A List: The People You See When You Take Your Kid Back to the NICU For a Visit on His First Birthday

1.  The Elevator

The elevator is not a person, but he evokes a reaction.  It has been over nine months since you’ve seen Elevator; last time you saw him, he took you and your family (family, not just husband) down from the fourth floor to the first.  He safely delivered you and your three month old baby, finally 5 pounds 4 ounces (a preemie parent remembers all these numbers) to the parking circle.  Now, when you see Elevator, he brings you back up to the fourth floor, along with your husband and your 15 pound 11 ounce one year old.  You cry.  You stop to compose yourself.  You continue on.

2.  New Front Desk Lady

New Front Desk Lady confuses you.  You talked to the same people at this same front window on every single one of the 77 days your son was here.  You don’t know what to say to her, and you are overwhelmed by how familiar everything but her looks.  You cry again, and start babbling incoherently.  Finally, you manage to say, “I brought Michael back to visit.”

3.  Sylvia

Finally, a familiar face!  You were never quite sure what Sylvia’s job was; sometimes she was there at the window, sometimes she was helping out in one of the nurseries.  It was Sylvia who tested Michael’s hearing on Day 76 of his hospital stay, and it was Sylvia who told you, “Now don’t let him tell you he can’t hear you when he’s a teenager.  You tell him Sylvia tested his hearing and it was perfect, and now he has to do what you say.”  Now Sylvia comes over to the window, recognizes you.  She has seen your crying face many times.  She picks up a phone and says that if any nurses are available, your family is visiting.  You know from all the hours you spent back behind that window that her voice is travelling into each of the five nurseries.

4.  Nurse Whose Name You Can’t Remember

From a set of double doors near the window, a nurse you recognize emerges and makes small talk for a moment, and you feel guilty for not remembering her name.  You  feel awkward; now, visiting seems like a mistake.

5.  Lynn and Kim

Lynn and Kim, nurses that put up with you for many hours at the end, when Michael was in that very last nursery, come through the doors.  You are relieved to remember their names, and they remember Michael.  Lynn talks fondly about another preemie near Michael’s age, and you remember holding Michael up across the nursery to show him off to that other preemie’s mom.  You and Lynn talk about how nice and fat that other preemie looks in the pictures his mom has emailed.  The nurses smile at Michael and say how big he’s gotten.  You tear up, but hold it together.  Now that your memories of the time you spent here are so vivid, Michael seems  big to you too.  More nurses come to visit, and you smile at the few moms who go in and out of the doors, carrying bottles of breast milk and weary, hopeful expressions.

6.  Mom of Preemies

One mom in particular comes through the doors and grabs the key to the ladies’ room.  Those motions seem so familiar to you.  Lynn stops her, points to Michael, says, “He was born at 26 weeks too.”  The mom stops and smiles and chats.  Her twins are 36 weeks now, and they have names you can’t pronounce.  The mom watches Michael with a sort of amazed disbelief, and you do your best to tell her how amazing things are.  Your words are not eloquent, but you think she understands.  Lynn tells you after she’s gone back inside those double doors that she’s glad the mom saw Michael.  “She’s been starting to get down, you know?  After you hit 70, 75 days, it just seems like a long time.  It’s good she saw you and how he’s doing.  Give her hope, you know?”  You are glad too.

7.  Doctor

When you see the doctor who discharged your son from this hospital, you stop him.  You so rarely saw the doctors, that you are sure he doesn’t remember you.  You introduce him to yourself and your husband, and when you tell him your son’s name, he nods.  “He looks great,” the doctor says, pointing to Michael.  “And that PVL diagnosis, he looks great.”  You are impressed that he remembers, from all those months ago, that your son was diagnosed with a brain injury “consistent with” cerebral palsy.  You remember how anxious you were, as your son saw a physical therapist, even ten weeks before his due date, to try to catch symptoms early.  “But how are his motor skills?” you’d repeat, staring at your son, curled up and sleeping like the fetus he should have been at that age.  Now, with this doctor watching, you take Michael from your husband and let him walk, holding your fingers, across the hallway.  You thank the doctor again, and say goodbye.

8.  Jasmin

Finally, a tiny woman in blue scrubs explodes through those double doors, hands stretched out.  You hug her, she hugs your husband, she smiles and talks to Michael.  This is the woman who taught you how to take care of your son.  She walked you through changing your son’s diaper for the first time, when his ankles were thinner than the joints in your thumbs, and she was there filling out paperwork on his very last day.  You have sent her pictures and videos in the nine months since Michael left the hospital, but you are proud to show him off to her in person.  Of course, you let her hold him.  Before you say goodbye (Jasmin is in the process of discharging another patient, and you think vaguely about staying just to say congratulations to that other family), you hand Jasmin a package that contains a warm, tiny sleeper, size preemie.  You remember how big preemie clothes looks for so many weeks, and you love how little they look now.  The package also contains a book about a monkey named Mike and a short note to new parents.  You give Jasmin instructions to give this package to the parents of the next tiny Michael that comes into the NICU.  Eventually, you say goodbye.  You hope that the people you saw realize how much their work means to people like you.  And, for the second time, you walk down the hallway next to your husband, who holds your perfect, perfect baby boy. 

And this time, because you can, you take the stairs.


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