Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vietnam Adoption Part Five: Cleaning up the Aftermath

I was worried about a 17 hour flight alone with a 4 year old and a 3 month old but I was more worried about the connections to and from that flight. Thankfully things went fairly well and before I knew it I was back in Nashville and my 3 older children were waiting for me. I couldn't believe we were home.

Before I left for Vietnam we were preparing to move into a new house. We were supposed to move in around September 1 but it was a new construction, enough said. The closing was actually a week after I left so my two boys, ages 20 and 17 were in charge of the movers and the moving in. But when I got home I was confronted with mountains of boxes and a house in complete chaos. I got home on Thursday November 9, exactly 7 weeks from the day I left.

On Friday, I was still in the midst of jet lag but I did have the sense to make a doctor's appointment for Emma. Her breathing was much better, she had no fever but she still had a cough when she took her bottle. The doctor's appointment was on Tuesday.

In the meantime I was unpacking boxes,cleaning the house and making phone calls and writing letters on Brooke's behalf-- anything to get someone to help bring Brooke's baby home. The one thing I wasn't doing was sleeping and by the end of the weekend I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I finally crashed on Sunday afternoon.

I noticed Emma's coughing was starting to get worse on Tuesday morning and her breathing was more labored. The pediatrician was very concerned but when they checked her oxygen level it was in the upper 90's. He said he would love to admit her to the hospital but he had no reason to. But he heard a heart murmur and was concerned she might have a heart condition that was causing the breathing issue. He sent us to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital for a chest x-ray right then. The x-ray showed a slightly enlarged heart and no pneumonia. He told me to take her home and watch her and if she showed any difficulty breathing to take her directly to the Children's Hospital and then call him. A cardiac consult was in the works.

I had been in contact with a family that was supposed to be in the travel group after ours and she let me know that the entire group had lost their referrals. Phu Tho province had closed itself to the United States. I wondered if Emma was the last baby out of that province to come to the US.

I took Emma back to the doctor on Friday and he said she was the same, no better and no worse. Just continue to watch her.

I was having Emma sleep in a port a crib in my room because her coughing fits would sometimes interrupt her sleep. During the early morning of Monday November 19 she had a coughing fit and couldn't stop. The lights were dim because it was about 3:00 am but she seemed a bit gray colored. I decided that was it, we were going to Children's Hospital. I woke up the boys and told them what was going on and took off.

Of course, Emma was better by the time we got there but they decided to keep her in the ER and watch her for awhile. Every so often her pulse/ox would plummet to the low 80's and the nurses and residents would all come rushing in to suction her nose. They decided to admit her and watch her overnight. The next day she seemed worse. Her breathing was more rapid and although they would give her breathing treatments of Albuterol it didn't really seem to help. They did do an echo cardiogram of her heart and decided that she had a valve stenosis that she would outgrow. In fact, most of the nurses couldn't even hear her murmur.

On Wednesday the hospital was preparing for Thanksgiving the next day. The hospital closed the section that Emma was in and we moved upstairs to a new room. At that point our doctor wanted Emma to stay until Friday. I couldn't believe I was missing Thanksgiving dinner with my kids but convinced them to go to Kentucky to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and his family.

I was spending every possible moment with her, which included nights. Wednesday night/Thursday morning was her roughest night yet. She didn't want to even eat and she had always wanted to eat. I was really getting worried.

Thursday morning she had a coughing fit and couldn't stop, her oxygen dropped. Thankfully the respiratory therapist was there at her beside when all of a sudden she just went completely limp and started to turn blue. Her heart rate began to drop. The respiratory therapist suctioned her lungs out and removed a large mucus plug. But she was still struggling. Her bed was surrounded by about 8 nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and there were at least 6 more outside her door and everyone seemed unsure what to do next. Finally they called the ICU staff.

