God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:3b-4, NLT)

Friday, September 18, 2009

We're home... and our flight in the NOT so friendly skies

Friday, September 18
Well, Faith and I are home. I apologize in advance if I start ranting in this post. It has been an incredibly long day.
I, being the procrastinator that I am, didn't start packing our things to go home until probably 2 AM, went to sleep around 4:30 AM, intended to wake up at 6-ish to finish getting things together,hoping to get to the hospital by 7:30 to drop off our extra Omegaven and pick up my camera after I forgot it at CAIR yesterday. I figured we'd drop off the Omegaven, say goodbye again to everyone, and catch a cab by 8:15 at the latest to get to the airport.
I actually ended up waking up at 7:33, hurried to get dressed and get everything together, and then walked as quickly as I possibly could to get to the hospital. As quickly as I could wasn't all that quick, since I was wearing Faith in a sling, wearing her backpack with a feed running, pushing a stroller with our 2 carry-on's and her carseat on it, and pulling our big suitcase along with me, so it was almost 8:30 when we got to the hospital.
We got my camera and headed back to Dr. Puder's office, where we were able to say goodbye to Dr. Puder, Danielle, Alexis, and Dr. Gura. Then we headed downstairs and caught a cab to the airport, and got there just shortly after 9:00.
We had absolutely the most horrible airport/airline experience I have ever had. I will NEVER fly United again, even if it does save us money up-front since our insurance buys the tickets with them. I have always flown JetBlue before when we've gone to Boston; it's cheaper, you can check a bag for free, you have your own TV and plenty of legroom, and they have good customer service and are super helpful and accommodating of Faith's (and my) needs.
United was awful on the way to Boston on Monday, and they were even WORSE on the way home. The only reason we flew United this time was because we didn't have the money to buy our ticket up-front and be reimbursed by our insurance company, and the travel agency that books flights for our insurance used United. I can guarantee the next time I talk to Faith's insurance case manager, she will be getting an earful about our experience. The fact that the airline made no attempt to make accommodations for the fact that I was travelling alone with Faith and all of her needs and the stuff we need to travel with her, seems enough reason to me for the insurance company to think twice about using that airline next time.
It all started last week, when I called United's customer service line to get our seats changed, since they had us assigned to row 32. I've done the same thing every time we've flown JetBlue, and even when the flight is full, they've always moved us up to the front, where it's easier to get on and off the plane, and the flight attendants are right there available if we were to need them. Well, the United customer service line is not a real person, and it's not even a push-button phone tree... it's one of those annoying computers that you talk to. After the third time it didn't understand what I said, I was pretty upset and used some choice words... apparently they've programmed it to understand those words, because as soon as I called it a stupid [non-abbreviated] POS, it transferred me to an actual person. Not that it helped, because she promptly told me that I'd just have to wait and ask at the ticket counter when I checked in on Monday. So then I asked what their policy on medical baggage is, and I was told that medical bags can be checked for free (good news when they charge $20/bag!).
Monday, when we got to the airport, I stood in the check-in line to see that they don't actually have PEOPLE there, either! I told the lady who was directing everyone to the next open computer that I was travelling with a medical needs baby, and would need to talk to a person when we checked in, and she very rudely said, "I am a person!". Ok, well you're not standing at the counter, why would I think you'd help?? So she directed me to the next open computer and I told her we needed to change seats to a more accessible part of the plane, and she said if there wasn't anything on the screen, there wasn't anything she could do, and I'd have to ask at the gate. She did check our bag for free without much of a struggle when I told her it was full of medical supplies, and then I went to go find our TSA escort.
Travelling is SO much easier and nicer when you get a hold of TSA at the airport ahead of time. Denver has a really good security process anyway, but having an agent to walk you through really helps. Your escort makes sure that everyone knows you need special screening, that all the bins your stuff goes in get sanitized, that everyone wears fresh gloves, etc. When we fly out of Denver, they hardly even look at our stuff. I never have to take Faith out of the sling, and I never have to take her backpack off. They never even look in her backpack, they just swab it for explosives and call that good enough.
So security was a breeze, and we got to our gate almost 2 hours before our flight was due to take off. I went to get a coffee, and some food to take on for lunch since we were flying United and they don't do free snacks. When I got back, there were customer service people at the gate, so I went to the counter to tell them about our needs and ask if they would move us.They said there was nothing they could do, so I said if they weren't going to move us, then we would definitely need help getting on the plane. Then the rude counter lady said that only a wheelchair pusher would be allowed to help me, so they'd have to call and see if one could come.
So Faith and I went over and sat on the floor to wait until it was time to board. In the meantime, I noticed the dressing on her line was starting to come up, so I pulled some tape out of her backpack to tape it down and keep it occlusive. A lady standing nearby asked if we were travelling alone, and when I said yes she said something about how brave I must be. A few minutes later, she asked me what was wrong with Faith, and I gave her the "short" version of the story (there's really no such thing as a short version...). For the most part, I find it offensive if someone asks what's "wrong" with her; I feel like compared to how she used to be, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her, and other than her tube she's just a "normal" baby. But I didn't say anything about it this time, because the lady was being nice. Then, she said she wanted to help me when it was time to get on the plane, to get all our stuff on and get to our seat. She told me I should bring my stuff and stand by her and her husband so they could help us. They were flying first class.
