I have three children that are ages six (William), three (Rosie) and ten months (Catherine). All of them, each in their own unique way, were admirably breastfed by my wife, Meredith. Actually she is still courageously breastfeeding our ten month old girl, Catherine. After struggling with some minor fertility issues we were so happy to conceive and have our first child, William. Meredith's milk came in nicely and we were off to the races nourishing him. We had a great system set up where I would wake up early in the morning and feed our son with a bottle full of breast milk while Meredith pumped. I remember it being a great bonding experience for me with him. Meredith was producing mass amounts of milk. We coveted the milk. We fastidiously dated and properly stored it in our freezer. It was referred to as liquid gold in our daily conversation. Meredith battled milk blisters and a few bouts with mastitis but was able to successfully and naturally breastfeed our son for eighteen solid months. We had our second baby three years later. We shockingly conceived her without modern science. We had no reason to believe that this feeding experience would be any different than the last and were excited to begin. Four months into our second feeding experience a malignant melanoma spot was found on Meredith's leg. Two months later a dermatologist removed the spot. Even though the spot was relatively small the operation was extremely painful and Meredith suffered. She began favoring her right breast while feeding because of the pain in her leg and was having serious issues with milk blisters. The pain of her surgery and the milk blister issues all led to it being necessary for her to quit breastfeeding cold turkey. Cabbage leaves are known for helping women "dry out" their breasts of milk. Meredith walked around with cabbage leaves painfully attached to her breasts via an Ace Bandage for three weeks. I felt so bad for her because she was only able to breastfeed our second born for six months. Luckily our six month old little girl had no issues taking a bottle filled with formula. We kept moving forward.
We had planned on only having two children. Our second born was a miracle in our eyes. We had a boy and a girl and felt blessed. I had my sites set on a vasectomy. I just did not have one quite soon enough. In December of 2013 we travelled to Atlanta to see Pink's, Truth About Love Tour final concert. It was a great show and we really had a blast! We even went out to the legendary Clermont Lounge for a bit more dancing and partying after the show. We have always had a healthy relationship and of course brought the party back to our downtown Atlanta loft adult playground for the night. Conception was imminent. I began noticing a change in Meredith the week between Christmas and New Years. A change that I was easily able to recognize after experiencing two pregnancies. She was moody and my gut was telling me something. I was shopping at our local grocery store and stopped by the pharmacy to purchase a pregnancy test. As our pharmacist rang me up I asked her if she could guarantee a negative test. She gave me a playful laugh.
It was January 4, 2014. We had some friends coming over for dinner that evening. I began un-loading the groceries and handed Meredith the two pack of pregnancy tests that I purchased. She looked at me like I was crazy. "Really" she said. I said "yes, please go pee on it". I was practicing yoga in the living room when she came out of the bathroom and threw the pregnancy test at me. She quickly grabbed the second test and went back into the bathroom. Like a bolt of lightning I grabbed the directions and the peed on supposed positive stick. The directions unfolded like a map and took up half the living room floor. It was faint but there was a positive mark on the stick. She eventually emerged from the bathroom with a second and confirming test. I quickly went from needing a vasectomy to needing a mini-van. When our guests arrived we told them what had just happened. Meredith and her friend immediately drove to the local drug store to buy more pregnancy tests. Apparently the ones I had originally purchased were not the correct ones. Eventually all of the correct ones she purchased gave the same reading. Baby number three was on the way. I remember my first feeling was one of happiness and joy. Sort of like I knew it was going to happen all along. I was nervous but was definitely welcoming the challenge.
It was around month three of Meredith's pregnancy when I remember thinking that this one is different. She was much more emotional than I had remembered the other two being. Despite her hormones being in overdrive we made it through the nine months and delivered our baby girl on September 10, 2014. It was a special and intimate delivery and the first where she went into labor on her own without having to be induced. Please click here to see my blog where I documented my second daughter's birth.
