It’s hard to put into words what I saw and what I felt as I completed an observership in the NICU at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Over the past month, I spent four days following around one of the extraordinary neonatal nurse practitioners in the very same unit where it all started for me.
Every day when I walked into the hospital, I relived being a ten-year-old for a few minutes. It was the walk through the front entrance, passing the McDonalds and the welcome desk. It was my heels clicking through the hallway with the dinosaur skeletons on the wall. It was trying to catch the same elevator and hitting the fifth-floor button. It was looking through the waiting room window, peeking through the locked glass doors, and seeing that absolutely nothing had changed since I took up residence on that couch as a child. But this time was different – this time, I had some resemblance of control.
Now, they let me through the heavy wooden doors of the side entrance, they let me through the locked glass doors, hell, they even let me in the provider’s offices. Finally, being on the other side of things changed my perspective forever and for the better.
I saw so many amazing things! I watched a mom hold her tiny 21 weeker for the first time, happier than I’ve ever seen anyone. I was there as a woman cried when she learned her grandson was finally coming home to stay. One morning, I saw a foster dad sitting vigil for the little girl who was now his to love. I saw babies eating on their own for the first time (not through a tube) and breathing on their own for the first time (without a machine)! I was there as a mom fed her twins their bottles and absolutely gushed over her discharge orders. I watched the NP’s and Docs get ready to send home dozens of babies, healthy and ready to see the world beyond those walls.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t also scary and intense sometimes. The truth is that in an ICU, there’s a constant battle between life and death – sometimes, it felt like I saw babies inching closer to the worse side of things. There was one morning when I saw a baby boy who turned blue in his mom’s arms be put on a ventilator until they could figure something else out. I listened as a team of doctors explained to a mom that they didn’t know what was causing her baby’s heart block – I heard her cry. Another day I watched three nurses struggle to get even a drop of blood out of a little one for labs as he went septic overnight and that infection got the jump on us. I later watched my NNP place an arterial line in that same baby, hoping that she could get one more avenue to save his life. But, overall, when I walked through those doors, I honestly felt like we were winning – that life was winning.
After my experience, I can assure you of this: the people taking care of those babies know what they’re doing, and they do all of it well. They truly care about babies making it home and having a chance to thrive. All I got to do during my time was watch them work and send them good vibes, but the opportunity I was given to just tag along on the other side of those doors brought me an even greater perspective – I’m not idealistic, I’m not saying it was all happy endings. What I am saying is that the happy endings make that exhausting battle, pulling babies from death to life, is it all worth it.
Luckily, some things do change. They’re closing down that McDonald’s that faithfully fed me for three months, and they’re letting in that kid who cried in the elevator. Life feels good when it comes full circle.
Thanks for reading the ramblings of an optimistic kid. Always and forever, #nicustrong.