When it came time to start boarding, the rude counter lady realized these first class passengers were going to help me, so SUDDENLY she forgot she had told me they couldn't help me, and ran over to say she'd help me get our stuff on the plane. Once we got on the plane, the flight attendants were all rude, except for one older guy who asked every time he saw us if I needed anything. So that was our Monday experience. Enough to tick me off, and make me not want to fly United again.
Then today, it was even worse. I was more mad than I have been in a REALLY long time. Probably since Faith was in Denver and I had to deal with Dr. Potter. We got to the airport, went in and stood in line to check in, and went to the little computer, just like we were told to on Monday. I went through all the steps, saw that there weren't any seats near the front of the plane and knew based on Monday's experience that they wouldn't care, and then got to the step where it wanted to know if I was checking a bag. There was a young guy behind the counter, so I told him it was a medical bag so there wasn't a charge for it. He said he had never heard that, and that he'd have to ask a supervisor about it. I said ok, that it's what I was told when I called the customer service line and that we weren't charged in Denver, and then the "supervisor" came over and proceeded to pretty much say I was full of crap, that they always charge for bags, and even if they didn't charge for medical bags there's no way they'd let me check that big bag for free (it wasn't overweight... it weighed 45 lbs...). I told her the same thing I told the kid, and she said she'd ask a supervisor about it. I thought she WAS a supervisor, so that ticked me off.
So she had me follow her down to this other lady, who also told me I was full of it and that there was no way they'd let me check that bag for free, so once again, I repeated what I was told by the customer service line, and that we hadn't been charged in Denver. Once again, I was told that they'd have to ask a supervisor, because none of them had ever heard it. This was TWICE that they led me to think I was talking to a supervisor... finally they took me down to this other lady, who told me the same thing, and that they'd have to open the bag to see that it was actually medical supplies. Then, she looked it up on the computer, and read out loud the policy- "Bags containing medical assistive devices and supplies may be checked free of charge." At that point, I was yelling that that's what was in the stupid bag, and that I didn't care if they opened it, but all they'd see is that it had MEDICAL SUPPLIES in it. Note that the policy doesn't say that it has to be ONLY medical supplies, it says it has to "contain" medical supplies. So even though I had other stuff packed in there too, I did have almost all of her medical stuff in that bag, so it qualified. Technically, I could have put one freaking enteral bag or saline or heparin syringe in each of my bags, and according to their policy, they'd have had to check them all for free!
So then, the last lady said I still had way too much to carry on. It was NOT a good idea to mess with me at that point, and I loudly told her the purpose and contents of everything I had to carry on- the carseat Faith was going to ride in, the stroller that is free to gate-check, a carry-on with medical stuff in it, my computer bag carry-on, and Faith's backpack, which she was about to get hooked up to. The lady at that point was like, ok, whatever, and told me to go ahead to security.
The thing that probably made me the most mad about all of it was that these awful women were being rude and acting like I was stupid, embarrassing me in front of other passengers!
And since I came home, I looked on their website for verification of their policy... they don't have anything on the website I can find about medical baggage, BUT Faith and I are active duty military dependants, and since our health insurance (through the military) bought our tickets, we were travelling on orders. So I found this policy on their website, which makes me even MORE mad about it all, because they shouldn't have given me a hard time about ANYTHING- "You are exempt from the above fees for checking your first two bags if you are: active U.S. military personnel and/or a dependant with ID and traveling on orders" and then on this other page, there's this chart that says we could actually check THREE bags that weigh up to 70 lbs each! And, since Faith and I were both on the orders, that means we could have checked SIX- 70 lb bags and they COULDN'T have charged us!!
On top of that, I didn't contact TSA at Boston ahead of time, and Boston's security is not run nearly as well as Denver's. I had to tell 3 different people that we needed sanitized bins and fresh gloves before they actually did it, and the dumb guy by the metal detector was yelling at me for not putting Faith's backpack, which was attached to her, through the x-ray. (She wasn't actually running, but it makes security a whole lot easier and less to explain when she's hooked up.) The dumbest thing is that they made me put Faith's leather-soled baby shoes through the x-ray, and then they didn't even look in her backpack!
So finally, I got to the gate, and at that point I was obviously not happy. I didn't even try to be nice to the not-helpful ladies at the counter. I pretty much just said that I knew they wouldn't care and it wouldn't make a difference anyway, but that I was travelling with a medical needs baby and needed to be moved if at all possible, but that I knew they wouldn't move me, and since they wouldn't move me, I would need help to get on the plane and I needed to pre-board. They took the stroller and one of my carry-ons, and I left the carseat behind the counter so I could go get something to eat for breakfast and lunch. By the time I got back, it was pretty much time to get on the plane, and in the 15 minutes since I had talked to them, they already forgot that I needed help. I guess those counter people don't have common sense, because here I was, with Faith in the sling, wearing her backpack, pulling a carry-on, and they thought I'd be able to carry her carseat down the 10 inch wide aisle to row 31!!
The flight itself was pretty uneventful... then we got to Denver, it took forever for our bags to get to the carousel, and the only real road to leave the airport was closed because of a car accident. Needless to say, I hope our next trip is better than this one, and I pray that we'll have the money to buy tickets with JetBlue and just have the insurance reimburse us. Oh, and on top of all of that, I think I lost my driver's license somewhere along the way today...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A long, strange journey for sure...

