July was very eventful for me and that had caused my on-line silence. I had a chance to visit again my beloved Finland and now I'm back with fresh thoughts and ideas (and also hundreds of photos). Enjoy!
Kotiloma is a word in Finnish that means „vacation at home”. But in some NICUs around Finland it has grown into a bit different meaning. Kotiloma is a practice of arranging a little vacation at home for NICU patients before their final discharge.
The routine is quite simple. On the kotiloma day parents come to the unit with a car seat and a set of clothes. When the seat is warm and the baby is ready, they just simply take their baby home for a day. Before they leave, they inform the staff about the time of their return. If they would feel insecure, they can always return to the unit sooner and their room will be waiting for them. The duration of the stay away from the unit can last from a couple of hours up to a whole weekend. Sounds interesting?
There are two basic conditions: parents' willingness and staff's trust in parents' abilities. Parents need to be confident when it comes to securing baby’s needs. Since kotiloma applies mostly to preemies, parents are generally well prepared (hello Family Centered Care!) and very eager to take the baby home for this vacation. It’s like a free trial of full-time parenthood and you can still bring the baby back But seriously speaking, after spending several weeks in the unit with the baby, they really just want to change the surroundings and go out for a while. If the home is too far away, or if the thing is just logistically too difficult, they can take their child for a long walk in a baby stroller instead. Since parents are in the unit every day, taking care of their little one, it is quite simple for the medical staff (especially for the fantastic nurses!) to assess their preparedness, encourage them and prepare them also technically for kotiloma.
Basically there are two types of kids who go for a vacation to home. The first one is when the baby is being fed by a feeding tube and getting close to the discharge date. Parents generally feel quite comfortable with using the tube and since they are practically living in the unit, it’s not a big hassle for them to take the baby home with this tube. The second group of babies are the ones on an "apnea countdown" . Those are sent home with saturation monitors and parents are specifically educated by nurses to interpret heart rate and SatO2. They are additionally trained in infant resuscitation. This whole „crash course” takes no more than 1 hour. If the parents are eager for the kotiloma and the staff is ready to train them, they can take the baby home for the daytime (so they can observe the monitors, but those babies have to return to the Unit for the nighttime.)
If you are even a bit like me, and I know many of you are, you will ask „BUT WHO IS LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT BABY? WHO IS IN CHARGE IF ANYTHING HAPPENS?”. Well, since the kid is not really discharged from the hospital, that would be you. I know it sounds tricky, but my (not-so-)confidential informant Samuli Rautava from the TYKS NICU says, that since they’ve been doing that (already 5 years!), nothing has ever happened. If the family has any questions or concerns during the kotiloma, they are encouraged to call the nursing station. They are never left alone with their worries. When it comes to financial issues, I would say (naively) that nobody pays anything extra for that vacation. Since the kid hasn’t been discharged, the healthcare fund pays for the day in the unit. Parents provide their own car, clothes and the car seat. No more costs are involved. Easy as that
Is it safe? Generally life is known to be a dangerous adventure But it’s easy to notice, that this practice is based on a mutual trust agreement. "You- The Parents- trust us- The Medical Staff- every day, that we perform medical procedures based on our best knowledge and best available evidence. So WE trust YOU, that you will not idle away our efforts and do your best to provide the best possible care to your baby". This cooperation is working well. Parents are properly educated in their baby’s needs (thanks to Close Collaboration with Parents Training Program). They learn how to perform CPR and call 112 in case of emergency. The nursing staff always gets the information about the condition of other siblings and cohabitants (to avoid infections etc).
Okay, but what are the benefits? Besides empowerment of the parents (which is a huge thing, especially since they are on-their-way to the discharge date), it actually makes the whole discharge process easier. After the kotiloma parents' confidence grows. It is like a short trial of full stay-at-home parenthood. When you take your precious, fragile baby home, some questions may arise in your head. It feels good to know, that you will be able to ask them to your own pediatrician and nurses when you return to the unit.
This practice enables parents to observe their child in a home setting. They notice how the baby looks around and curiously contemplates the new environment. It is also a good chance for other cohabitants (those furry ones too!) to get to know their future housemate. Kotiloma is simply a joy for parents, baby and whole family. A sign saying „our baby is doing fine”. Some happy moment to cherish. We all need those sometimes!