To My Smallest Patient,I wish I had a name by which to address you, but to me, you will forever be emblazoned in my mind as Baby Boy. I got the call that you were arriving at 11:30, and made the necessary logistical preparations. Airway equipment ready. Ventilator ready. Suction supplies ready. But the transition from your mom's nine centimeters of dilatation and your arrival into this harsh world took all of 10 minutes. I thought I was ready.
I won't forget how I held your feather-light head in the palm of my hand as your chest fluttered like a baby bird's. How you tried to protest the things we were doing to you but just weren't strong enough to cry. The bones of your tiny face felt so fine as we pried you open to insert tubes to sustain you. My hands shook as I breathed tiny puffs of air into your fragile body. My tears burned the backs of my eyes as I held them in. It is unprofessional to be that affected. Yet I could not help but think that if I did my job correctly, I would never know the outcome. Will you suffer lifelong disabilities because you came into the world so soon? Or would you grow up to lead a normal life? To run the 50 yard dash in gym class and dance with your date at your senior prom?
I will never know. My role is to be anonymous. Your mother never saw me. I was waiting for you in the NICU as she was pushing you into this world, far removed from the drama of her work. And you will never know me for being the one there to take over your vital functions when your own body was unable. You will grow to remember your first date, your first bicycle, your first kiss. I am the one who gave you your first breath. Anonymously.
I did what I had to for you. And then I left you in hands more capable than mine. Hands that do this multiple times a day. I gathered my ventilator and dirtied equipment as they took you away in your plastic box, and it was all high-fives and pats on the back from the team who essentially kept you alive. And I left. And as the elevator doors closed, creating my sanctuary, it was then that I cried.
I cried for you as you endured more pain than anyone should. And I cried for your mom and the tough journey she has ahead of her. I cried for myself and the career I love so much that takes so much out of me. And I cried out of gratitude for the healthy sons I have at home. Either one of them could have been you, as you lay there while people who do not know you fought for your life.
Perhaps the greatest gift is that you will not remember the feel of the endotracheal tube as it slid into place, of the cold blade of the laryngoscope as it pried you open. The needle sticks and chest compressions on still-soft bones. You won't remember my face as you felt these things. And you will never know that we had to keep you from your mother out of medical necessity.
You gave me a great gift last night. You showed me that I can do this. That it is time to shift my career to a different objective, to take on the role of helping other moms and babies who are in the throes of surviving what I did. So thank you, Baby Boy. It is my most sincere hope that I helped you last night instead of hurt.
Image credit: http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A9G_bF4b8VZMS1oAlLyjzbkF/SIG=1392epco2/EXP=1280852635/**http%3a//babyelandaily.com/2010/04/20/premature-baby-awareness-march-of-dimes-discount/
Obviously, I cannot take a picture of my patient for my blog. He deserves his privacy and so does his mother.