Once again we were off to the races and had high hopes that this would be a successful breastfeeding experience. The breastfeeding started out great but around week three we noticed that this baby was fussy. I will never forget one early morning around three a.m. we both awoke to her screaming and crying and kicking. We caught eye contact and did not say anything but we were both thinking "oh shit". Turns out Catherine was a colicky baby and had reflux issues. The only thing that seemed to work to keep her from crying 24/7 was to keep her in a warm tub. I assure you that we had the cleanest baby in the state of North Carolina. We worked with our pediatrician and finally found a medicine that worked for her reflux after trying four different prescriptions. She was colicky for three months. Three months of the loudest screaming we could possibly imagine. It made me fully understand how a teenage and/or in-experienced parent might shake a baby. Luckily we were experienced parents. I did not say anything because I did not want to jinx the situation but the breastfeeding was going well. The breastfeeding was going so well that we did not work with Catherine on taking a bottle. She was entirely dependent on Meredith's breasts for nourishment. We were so busy with our other two children and so tired that we did not have the energy required to work with our newborn on taking a bottle. Things were going so well that it was not a priority. We were humming along with great success until around seven months. Meredith has always battled milk blisters and they were back with a vengeance. Her method of removing the blisters was with a sterile tweezer and a safety pin. I don't really need to go into detail as I am sure you can take it from there. She was doing a good job of keeping her utensils sterile and her method had always worked. A mother's intuition is strong and her intuition was telling her to keep her blisters open at all costs. In mid-April things started taking a down turn. She developed her first bout of mastitis and was prescribed antibiotics. The antibiotics worked and we kept moving forward. Towards the end of May the proverbial "shit hit the fan". The following is an account of the events as told by Meredith.
We will refer to these organizations throughout the rest of this blog. No specific physicians will be referenced unless in a positive light. Our hospital system and Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is Mission Health System. The OB-GYN office that Meredith has seen for the last five years is Biltmore OB-GYN, We have had two babies delivered by doctors from Biltmore OB-GYN at Mission Hospital over the last three years. All of these experiences were wonderful and magical. However, we will be separating from Biltmore OB-GYN after our most recent experience. The surgery center we refer to is Regional Surgical Specialists .
When I woke up on the morning of Sunday, May 24th I knew something was painfully wrong in my left breast. I was no stranger to the pain caused by mastitis. After breastfeeding three children I am familiar with all sorts of challenges that it entails such as milk blisters, plugged milk ducts, lopsidedness, quitting cold turkey, and engorgement. However, on this particular day there was nothing that could have prepared me for the pain and suffering that was about to ensue.
Unfortunately, my breastfeeding woes seem to happen on weekends and Memorial Day weekend 2015 was the mother woe of them all. As I sat outside on my deck seeking the best natural light possible, I took my sterile safety pin and tweezers to my left nipple to pop my milk blisters (also called blebs). Usually once the milk blisters were popped, I would hand express enough milk to be sure the milk ducts behind those particular blebs were going to be clear for my baby to efficiently empty my breast. However, like I said on this particular morning I was not prepared to see a thick, yellow, mucus-like substance that would erupt and ooze out of my nipple after taking my fist to the side of my painfully hard and red dis-colored left breast to massage the infection forward.
I made an after hours call to my OB and described what was coming out of my left breast and my pain level. My OB called in a prescription for me of Dicloxacillin which is a standard antibiotic for an over the phone diagnosis of mastitis. Because it was a holiday weekend I got my medication on Monday, May 25 and took two doses that day. I waited in severe and excruciating pain for the medication to start having a positive effect. However, I knew in my gut that this was not like any other typical breastfeeding problem I had ever experienced.
My previous case of mastitis had just presented itself in late April which was less than a month prior and was in the same spot. I had also been prescribed Dicloxacillin on April 25 and the infection appeared to heal within the seven day prescription (although in retrospect, it probably never cleared up). Usually there is significant and noticeable healing within the first 48 hours of taking antibiotics.
On Tuesday afternoon May 26, the first business day after the holiday weekend, I called the phone nurse at my OB to tell them that there was no improvement. My husband had drawn a circle around the red area on my breast with a Sharpie so we would know if the redness was spreading or receding. I also called to be clear about the level of severe pain, the hardness, the varying shades of redness, and especially the thick discharge. They said if I developed a fever then I could call back on Wednesday, but if not, just keep taking antibiotics and wait to be seen on the morning of Thursday, May 28th.
While continuing to breastfeed my baby Catherine through the pain, I tried my breastfeeding tricks, and I know them well: use wet heat, light massage, feed while on all fours, take Lecithin, open the milk blisters, and keep trying to empty my breast.
