Monday, March 19, 2007

The House of Horrors

The House of Horrors...that name came to me the other day as I stood next to my daughter, Eva, who was in the NICU and surrounded by loads of equipment. She is in an incubator, which they call an Isolette, but that is really just a product name. Call it an incubator or just a big plastic box for all I care. It is like an acrylic, or more likely Lexan, prison for infants. Or, maybe a toaster oven on very low heat. It is a big box on wheels that has an air warmer built in and a bunch of holes of various sizes in it so that wires, tubes, and hands can get to the baby. The kid just hangs out inside, sleeping mostly, while the outside world periodically interrupts to mess with her. People stick needles in her, change her diaper, flip her over, wipe her mouth, but none of these automatons in hospital scrubs ever show her the kind of TLC that she really needs.

As a parent, you are stuck with the choice of either hanging out in an amazingly depressing place so that you can look at and periodically touch your kid or of staying home and calling nurses to get updates on her health. It wears on you...the visits to the NICU. You have to wear an ID band for security. I guess people might try to steal a sick baby or that a parent who can't afford the care might attempt some weird healthcare version of a "Dine & Ditch". The band gets you access, but only after you stand at a door and have someone call the NICU to check if it is okay for you to come in and visit. If they are doing something serious to your child, like shoving another IV in her arm, they don't want you around. And, since you never know when they might be doing something like that, you always have to call ahead. They also don't want any parents in the room when they are admitting a new baby. But, oddly enough, they don't have a problem with parents being in the room while they do what seem like basic operations on other people's children. It is rather disconcerting to be with your kid while doctors seem to be working on another person's child.

The worst part is the look on other parents' faces. The red swollen eyes of a mother who has been crying all night as her son tries to fight off some infection. The look of passive resignation as someone else's child struggles for each breath or heartbeat. The line between hopeful future and lost cause is so thin you can't even see it.

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