The doctor left, leaving the two of them to accept the fact that their newborn son was going to die before the weekend was over. It was 4:30 on Friday afternoon; within the next forty eight hours he would cease to exist except in their memories. The man walked to the door.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“To the NICU, I want to see him, be with him for as long as I can. Do you want me to get a nurse so you can go too”?
She shook her head.
“No”, she replied, "I want to rest now. I’m tired”.
He looked at her, shocked and angry, then sadly, kissed her cheek, and left.
Her son was going to die. They had tried for years to have a baby, accepted failed attempt after failed attempt, and spent money they couldn’t afford to spend on treatment after treatment, until finally they managed a successful conception. She was a high risk pregnancy because of her history of miscarriage, so for twenty weeks of her confinement she had been on total bed rest, the last six in the hospital. All she had to do was get to week number thirty, then the baby would be viable enough to live outside the womb. At week twenty seven she started to hemorrhage and have contractions, and the baby had to be removed.
Now her son was going to die. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about it, much like she had spent the entire pregnancy trying not to think about the baby. She took a deep breath as she felt a sob form in her throat. NO! she told herself, she wasn’t going to cry, this was the very reason she had remained so detached, why when people asked if she was excited about having a baby she had smiled and said ‘of course I am’ out loud, but deep in her heart she always told herself, “Don’t you dare get excited, don’t you dare hope that this will happen”. Some how she had always known that it wouldn’t.
She tried to think of what she had control over. They would have to call a funeral home, buy a coffin, and make arrangements for some sort of ceremony. Should they take pictures of him? When he was born they had an emergency baptism. He had been given his father’s name, but now she couldn’t refer to him by that, he would forever and always be the baby (“we lost the baby in the spring” she’d say, or “Yes, the baby had blue eyes like his dad”). Some how referring to him that way made him less real.
The hours passed. Her husband spent the weekend in the NICU, talking to his boy, singing to him, touching his hand through the hole in the incubator. His boy was so small; there were so many tubes and wires attached to him. His tiny, translucent body rocked with violent seizures. The man felt so helpless; he was the dad, he was the one who took care of his family, he was the one who made sure every thing was all right. Dads could fix anything, but he couldn’t fix this. People would stop and offer condolences without saying them out loud, would say “God has a reason”, or “You’re both young, you can have another”. He didn’t want another, damn it, he wanted this one!
He and his wife grieved separately. He couldn’t understand how she could be so detached. Their boy was going to die, why didn’t she want to be with him?
The weekend grew old, and still their son was alive. He wasn’t any better, but he wasn’t any worse, unlike one of the other babies in the ward. The man began to bargain, just let him live a little longer, please, just a little more time, and he began to encourage and coach his boy, that’s it big guy, you can do it, that’s Daddy’s big boy. His wife refused to visit the NICU, stayed in her room making phone calls he didn’t want to know about.
Finally dawn broke on Monday morning, and for the first time in his life he was happy to see the start of a new week. His boy was still alive. He walked back to his wife’s room; the doctor was speaking to her. When the man said “good morning” the doctor turned to him, an embarrassed, sheepish look on his face, and cleared his throat.
“I was just telling your wife, there’s been a misinterpretation of the facts. Two of the charts were incorrectly filed on Friday, and were misread. Your son has a chance of survival, all though his quality of life will be severely compromised. There is considerable neurological damage, and he may suffer from debilitating seizures, but at this point it’s too early to tell much”.
The doctor looked at the man, who was holding himself up against a chair. His boy was going to live!
“Thank you” the man managed to croak out. The doctor gave a terse smile and excused himself, saying something about having to speak to a patient down the hall. The man looked at his wife as the tears began to form in his eyes.
“He’s going to live” escaped from his throat before he collapsed into the chair, his body racked with sobs.
His wife sat silently. Live? The baby was going to live? She tried to wrap her brain around this new information. All weekend long she had prepared herself for the worse news a parent can ever receive, and now they told her it was all in vain. No, she thought, this couldn’t be happening, the baby was gone, the baby was all ready a memory to her, the baby didn’t exist.
Her thoughts were interrupted as a piercing cry of anguish erupted from a room down the hall.
©2010 VL Sheridan