Wednesday, April 16
I've been doing a lot of reflection the past few days, just really looking back at where we've been and how far we've come, and I've really realized how oblivious I've been through the vast majority of this experience... so I want to do a post of pictures, from the beginning until now. Looking back at the nearly 2000 pictures of this whole experience, especially now that we've finally come out the other side, makes it all really sink in.
Ten months ago, we honestly believed we had a good chance to be home for Christmas. We figured she'd get closed up, we'd wait a couple of weeks, start feeding her, get her breastfeeding, and go home at the short end of the 6-12 weeks we were told to expect. Most of the gastroschisis stories I read were like that, and a lot of the babies were home in just a month or less! I remember when I first started reading Caleigh's story and I actually stopped, because she ended up with short gut and I was like, "Oh, that won't happen to us, so I don't need to read that one." Ironic, huh? Never would I have dreamed that we'd go through any of this...
I think one of the most important things anyone can do is remember where they've come from and keep things in perspective... so without further ado, here are the past 10 months in pictures.

First born, nurses trying to stop the bleeding from her ruptured cord

First day with the silo

Last day with the silo

All closed up!

First time being held, 8 days old

First sponge bath, 9 days old

All swollen, and no one knew why...

Faith's first Thanksgiving, chest tubes and a PICC line were her gifts

(and we didn't get to hold her for 2 weeks!)

Skimming breastmilk... I spent probably 4-6 hours a day doing this!

The first few batches of skim milk I took to get tested for fat content

Extubated the day after she turned 1 month old

The first time we ever saw her face without anything on it!

First time wearing clothes, the shirt was preemie-sized

First time doing kangaroo care

First time in a crib, all decked out for her :)

Already looking yellow, barely a month old her direct bili was already over 3...

First tub bath! No one told us anything about not getting her line wet... and this was when all she had over her insertion site was a band-aid!

We decorated her room for her first Christmas

I was so glad her chest tubes came out in time for her to wear her Christmas dress! The bib was mine when I was a baby.

First time in the sling

Getting one of her first oral feeds... I think there were maybe 3 ml of milk in that syringe!

Right after her first time breastfeeding, at 2 months old!

Her first time being "cordless". It felt so weird to be able to hold her in the middle of the room!

Her first time in her carseat, doing the test the first time we were supposed to go home back in January. (Notice how orange she is- this was maybe 2 days before the labs when her direct bili was 11.8)I think this is the night they drew the 11.8 DB labs...

First time wearing a cloth diaper

Valentine's Day

Her awesome NICU friends made her a pretty sign for her door when she turned 4 months old

Post-op after getting her g-tube

Getting ready to go home for the first time!

First time in the car... she didn't like it much!

First time in her own bed

At the airport, waiting for our flight to Boston

All of our stuff we took to Boston...

Admitted in Boston

Her first Omegaven!

A visit from the clown doctors

Pink feet!

With the crazy manometry tube in her nose... it reminded me of an octopus or something

Flat lines... not what it's supposed to look like...

We went all over Boston in the stroller. I had to put a sign on it that said "Please don't touch me! I am just as cute from a distance!"

Her "after" picture. This is the week her direct bili hit 2.0, after 30 days on Omegaven.

First time trying to eat solids... she didn't think it was a good idea.

At the aquarium. This is the tank of menhaden, the fish they make Omegaven from.

Faith and Daddy, and the Prudential Center after we went up to the top

Faith and Mommy with the mama duck at the Public Garden

All of us with Ben Franklin at Fanheuil Hall

Faith and Daddy by the Mayflower replica in Plymouth

All of us as shadows at the Pilgrim Memorial Park

Faith practicing sitting in her bumbo-type chair at home

With Daddy and Noah the night before Daddy left

Passed out post-op after her scar revision in July

Hanging out at Boston Common this trip... totally TPN free, and sitting up unsupported!

Pre-op waiting to get her line taken out

Pushing up on her hands on the bed in our room at DNH!

Eating! Munching on a strip of dried banana and some fruit puree and actually LIKING it!

Faith has come SO FAR in the past 10 months... Like I said above, I would never have imagined that we'd go through all of this, but honestly, I'm glad we have. I have learned more, and met more wonderful people, than I ever expected to in my entire life. As hard as it's been, I am so thankful that we've been blessed to have had this experience!!

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