Looking back I should have never accepted my OB waiting until Thursday to see me. I should have demanded a solution quicker but in the past antibiotics had always worked so I was just waiting for them to start having a positive effect on me.
Thursday arrived and I was beyond ready for a solution. I hired a babysitter to watch my older children and she arrived at 9 a.m. I took my baby, Catherine, with me to the doctor leaving my two older children at home. What a morning this was going to turn out to be! On the way to the doctor Catherine was crying and I reached into my purse to pull out a pacifier to soothe her, and WHACK! I hit a mailbox and completely knocked loose the passenger mirror off my mini-van. I continued and merged onto the interstate with my mirror dangling in the wind.
I finally saw my doctor at Biltmore OB-GYN and she took one look at it and said, “I’d be shocked if that was not an abscess,” talking about the dark red circle of excruciating pain on the side of my left breast. My OB’s office helped schedule an appointment later that day at 1 p.m. for a breast ultrasound at the Breast Imaging Center in Asheville and that they would probably, “look at it today, and drain it tomorrow.” My OB doctor told me that I should be prepared for an “I and D” (incise and drain) procedure. My doctor was also going to write me a prescription to help with my pain. I said goodbye and headed to the check-out area. My OB doctor met me at the check-out area to hand me my prescription. I thanked her and said, “Before I go, does anyone want to see the discharge that is coming out of my nipple?” I probably should have suggested this during my appointment but my brain was surely not functioning at 100% capacity. My physician’s response to that question was “Nobody needs to see that.” There was an awkward laughter from the nurse and front desk checkout employee, as if to say, ‘nasty, why would we want to see your puss?’ Why wouldn’t they want to get a culture of that for me? I’m a lactating mother who is in severe constant pain and gets recurring mastitis, and this time there is puss coming out of my nipple. I am supposed to see my OB-GYN for breastfeeding problems, right? “Nobody needs to see that.” That is still the last thing that this physician said to me and most likely will ever say to me again.
I arrived home still in agony and booked the sitter again for my 1 p.m. appointment at the breast imaging center. Thankfully this time, I left all three children at home and went on this journey alone. There at check-in, I was hurting so much that I had to crouch down and squat against a wall because I was light-headed from the pain. They brought me to an exam-room and gave me a gown to don. The technician was friendly enough, but I didn’t care about pleasantries this time. She took lots of pictures and ran the ultrasound wand over my painful area for probably ten minutes. Then she told me a doctor would need to review the images, and she would be back with my results in a few minutes. Those few minutes seemed like forever. The doctor finally entered with the technician and broke my nervous silence. She proceeded to tell me that after reviewing the images that the abscess was “too small to drain” and I should “keep taking the antibiotics.” I questioned the physician on the third of my breast that was still hard, red and immensely painful. Oh, she said that my breast tissue was “angry.” It was not inflamed or irritated, but angry. In my daze as I was walked out of there with tears of uncertainty and excruciating pain, she told me to come back for a follow-up in three months to be sure that the area had improved. Seriously? Why didn’t anyone seem to care that a lactating mother had an obvious abscess (and likely more tissue) full of infection that antibiotics were not reaching? My body had done an incredible job of walling off that area so that nothing would get in or out: no infection getting to my milk, but no antibiotics getting to the infection. The physician was not going to drain it. By now it was 4 p.m. I was not getting any more appointments that day. So I went home and paid the babysitter $12 an hour for seven hours of her time.
I was thankful when the phone rang at about 5:30 p.m. It was the nurse from my OB’s office. They told me that I had an appointment with a surgery center the next morning. They were working me in, but I had an appointment. I re-focused any positivity and internal strength that remained in my fortitude with hopes that the surgery center might offer me a solution.
My husband who had been on a short business trip arrived back home also which helped ease my mind a little.
That night I took a narcotic painkiller, which didn’t even take the edge off, and I did my best to try to get some sleep. The next morning, which was Friday, May 29th, could not have come soon enough. The babysitter arrived in the morning and my husband drove me to the surgery center. We were in the waiting room thinking again, is today solution day?
