Will, Shelby, and my mother-in-law, Judy, arrived in Birmingham on Friday afternoon and stayed through Monday evening. Seeing them again, especially after such a difficult week, was just what I needed to help me relax and refresh.
When they arrived, Daphne was still in the CICU, where patients were housed in an open room and separated by curtains. Daphne had been extubated (taken off the ventilator) and placed on supplemental oxygen, but she was still hooked up to the other post-op IVs and monitors.
Initially, I didn’t plan to take Shelby into the CICU, because I worried that seeing Daphne like that would frighten her. But when she asked to see Daphne, I realized that keeping them apart would only confuse her. She needed to bond with her sister and see for herself what was keeping me away. Before taking Shelby into the unit, I sat her down and explained that Daphne had a problem with her heart and that the doctors were trying to fix it. I told her that Daphne would be covered in band aides to help her feel better. Shelby seemed to accept this simple explanation.
We approached Daphne’s bed as a family, Will at my side and Judy holding Shelby. Daphne was wrapped in multiple blankets, which concealed the IVs and cords, and she was sitting in a baby bouncer on top of her bed. The pacifier in her mouth hid the oxygen tube in her nose. She almost looked like a healthy newborn.
Will took Daphne’s tiny hand in his and spoke to her in a soothing voice; then he introduced Shelby to her sister. We encouraged Shelby to hold Daphne’s hand, touch her hair, and talk to her. She didn’t hesitate at all and was very gentle. During our visit, Will helped Shelby feed Daphne, and we all took turns snuggling her. When Shelby got restless, Judy took her to the waiting room, giving Will and me a few minutes alone with our new daughter. Seeing Will hold Daphne for the first time was incredible, because I could see the love and devotion in his eyes. On the drive back to our hotel, I praised Shelby for being such a good big sister and for being so gentle and helpful. With sincerity in her eyes, she proudly responded, “I didn’t hit her, Mom.” I have to agree, that’s a good start.
On Saturday morning, Daphne was strong enough to be transferred back to the NICU, which meant a personal room and no visiting restrictions. We spent the day at the hospital, taking turns holding her. Shelby showed sporadic interest in Daphne, but for the most part, she just wanted to play. Judy was a lifesaver; she did a fantastic job of keeping Shelby happy by taking her to the children’s playroom or on walks to explore the hospital. Shelby was fascinated by the statues of children sitting on benches that she found in one hallway.
On Saturday and Sunday, we spent time with Uncle Dan and Aunt Nora, who made the 4-hour drive from Tennessee to see us for less than 24 hours. We haven’t seen them since Randy’s funeral, so they got to meet both Shelby and Daphne for the first time. Dan and Nora are so friendly and thoughtful. It was wonderful to see them and to feel their love and support.
Over the last two weeks, Shelby’s world has been turned upside down and reinvented. She’s been a real trooper, but the changes have been hard on her. During our little family reunion, we wanted to spend time away from Daphne and do something just for Shelby. So on Monday morning, we took her to the McWane Science Center, a children’s museum featuring fun gadgets, hands-on science experiments, an indoor playhouse, a mid-size aquarium, and a dinosaur display. Shelby loved having the freedom to run and play; it was a little like being at home, where I take her on outings every week. The science center was fun for everyone; in fact, I think Will had even more fun than Shelby.
After the museum, we stopped back at the hospital so that Will, Shelby, and Judy could kiss Daphne goodbye; then I drove them to the airport to catch their flight. It was a short visit but just what I needed to make it through the next week or so. I can’t wait for all of us to be together at home.