The ICU staff came and evaluated her and decided to move her to their unit. They told me to wait in that room and they would call me in about 20 minutes to come up. I waited and waited and even went downstairs to the PICU area. Finally someone came out and told me she had crashed in the elevator on the way down and ultimately they had had to put her on a ventilator. So she was on the vent and was completely knocked out but was no longer struggling. I could go back to see her.

I was familiar with ICU's and ventilators. Darrell had been in the burn ICU the 5 weeks he was there and was also on a ventilator the entire time. But as I walked down that PICU hall way I had to stop and try to pull myself together. I couldn't believe I was reliving this again, less than 2 years after the first time.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Stop, ok, walk, deep breath.

I got to her room, a room so unbelievably familiar that it made my heart stop. (Emma was in Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital. Darrell had been in Vanderbilt Hospital next door) But the sight of my precious baby nearly killed me. Emma was lying naked on a bed with only a diaper on. She had a tube in her mouth for the ventilator, a tube down her nose (feeding tube) and IV in one foot, an arterial line in one arm and the monitoring wires on her other foot. My little 10 pound baby was covered in wires and tubes and the ventilator wheezed in and out next to her.

I lost it.

How could we get this far, have gone through everything that we had made it through for me to lose her now?

The staff assured me she was OK. It looked bad but she would get better, she just needed time.

That afternoon was hell. I was exhausted. I relived Darrell's trauma all over again. I finally allowed myself the chance to decompress from the entire Vietnam ordeal. I couldn't bear the thought of losing Emma. I worried that the nursing staff would think I was going crazy so I told them about Darrell and how it reminded me of his time in the burn unit. That enough was explanation enough. No need to tell them the rest.

Emma was on the ventilator for 6 days. Amazingly enough, they took her off the vent in the morning and moved her to a regular room that afternoon. We left the next morning.

She had tested positive for RSV with very large amounts of the virus. The question was did she have the same virus in Vietnam or was this a new one? And what had she been hospitalized for before her adoption?

I thank God everyday that I listened and trusted Him to go to Vietnam even if it seemed like the crazy thing to do. There was not a "next" travel group. Not only would I not have my precious baby but I know in my heart she would be dead. There was no way the orphanage would have provided that degree of health care for an orphan. I'm not sure that they even have that degree of health care in Vietnam. Emma's hospital bills were over $50,000. I know that health care is cheaper in Vietnam but its obvious that her medical care would have exceeded the amount an adoption would bring in.

We came home, I found a comfortable chair and Emma and I pretty much stayed there for the next 3 weeks. I realized later that I was depressed. How could anyone go through all that and not be? But I was uncharacteristically lethargic. I had my baby and those weeks with the 2 of us in my comfy chair were what I needed to heal. I think she needed it to heal too.

What happened to Brooke? She finally brought her baby home months later.

I was sickened when I came home and started reading Vietnam adoption boards where some people had the nerve to blame the families for the NOIDs. But almost as bad was the total faith and trust so many people placed on the Embassy. I admit, 3 months earlier I probably would have been one of them.

Many people have claimed that the Department of State caved from the pressure of senator's and congressmen, but that would be inaccurate. First of all, getting any senator's or congressmen even interested was next to impossible. Brooke and several other families finally got Senator Barbara Boxer's office to help them to persuade Immigration and Department of State to look at the evidence. In fact, once Senator Boxer's office was finally persuaded to at least look at their cases she was astounded at the lack of evidence to back up the NOIDs.

No one wanted to do anything unethical but each and every family had hired a private investigator who confirmed that the finding stories and relinquishment paperwork were accurate. They only wanted them to review the true evidence and make a decision from that. Once they finally did, all of the families brought their children home.

But the cost was high. Some families were separated for months. Babies suffered undue trauma. The attorneys fees and fostering expenses added up. Most families spent tens of thousands of dollars. Why? For what? Who should be responsible for paying that? Every single NOID case that was fought was won and the children have come home. Shouldn't the Embassy be held responsible for causing this much damage to so many lives?