We met the surgeon who read the results of the previous day’s ultrasound, and he agreed by the measurements of the obvious abscess, it was small. So he gave me three choices. 1. I could just continue the course of antibiotics (of which I had 2.5 days left to take). 2. He could do an aspiration of the abscess and try to pull out the infection with a large needle, or 3. He could do and I and D procedure, which was the most invasive of the three. My husband and I talked for a brief second about it and decided begin with the middle-of-the-road choice… #2. The surgeon numbed the infection area then stuck the needle into the most obvious dark red spot on my breast and pulled out about 1 cc of the infection. He said that he was going to send it off for a culture. We were elated and prayed that this was finally over. Infection removed! Game over! I went home still in intense pain but was hopeful that the problem was going to be solved.
Saturday, May 30th, we were having friends over for dinner. We had had dinner plans for a long time with some close friends and felt that it might do me some good to take my mind off my pain. Everyone did their best to let me sit, sip on cocktails, and be distracted from the pain. I showed my girlfriends my breast and their jaws dropped at the same time they let out a deep breath. It was obvious to those of us who are not medically trained that something substantially more needed to be done. Throughout the weekend my pain was not subsiding. I put in a call to my OB’s office again. To their credit the physician on call called me back rather quickly. I explained through my tears how the pain was agonizing, the infection was clearly spreading, and how I could see new areas of redness on my skin, which was warm to the touch. She said that because I had seen the Surgery Center the day before, I was an established patient of their office now, and they would be the physicians who would take action, and I should call their after-hours service. My husband and I discussed going to the emergency room at our local hospital. We both decided against for a multitude of reasons.
I dealt with the pain Saturday night, and Sunday too. My family continued life without my participation as I was just waiting for Monday so that I could call the surgery center of which I was now an established patient. My husband called the office three times within the first 20 minutes of them being open on Monday, June 1. They finally called back and gave us a 9:30 a.m. appointment that Monday morning. Babysitter ready again, my husband drove me to the appointment. I also asked a friend who is a physician to join us for the appointment. After a few minutes in the waiting room we were escorted us to the procedure room. There was no doubt in my mind that I was finally going to get my solution day. I was having that I and D.
The on-call surgeon decided after looking at the outside of my breast, with 5-day-old ultrasound data, and spreading infection, that I should not receive the treatment I was requesting, but that I should instead be admitted to the hospital to receive IV antibiotics (even though I’d already been on antibiotics for a week). Apparently my red painful breast, and request for procedure wasn’t enough for this physician, and the assumption was made again that I had ‘angry breast tissue.’ I was so upset that I started crying as soon as the surgeon told me that he wasn’t doing the procedure I needed and wanted.
Hind sight is surely 20/20. I should have demanded to see a breast specialist. I should have been my own best advocate. I should have demanded a second opinion. We clearly had too much trust into my physicians.
I was admitted onto the Oncology floor at Mission St. Joseph Campus. Room 1024 to be exact. We drove straight there after my visit to the surgery center. My husband demanded pain meds ASAP. After liberal amounts of morphine some of my pain finally subsided. Thankfully my friend who had also followed us over to the hospital had the wherewithal to ask if the culture had come back from Friday’s aspiration. Yes, the results were back and it was a Staph infection. Now we knew what that thick yellow mucus-like substance was coming out of my breast on May 24th. It was Staph infection. It was now June 1st, Monday.
Upon check in I soon saw yet a different surgeon from the Surgery Center. I was put on NPO immediately (no food or drink allowed). The surgeon proceeded to draw another one of those Sharpie lines around the red area on my left breast. He did not order another ultra sound. The circle drawn would determine if the infection was spreading. The nurses got my IV antibiotics started. I received morphine as needed and was also given an oral painkiller on a schedule.
Please keep in mind that I am still breast-feeding during this experience. My husband visited me three times a day in the hospital so that I could keep our baby fed.
Monday came and went as we were hoping the IV antibiotics would alleviate the infection. My NPO was lifted so I was able to eat but I was not even that hungry. On Tuesday a surgeon visited me once to do a basic check in. It was great to have many of my close friends visit me in the hospital. We hoped the IV antibiotics were doing their job.
So here we were, Wednesday, June 3rd. It was late morning and I had not seen anyone from the surgery center yet. I was walking my family to the elevators on the oncology floor and I saw the P.A. from surgery centers office. I happen to know her from outside this experience. I asked her to come into my room so I could show her my breast. She looked at it, we chatted and she left. After a while, she called my hospital room to tell me she was back at the office and I should expect to see the original surgeon who did my initial aspiration sometime that afternoon to check on me. He showed up around 4pm. Finally after all this time the surgeon was scheduling me for surgery the next morning to drain my infection. I was again placed on NPO at 4 p.m. This time I was hungry.
