Monday, June 22, 2009

NICU Admissions are Terrifying Experiences for NICU Parents

Research is slowly being published to support what NICU Parents have known all along—that the NICU experience is a terrifying and often traumatic event for those involved.

I shared some of my thoughts on the terrifying response to the NICU in the research paper that I wrote "Identifying, Understanding, and Working with Grieving Parents in the NICU, Part I: Identifying and Understanding Loss and the Grief Response" published in Neonatal Network:
A NICU admission is a stressful time for the family personally, psychologically, and economically. The high-tech NICU environment is unfamiliar and intimidating for most parents.

The instruments, incubators, intravenous equipment, respirators, procedures, monitors, hospital jargon, lights, alarms, smells, and sounds can be terrifying for those unfamiliar with the intensive care setting.
NICU - An Alien Environment
I used this photo of an Alien Incubator in the presentation that I gave on "Grief in the NICU: Identifying, Understanding and Helping Grieving Parents" for the "Managing the Spectrum of Maternal Mental Health Issues from Conception through the Neonatal Experience" at the HHC Perinatal Conference held at Jacobi Medical Center.

I think this alien image really helps to convey to the NICU staff how many NICU parents are viewing the NICU experience. I used the image to be a reminder that for most people the NICU Staff's normal work place is a alien environment.

The NICU experience was a very foreign one for me as well. Even though I was used to being in the adult ICU, as a physician, the neonatal experience was like entering a foreign country or an alien science experiment.

Helping the NICU Parent
NICU professionals can be invaluable sources of support for NICU parents as they struggle to come to grips with the reality of having a baby in the NICU.

Providing orientations to the NICU—from basic hand washing and gowning techniques to explaining all of the 'bells and whistles' in the NICU equipment—can go a very long way in helping NICU parents adjust to this strange world in which their child is living.

What NICU Parents can Do
NICU Parents can become more comfortable with the strange NICU environment by asking questions about their newborn, getting involved with caring for their NICU baby and taking time to find out how the NICU works.

Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the NICU will help NICU parents learn how to function in this strange new environment. In time, you may even discover that you are able to help explain the procedures and equipment to other terrified NICU parents.

Dyer KA. Identifying, Understanding, and Working with Grieving Parents in the NICU, Part I: Identifying and Understanding Loss and the Grief Response. Neonatal Network May/June 2005; 24(4):35-46.

Image Source: Steve Jurvetson. Alien Incubator. Creative Commons.

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