly removed. After 15 days in the NICU, the newborns were discharged from the hospital and finally got to go home.
While Caitlin believes the nurse probably would have discovered the infiltration herself, she’s glad she was able to have an active role in her newborns’ care.
“I was pretty proud that I knew there was something wrong and was able to point out to the nurse that it didn’t look right.”
In a situation where she felt powerless, this was something she had done that helped her babies.
It was a boost of confidence in a stressful time. “If, as a parent, I can be aware and say ‘look, I think something’s wrong here,’ and bring attention to something a doctor or nurse may be missing–because they’re human and sometimes we miss things–then I’ll do it.”
Now the mom of two healthy, active three-year-olds, Caitlin hopes other parents take from her experience the importance of educating themselves when it comes to kids and IVs. “There’s no awareness about IVs, it’s not talked about, and yet it happens every day,” she says. “As a parent, feeling helpless is one of the worst feelings in the world. If there’s something you can do when it comes to knowing what to look for, do it.”