I said at the end of Part Two that my world would never be the same. Some reasons are obvious: I brought a new child into our family; I went through tremendous trauma. But one is not-- my loss of innocence. The belief that my country was a justice and fair country was instilled in me at an early age. My belief system was now shattered. If I couldn't trust my own government, who could I trust?

I want to thank everyone for their kind comments. For the record, to date I have received nothing negative.


The Ulrick Gang said...

Wow, is all I can really say. I too use to believe in my counrty and the services they provided to Americans, but that has been thrown out the window with the USCIS, DOS, and the beloved COA. It is truly amazing where God will lead us if we just listen. You have a beautiful family and I am very happy that Emma is home where she belongs.


Kristin said...

Okay, the Darrell and Emma correlation in the ICU was very hard to read about. I can't imagine being the one actually living it. I hope you had lots of family and amazing friends with you at that time. I just can't imagine...so thankful Emma recovered and is doing so well. You didn't need the nebulizer in China, did you?? I hope not.

Glad to get to read the last chapter of the story. It's just amazing to me. Emma is home which is the most important thing. But forgetting the process to get her here may take a lifetime.

Denise said...


Actually I was completely alone. I had no family there. I had sent my kids to Kentucky because it was Thanksgiving day. Everyone I knew in Nashville was busy with their Thanksgiving. My other family was in Kansas City. That weekend I had to ask my parents to come to Nashville to help with the kids. It was then I realized we were totally alone there and I needed to move closer to my family.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Denise was alone but for her kids. Denise thought that it was not going to be long before Emma would come home but when she got really bad we came running for her. No one should go through what she did alone. We are thrilled she is here with family and we aren't going to let her get away from us.
I still haven't any idea how she did this alone until we got there. Also just to get home from all she went through in Vietnam was enough.
Her Mom

Sheri said...

Yikes - what a story!! I have been on pins and needles waiting breathlessly to hear how it ended. I am so glad Brooke and the others (mostly) were able in the end to get their children home, but I'm utterly mystified at WHY this happened - what possible benefit was there to the US Embassy staff to falsify data? Was it a cabal, or was it just that one screaming woman, or what?? And... with your last blog entry below - did you move AGAIN?? You are an amazing woman - and you have my utmost respect!!

Denise said...


Yes, I moved again!!! But hopefully this is the last time. We had only lived Tennessee about 10 months when Darrell died and we had no family there.

But after this last move in June, I really don't want to ever move again!(... and I don't think my family would let me.)


Lindsey's mom said...

All I can say is WOW!!! You do need to write that book. Your experiences in the ICU are ones that I can relate to as well. I thank you for sharing your story and allow others to read it. I am again, so so sorry for you loss of Darrel and of Ella. Also, thanks for allowing me to share my loss with you even though we have never met. God Bless
Kathy T

Starla said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Once I started reading I couldn't stop. I'm so thankful that you were able to come home WITH your daughter, and that the other families eventually made it too. And yes, it is sad that the govt. agencies that we think are there to help us, aren't always as helpful as they should be. Shame on them!

Starla, Mom to 7, including 3 from China

Kristin said...

Denise (and your mom!),
I am very glad you have moved closer to your family. You've had a very hard two years. I am just amazed at all you've been through. Doing all that alone is an immense struggle. I found that recently with my issues here at home---which are being resolved. Thanks for your help on that, by the way. :-) But I have learned you can't do it all alone no matter how hard we try. We need to share the burden. I hope you stay put for a long time!!

Margaret Miracle said...

I think there is still so much more to the story. I want the Complete story. WRITE THE BOOK!!! I'd buy it. I was having trouble sleeping tonight...lots on my mind. I hung on every word. Emma is so blessed to have you. So glad that you are all home. Amazing! I have told others that we spend more time trying to convince our own government that we can parent a child than the government in the child's birth country. There is just something so wrong with this picture!

Jill said...

I have finally finished reading your story, and I am in tears. You are one strong chick! Your strength is SO EVIDENT in your story!! God bless you sweet friend! (He KNEW you would be able to handle what you did!)
Hugs, Jill