The morning of Thursday, June 4 started early. I did not sleep well the night before. I was hungry from being on NPO but was eager for my surgery. The OR nurses arrived and got me for pre-op around 6 a.m. I had a chance to speak with the surgeon before the procedure. He explained what was going to happen during the procedure and that I would be able to go home that day with an open wound on my breast. We (my husband) would have to change the dressing every 12 hours and stuff sterile gauze into the wound to help it drain. He recommended I go home after the surgery. I said that I was not comfortable with going home that same day. He said “why not?” I explained that I was not comfortable with going home with an open wound considering what I had already been through. He also said that he was going to take me off antibiotics. This also greatly concerned me. He told me that the “infection would want to find its way out of my body through the path of least resistance,” which is why he would leave it open to heal from the inside first. With slight hesitation, he prescribed me a broad-spectrum antibiotic to take for a week following my discharge. He also agreed to let me stay in the hospital through Friday.
After our pre-op conversation, we went into the OR. I shifted myself onto the operating table and felt my arms getting strapped down, and then it got fuzzy… until I woke up in the recovery room. I remember hearing the nurses talking about spraying Listerine on your body as a bug repellant for a picnic they were all attending. Funny the details you remember.
After maybe 30 minutes I was ready to go back to my room. My left breast was covered in so much dressing that I literally looked like I was smuggling a melon under my tank top. Overall I had a sense of relief that the infection was finally gone. I also had physical relief when I pumped 5.5 oz. of milk after the surgery, which my breast had been holding onto tightly, as to not mix milk with infection.
My husband asked the nurse if the surgeon had ordered a wound care specialist visit to show me how to tend to my open wound at home. The wound care team wanted the surgeon to be the first one to remove the dressing. I asked my nurse when the surgeon would visit me again and she said Friday. Leaving me even more puzzled as to how he was expecting me to go home on the same day as my surgery.
Eventually I spoke with a few friends on the phone, one of them asked if the doctor had done a biopsy of the breast tissue. So I asked my nurse if she would read me the surgeon’s notes. My memory only serves to remember a couple of key phrases, and the rest is med-speak. I just remember her saying that he removed a ‘significant amount of puss and blood,’ ‘rinsed out with copious amounts of saline,’ and that I ‘lost about 10 cc’s of blood.’
When I saw the surgeon on Friday morning it was awkward. Call it bad bedside manner, but he didn’t make one second of eye contact with me. I asked him how did he get the puss out, with a needle? No, with his finger he said. It was basically like massive honeycombs of puss and he just probed it all out with his finger. He took off the dressing and unpacked the long ribbon gauze, and then left the room to get the gauze he needed to fill my wound. I took a picture of the hole that was left in my breast and it was about the size of a man’s finger. He showed me how to cover my wound, and that was it. I was discharged after my final shot of morphine and oral pain meds. I never saw a wound care specialist. My family arrived to pick me up and we were home bound.
My weekend was filled with pain, a constant emotion of sadness, and utter disbelief of the care I had been given. My original OB still has not made an effort to check in on me. My body was filled with pain meds, antibiotics, infection, and lack of rest. I was a true hot mess!
Monday, June 8th and I am still in great pain and the hardness and redness are still lingering. Am I filling back up with infection? Am I improving? I did not know. My husband called the surgery center and left a message for the surgeon. A nurse called back later that day and said to ‘use heat’ (even though that is not on the discharge instructions), and ‘expect it to take a long time to heal.’ These answers were no longer acceptable to me.
My husband placed a call to my primary care physician. Dr. Gus Vickery of Vickery Family Medicine. They called back at 1:30 p.m. asking if we could be there by 2 p.m. Truly we did not know if this appointment would be a complete waste of time like we had experienced so many times before. We were shooting for the moon and were on our way with the passenger mirror still dangling off or our mini-van. I saw the nurse and explained to her what had happened over the course of the last two weeks.
