It was the four longest days of my life.
The room was well lit during the day, with no effort at ambience. It wasn’t meant to be “comfortable.” There was only one purpose to this room; one purpose to everyone that came and left this room in their white coats or their colorful scrubs that were a feeble attempt to bring a minute amount of cheer to their surroundings.
At night, the lights were kept low in the pretense of allowing for calm and sleep, neither of which was easily attained here.
I was here nearly around the clock, breaking only for food or a shower, missing only the hour that they were closed off to any and all visitors between 6:30 and 7:30am.
I was amazed at how one place could simultaneously etch fear, hope and helplessness onto someone’s very being.
It was sectioned off rather haphazardly, each area with either an isolette or a bassinet containing a tiny swaddled newborn, cords and tubes for monitors and IVs spewing forth in a bundle at one end of their carefully wrapped blanket. The sense of panic when one of the alarms on those monitors went off, even when I was holding my son and could see that he was quite obviously fine, faded, for me, by the second day. By that time, I was familiar with what the monitors meant and to which sensor each was attached and how to adjust it to make the beeping stop.
I could have lived my life happily without ever having known these bits of NICU trivia.
They had been sure that the nostril flaring immediately following Preston’s delivery at just under 36 weeks gestation was indicative of possible respiratory problems, despite the steroid shot given during labor to help mature his lungs. I was also told that he may or may not be able to regulate his own body temperature or latch correctly in order to properly nurse.
He was quite possibly the largest preemie here, weighing in at 6 pounds, 6 ounces and measuring 19.75 inches long. He was the size of many of my friends’ full term babies. We had been preparing, full term, for about 9 pounds of newborn, so this wasn’t too far off the mark for how far we had actually made it.
Still, it seemed strange to me for us to be in here.
Like we didn’t really need to be, despite his need for 48 hours of antibiotics to ensure he would be safe from infection. Despite his obvious jaundice (that lasted almost into his third month of life) that required phototherapy via overhead lights in an isolette during our stay. And despite the fact that he was, as predicted, unable to regulate his own body temperature until the third day, when he was moved, finally, into an open bassinet.
The nurses had placed a carefully handmade sign on his bed, stating his name and birth weight, complete with Lightning McQueen and friends staring out at us from the red, white and blue page. It was all in the same effort as the tiny pictures around the room of the babies who had left here healthy and happy, the wallpaper border with its nursery designs and the scrubs and sunny dispositions of all the nurses: the effort to make this room, this area, less about realities and more about possibilities.
Possibilities for the little girl next to us who had severe digestive problems and had blood in her diaper every time she was changed, made even sadder by the fact that her mother and father were hardly here as she just sat, alone, in her bassinet hour after hour until she became so upset that one of the nurses would finally come to hold, cuddle and soothe her.
Possibilities for the twin girls born at 31 weeks gestation, just under 2 pounds each, whose alarms seemed to go off nearly 4 times each hour.. and neither of whom were faring all that well by the time we were ready to leave.
Possibilities for the dozen other babies, both full term and premature, each with their own unique story for what had placed them here, to leave here as healthy and happy as all of the infants in those photographs.
We were fortunate enough, after four long days of tubes and tests and lights, to leave with a beautiful baby boy that would grow to be just that.
This post was written in response to a prompt by The Red Dress Club:
Think of a room from your past. It can be any type of room at all.
Take a mental picture of that room.
What happened there? What is it like? What is the atmosphere there? What are the smells, the sounds, the sights? How does it feel?
Now reveal that snapshot to your reader.
Take us to that room.
And try to do it in 750 words or less.