So This is Love
There’s a spectacular thing that occasionally happens in the hospital. It begins with a smile…or a tear – a moment in which the world stops. It just takes a second for a connection to spark, then you’re under its spell. When a little angel grips your finger with his tiny hands, he silently grips your heart with his smile. Most of us have felt it. That throat thickening, heart pounding, breathles moment in which you fall completely and entirely in love.
That happened to me during my first week here. Crib #40 on the fourth floor held a small baby boy dressed in a blue sleeper. Like any other hospital baby, he had a number on his sleeper to signify that he was there without a mother. We were getting ready to move into the next room when this one caught my eye. I peeked through the crib bars and took in the sight of this little guy. He had a small face, delicate fingers, a tiny body, deep brown eyes, a miniature adult-shaped nose and cute little dimples. He turned his head and peered up at me – his toothless smile lit up his whole face. He cooed quietly as we stared into each other’s eyes. I slid my arm through the bars and tickled his little tummy. His eyes squinted until they almost disappeared and he let out a silent laugh. My breath caught and I stared at him in awe. Again, I tickled his tummy and he giggled with delight. The volunteer beside me smiled as we continued our little game. I remember thinking he was the most precious little guy I’d ever seen… I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The next day I made a beeline for my little prince charming. I was so excited to hold him, because I was in the habit of picking up fussy babies and I couldn’t wait to hold this sweet boy. I scooped him up in my arms and held him close. Over the next few days I changed his diapers and fed him and held him every chance I got. Then one day…his crib was empty. I struggled with a mixture of emotions. I wanted to be happy that he went home to his family, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that came. I had a lump in my throat all day and I went home after my shift and cried.
As the days passed I found ways to distract myself. At times it was hard. Every day I saw babies that looked a bit like him…one had his cheeks, one had his eyes…another his smile. Whenever I remembered, I prayed. I prayed that he was safe and healthy. I had to accept the fact that I might never see him again.
The days grew warmer and new things charmed me and made me smile. I began working in the neurological ward each morning in addition to my baby shifts. I enjoyed playing with the kids and listening to music with them. I had finally come to peace with knowing I would probably never see #40 again.
One day, as I walked into a room after my shift in neuro, my two fellow volunteers were holding babies. It’s our smallest room and there were only two babies there. That’s when I saw him – in the arms of Mary Lynne. Could it be? I stepped closer and heard a gasp escape my lips. Mary Lynne graciously asked if I wanted to hold him. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember him being in my arms a moment later. This baby didn’t look anything like my little boy. His eyes and nose were red, his body felt hot, his right ear had dried blood in it, his skin was much darker and tight – like it had been sunburned. He was also very fussy – which is unlike him. He coughed and sniffled between whimpers, occasionally switching into full-on wailing. I paced across the room and held him close to my chest. He pressed his sweaty head against my chin and I inhaled deeply. I closed my eyes and tried to remember his sweet baby scent. All too soon, it was time to leave him and go distribute diapers throughout the hospital. The whole time I passed out diapers I was thinking of him. I couldn’t wait to take him in my arms once more.
An hour later we had finished the diaper rotation and changed most of the babies on our floors. Finally I entered the last room. All the babies were asleep except for one. He sniffled and restlessly moved in his crib. Moments later he was in my arms as I perched myself on the edge of the crib. With his perfect little fingers gripping my hand, I sat there holding him close. Tears flooded my eyes and his beautiful face was blurred as I choked back a sob. This beautiful, perfect child was here in my arms again. The room was quiet as I sat alone with him. Stillness. We quietly stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes. I’ve never known a baby who could hold such steady eye contact. Suddenly he coughed and wheezed. Poor baby was miserable. He clenched my scrub top and began to cry between gasps of breath. I grated my teeth and tried to ignore my irritated thoughts. It hadn’t even been two weeks…how was he so sick?
By then my other volunteers had joined me in the room. A nurse came in and gave my baby his medicine while he was still in my arms. I watched his face as she handled the port in his wrist and slowly pushed the medication into his vein. He whimpered a little, but didn’t scream. I proudly kissed his forehead as the nurse closed his port. Then I realized something…I finally had a chance to ask his name. The nurse held up one finger and ducked out the door. Moments later, she returned smiling and said, “Nicholas.”
In this past week I have seen Nico every day. I won’t try to tell you how much I love him…I couldn’t put that into words. I’ll just say he’s my little buddy. Sometimes I’ll climb into his crib beside him and just lay there with my eyes closed as he coos softly. Other days are nothing but smiles and laughter.
No matter how I spend time with him, I cherish every moment I have with Nicholas. I know one day (very soon) he will be gone. I’ll walk in and find that he went home again, and I’m ok with that.