The automatic doors swung open. As I walked through I hit the smell like a brick wall. Some things were different… The family room has moved. A storage room was turned into a private nursery. But the smell. That damn smell. I think it’s permanently in some of my sweaters. I wonder, two years later, have I really washed that smell out of my skin?
In reality, I was on a tour with several other families who were joining the NICU Parent-to-Parent team. In my mind I was on a solo trip from hell down memory lane. First on the left, just past the former family room. In that storage room turned nursery – I saw myself sitting. A kind nurse let us sit in there while Owen was having his intestines reattached. For 6 hours I stared into space, music blaring in my ears, looking at no one, just silently praying and occasionally reminding myself to breathe. That morning we were surprised to learn that they surgeon wasn’t confident Owen could tolerate the entire procedure. This may be only surgery one and there may be a need for others. I also knew that Owen was at risk of going into liver failure if he couldn’t get off TPN – he needed this procedure so he could transition to food and his liver could heal. I saw myself as I sat and stared and silently pleaded.
The next door on the left is nursery 7. It’s the newest nursery and is the most spacious for the families and there are windows. It’s kind of like the NICU version of a luxury suite. Owen spent most of his last two months in there. His buddy W, who spent 9.5 months in the NICU before going home with a trach was the king of the NICU in bed 7A. Owen, the 3rd and then 2nd oldest in the NICU, was at the other corner of the room at bed 7D. Those two boys kept their nurses on their toes. Those last two months in the NICU were complicated, they were not feeder grower days for us. As our tour walked by nursery 7 and I looked through the window, I saw myself hunched over Owen’s crib crying with fear that we’d never go home.
We walked past nursery 6, Owen had a short stay in that room. It’s the biggest nursery and meant for the feeder-growers. We were pretty promptly upgraded to the suite of nursery 7, which was really just a nice way to say, “your kid is too complicated to be in a room that needs the nurses to be 3 babies to each nurse”.
Just past nursery 6 are the boarding rooms. The first boarding room on the right made me smile. It’s where we had our last weekend in the NICU. Kyle was out of town so it was mainly me and Owen and a stream of visits from my closest friends. As we walked past, I saw me taking a picture of Owen finishing up his car seat test. He was starting to look so good, I was cautiously full of joy.
As we approached the next boarding room on the right, I averted my eyes quickly, but not quickly enough. I saw me laying in the bed in the fetal position pleading for my son’s life. And then I saw the eyes of the fellow who knocked on the door in the middle of the night to let us know there was grave concern.
Our group headed back down the hall, everyone was essentially silent. We paused to hear about some changes to the rounds logistics before we headed back to the level III nurseries. In the hallway outside nursery 5, I saw myself hugging my friend (who at the time was a stranger) after she told me she lost her daughter the day before.
And then our tour guide asked, “which nurseries were your kids were in?” As everyone answered, I stared at the back (exit only) door of nursery 2. I saw myself slipping out the door, trying to hold back the tears. I’m not sure which incident I was seeing, that happened all to often. I then gave my answer, “2B. Exactly 100 days”.
I was snapped out of my private thoughts when my friend, who was also on the tour said, “…and then we moved there next!” The tour was coming to a close and hearing her voice was a reminder that good things came out of the NICU too. I won’t go as far as saying fond memories…not even close…but, I don’t know…perhaps…hopeful friendships.
Whether you’re a lifetime friend, a NICU friend or an occasional ANRC reader, thank you for being one of the friends willing to face the memories head on with me. Because let’s be honest, the memories and hurt are there with or without the sterile smell of the NICU.© Copyright Tatum, All rights Reserved. Written For: Ain't No Roller Coaster