At 6:07am one fine morning in early July, Mandy, Cassidy, and I welcomed a new daughter into our family: Finley Parker Owen.
CW: Serious neonatal medical problems with a good outcome.
Unlike with Cassidy where we had some control over the arrival schedule (after being a week late), Finley decided to grant us the often storied experience of the spontaneous 2am kickoff, followed by the 3am 30 kilometre mad dash across the city where I still perfectly held on to my title of Australia’s Most Legal Driver, despite the exhortations and protestations of the expecting mother, and the obligatory complication of unexpected night roadworks on the M2. We got there in time in the end because I am one cool customer, and two hours later Finley arrived safely into our waiting arms despite managing to get the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice. This didn’t seem to trouble her in the slightest.
After that, the recovery, the messages, the congratulations, the settling into the hospital visiting routine for the next five days—except it didn’t go that way, not this time. Just a smidgen past fourty-eight hours of age, and just a smidgen after passing her first check up with the paediatrician without concern, Finley did something that immediately got the attention of the nursing staff and the subsequently recalled paediatrician. It wasn’t a good sign apparently, and the reason I knew it wasn’t a good sign was because I got a phone call from Mandy at about 8am telling me there had been a not very good sign and Finley was as of this very moment being whisked away to the NICU in an ambulance by the NETS team. I actually knew it wasn’t a good sign as soon as the phone started ringing because Mandy never rings unless it is something pretty out of the ordinary and out of the ordinary combined with a recent birth combined with not having any of the in the ordinary contact that morning (i.e. texts) told me that I should commence the trepidation before I even answered the call.
Fast forward over the next 24 hours in the NICU where nobody really knows what is going on apart from the signs and symptoms and that these are not very good. I’m told this quite a bit, accompanied by a range of possible scenarios and puzzled looking medical staff. Puzzled looking medical staff are always the most worrying type. They are slowly ruling out various causes of bowel obstruction by running contrast studies and the like, and I’ve gathered that they are mostly interested in excluding all the various forms of emergencies. A surgeon is throwing the name of a syndrome at me that I’ve never heard before, and after the last time a syndrome name was thrown at me that I’d never heard of before I thought I was getting pretty good at the whole knowing of exotic syndromes thing. I ask him to say the name again because it is German sounding and I want to make sure I’ve got it right. He tells me to Google it, and the one thing I do know for sure about strange sounding exotic syndromes is that you shouldn’t Google them, you should absolutely not Google them, don’t try to Google it, and don’t use any other search engine either. Not until they know for sure, at least. Just don’t. What good could it do anyway right now.
At the end of day one in the NICU they’ve ruled out most of the possible emergency situations but Finley will remain nil-by-mouth until they work out what’s wrong. Finley is okay in her crib, not making much of a sound, occasionally asleep, occasionally awake, but mercifully not in any real apparent pain or discomfort beyond being very hungry. Her tiny hands are bound up with paddles to support a cannula and she has a tube down her nose. I’m a wreck however. Mandy is exhausted and has gone home to look after our two year old and try to get some sleep—and me, I’ve finally lost it, slumped over Finley’s crib and howling. Soon there’s a hand on my back, and a box of tissues being offered at my side and as I raise my head even further I’m somewhat taken aback because instead of the nurse I had presumed was offering the comfort it is the surgeon who continues to pat me on the back and who is casting me an understanding smile. He says it’s okay, that it takes a strong man to cry. I honestly don’t care about being a strong man or whatever and I’ve never had a problem with crying. After I collect myself for a bit he tells me that there will be some ultrasounds and a biopsy tomorrow but nothing more will be done tonight. I eventually head home and leave Finley in the care of the amazing NICU nurses, feeling powerless and wholly guilty nevertheless.
We are back again the first thing the next morning and Finley has had some ultrasounds of her abdomen done. One of the main reasons they are doing the ultrasound is because I was motivated to tell them about an ovarian cyst that had been detected on Finley’s antenatal scans. It had measured as a small and simple cyst and the theory had been that it wouldn’t cause any problems and could just be monitored in the future. I was motivated to tell them about this thing which I would normally assume was on her records because the surgeon had constantly referred to Finley as a “he”. That gave me just the small hunch that maybe he didn’t know that she had ovaries to have a cyst on.