Once she heard the story and saw my breast, she got Dr. Vickery. After one look, he said that I needed to be referred Dr. Michelle LeBlanc at Western Carolina Women’s Specialty Center, WCWSC
During my first appointment in Dr. LeBlanc’s office on Thursday, June 11th, I had a breast ultrasound completed, reviewed, followed by a second breast ultrasound done with aspirations, and reviewed again. She was ready to do a culture on anything that came out during aspiration. That was the most up-to-date information any physician had to date.
Unfortunately, because of the course that had been taken, the decision was made that it was not worth a second surgery to get out the remainder of the infection that was supposed to “find it’s way out through the path of least resistance.” Dr. LeBlanc did not want me to undergo another procedure to remove the last of the staph infection and clean up my new scar. It was going to be the same mantra, take another round of antibiotics, 10 more days this time.
A week passed, and I had cancelled my follow up appointment with the surgeon who had done my procedure. It was now time for my follow up with Dr. LeBlanc. She knew how upset I was with the negligent and primitive care I received from my OB and the surgery center. She suggested I let my OB know how I feel. ‘If someone were angry with me, I would want to know,’ Dr. LeBlanc said. Then she proceeded to tell me that my OB has referred patients to her before and…. Stop, WHAT?! My OB knows who you are and actually has referred patients to you? Yet I was dropped off at a surgery center, and she didn’t contact me while knowing I was hospitalized?!
By the time I took my last dose of antibiotics it was Tuesday, June 23rd. It was time for my body to do the rest of the healing alone. As of July 8th my breast was still red and the areas that had been hard and full of infection were still lumpy but improving. Drawing any positive conclusions from this experience has been difficult and there definitely has been a common denominator. In my opinion our regional ACO (Accountable Care Organization) led by Mission Health System has a lot of improving to do in ways of improving quality, reducing costs and increasing efficiency by proactively coordinating their patients total healthcare needs; as well as creating a patient-centered health experience, collaboration between care providers, and allowing patients to participate in developing/implementing plan of care.
An Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is defined as an organization of health care providers that agrees to be accountable for the quality, cost, and overall care of beneficiaries who are enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service program who are assigned to it. (whatever that means). The supposed objective of an ACO is to improve quality, reduce costs and increase efficiency by proactively coordinating their patients' health care needs. ACO language was included in health care reform, which requires health care providers (doctors, hospitals and others) to be more accountable for costs and quality. I highly recommend that you take the time to understand the way your local ACO or ACO's are structured.
It didn’t seem to me that I received quality care from my ACO. As a matter of fact, it seemed like quite the opposite. If I were to put it in a nutshell it would go something like this: after receiving what I consider poor care from my OBGYN office (which delivers babies at Mission Health), I was first referred to the Breast Imaging Center (owned by Mission Health) but was refused the needed treatment, so I was then referred to a surgery center (affiliated with Mission Health) whose physicians failed to immediately recognize the need and perform I and D. Thanks to them, I was checked into an Oncology floor to be looked at once a day; and my progress was judged by a line drawn on my skin. After running up a week of hospital bills, I finally received the treatment I originally requested in-office (as a simple outpatient co-pay). I was discharged from the hospital, and one visit later to my family physician (who should have been immediately notified upon my admittance to Mission), I was referred again, but this time to a breast specialist who immediately ran the most up-to-date and technologically advanced procedures during my first visit (her office is also affiliated with Mission Health). Drawing any positive conclusions from this experience has been difficult. I’m hopeful that soft breast tissue is in my near future. Until then, I’m waiting for the bills to arrive from the physicians who were to care for me.
After Meredith checked into the hospital that Monday I went home to pack some supplies for her stay. I gathered two garment bags and loaded them full of clothes, magazines, etc. I loaded a cooler with her favorite foods, grabbed our three children and drove to the hospital. We arrived, parked and headed towards the elevators loaded with gear in tow. Catherine was in her stroller. I could not have possibly carried one more thing. As we passed by a door I heard lady call out to me, "excuse me sir, can you please help me get my potato chips un-stuck out of the vending machine?" I turned around and saw a frail older lady who had called out for my help. I thought to myself that the last thing this person needs to eat is a bag of disgusting vending machine potato chips but of course I say "sure" and walk over to the vending machine... all of my stuff and people included. I looked into the vending machine and saw that the bag of chips is really stuck but this lady is depending on me to get them free for her. I gave the machine a good initial tilt but nothing happened except for a loud banging noise. I try to tilt it a second time. The bag did not come loose and the noise of the machine slamming back onto the ground was louder than the first. I heard Catherine start screaming from the noise. I looked at the lady and said "I'm sorry but I am not going to be able to get them loose for you" and started to walk away. She gave me a look like she was going to start crying. I kept my head down and just kept walking thinking to myself, did that really just happen?
We arrived on the 10th floor at the St. Joseph's Campus of the MIssion Health System where Meredith's room was located. The Oncology floor. I always try to do my best to make a positive out of a negative and instantly realized a way we could easily accomplish this. My kids are energetic and luckily healthy. Among many other things they represent vitality, happiness and energy. All positive things without a doubt. We were going to have the opportunity to inject the Oncology floor with vitality, happiness and energy. All are things any Oncology patient could never have enough of. We visited Meredith for a little while that Monday night. She had been given an IV so the antibiotics were flowing. She had also been given Morphine and Vicodin for her pain. Meredith was ready for sleep.
I got the kids to sleep that night relatively easily and went to bed myself. Around 5:30 a.m. the next morning I heard Catherine. She was up and ready for Mommy's Milk. To be 100% honest I was dreading this moment. Up to this point she had been completely dependent on Meredith for nourishment. Meredith had greeted her every morning of her short life so far with a huge smile and breasts full of delicious milk at a perfect 98.6 degrees. I took a few deep breathes and prepared myself to give it the old college try. I heated up some frozen breast milk in the kitchen and headed into her nursery with bottle in hand. I entered and she instantly gave me look. A look that of true disappointment. A look of "why the hell are you here and where is Mommy?" I scooped her up and sat in the glider that my wife has used to feed all three of our children. A chair I have never felt comfortable sitting in. I attempted to feed her with the bottle having zero success. It would have surely made a good reality TV show. Not exactly sure what to do next I went into the kitchen carrying our crying baby. I needed to get creative quickly. I grabbed the syringe that we had used to give her the reflux meds when she was an infant. I sat on our sofa, unscrewed the top off the bottle and pulled up some breast milk into the syringe and shoved it deep into her mouth. I slowly squirted it inside her mouth hoping for the best. Success is a great feeling! I sat there for at least 45 minutes feeding her six ounces of high quality breast milk through a cheap syringe. I was feeling quite smart. My other two children woke soon after and we headed to the hospital to see Mommy. We visited St. Joe's three times that Tuesday hoping the antibiotics were working. That night on the way home from our final hospital visit of the day we stopped by the grocery to pick up some baby food. It was time for our little girl to start eating something besides milk.
The next morning was much easier for us. She absolutely crushed the baby food. As I sat there feeding her early that Wednesday morning I realized that I did not really know much about my youngest daughter yet. Not only did I not know her but I had not taken the time yet to get to know her. Call it laziness. Call it life. Call it responsibilities. Call it whatever you want. I had been depending on my wife to do pretty much all of the work so far in raising our baby girl. It was time for me to get to know our baby and this was the perfect opportunity to make another positive out of this situation.
We are blessed with good friends here in Asheville and that Wednesday evening one of our good friends did us a huge favor and watched our six and three year old at home while I took Catherine with me to visit Meredith in the hospital. Traveling with just one is a piece of cake! I got off the elevator and quickly caught eye contact with an obvious cancer patient. She was bravely walking laps around the Oncology floor pulling her IV pole along with her. She had lost her hair and most of her weight. She saw my baby girl in my arms. An immediate and huge smile grew on her face. Her body language changed. She turned to me and said "What a breathe of fresh air, I really needed that". "Thank you".
This brief experience with this cancer patient gave me a jolt that I needed. Meredith was most likely going to recover and go back to her life again. This lady who had been suffering with a horrible and dreaded disease might not. It provided me with some much needed perspective and appreciation. I entered Meredith's room with our baby girl, shared my experience in the hall with her and handed our baby off for some warm and delicious breast milk.
The following images are from two impromptu sessions that I shot. One session was at our home two weeks before Meredith got sick. The other was in the hospital on the afternoon of her surgery. Thank you for reading this story and I hope you enjoy these photos.
This blog was originally written in August, 2015 and published on January 1, 2016. Catherine is now off of breast milk and doing great. Meredith is also now back to 100%.