While we are waiting for those results, we are gearing up for the biopsy. Before that happens though, the surgeon beckons me and Mandy to a computer screen. On it is a grainy pastiche of forms and outlines, one of which is a strikingly large egg shape, filled with a black void. They think they’ve identified the culprit: a 4-5cm cyst on Finley’s right ovary, much larger than we had thought. It has some other characteristics I’m told, lost to my layman’s eyes, that suggest it could be attached to the bowel and not the ovary. Regardless, its position and size could easily be obstructive and could in turn easily explain Finley’s current condition. They seem pretty sold on the diagnosis and course of action, but pessimist me is just waiting for the next complication. I still somehow find it in me to feel a bit relieved: Finley will have a laparoscopy to confirm the finding and the cyst will either be removed in isolation, or with the ovary, or with a section of bowel depending on what the camera shows them. The staff are incredibly careful to explain the procedure to us before mercifully finding some theatre time to have the surgery completed by the evening rather than having to wait another day. Finley’s put back into one of those intimidating tanks, wheeled off to theatre with us trailing. In the anteroom to the theatres, I recite my understanding of the procedure to the surgical team when asked to confirm what I think is going to happen, and then our little girl is soon gone from our sides once more, beyond the cold steel doors of the OR. Then we wait.
Three hours later one of the surgical team comes to find us in the small lonely waiting room, a weird little adjunct to a sterile corridor down the surgical wing of the hospital. There’s a large screen in this room with the status of all the patients currently undergoing surgery. It looks to be powered by a spreadsheet but I can’t actually see much of it because another window has been popped over it for the entire duration informing the hospital staff that their printers should now be working. The dark side of me has been doing a feeble chuckle internally a bit over this, that even here, in this moment, amidst this family crisis, ridiculous software things still find a way to hinder us at the final hurdle. But the surgeon is here now and in those few seconds of her appearance every inch of my focus is trying to read something from her face. A dumb effort given she is just going to say something pretty soon. My prediction still settles on hope. The surgery was a success. The large black ovoid on the computer screen was an enteric duplication cyst along 3-4cm of Finley’s intestinal tract, right where the small and large intestines meet. As a result they needed to remove a small part of both organs, along with the appendix, and stitch them back up again. Prognosis? Full recovery in seven to fourteen days, with no additional impact to health or lifestyle. Of all the possible scenarios involving the cyst that was just a blob on an ultrasound half a day earlier, this was the most severe to rectify, but in the end still a darn sight better than some of the other things they’d been considering. Finley will be a normal little baby again. You bloody beauty.
Finley still couldn’t feed for the next few days, but was doing all the things she needed to do to show excellent progress with no complications. Each recovery milestone was a small joy. I didn’t stay in the room for the extubation when they decided she could start breathing on her own again. There were some perverse reversals of normal baby parent mindsets too: instead of dreading the poo we were cheering for it, waiting for it each time with great hope and anticipation. It came, of course, and hasn’t stopped since. (It can stop now for a bit if it wants, thanks)
Mandy started feeding Finley again after a few days, a great relieving moment when finally given the green light, and she had a fair bit of catching up to do. The next few days in recovery were straining but thanks to the tremendous, invaluable support of our families, and the expert medical care we have access to in this country, we were able to keep up. Finley’s recovery was complete right on the seven day mark, another small miracle, and we could finally take her home just as we had expected to do more than a week earlier — her with two additional scars and slightly less intestine, us with some scars too but not as visible, and not as severe.
I’m back at work now and while it has not been the most ideal time over the last two months, we’re now coping with the quotidian rigours of looking after a newborn alongside an energetic toddler. I still have the occasional moment where I’m feeling a bit stretched and not quite back on an even keel, although I am continuing to improve. There might be moments where I will jump at shadows where Finley and Cassidy are concerned, so please forgive me that. Still, it’s great to be back at work, and great to have this all behind us now.
I’m just so happy to be Finley’s dad.
Mandy and I are so very grateful to all of the staff of The Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick for solving our little Finley’s problem. If you are willing and able, I’m sure they’d be very appreciative for any help you can throw their way. Thank you for your consideration!