What Makes a Superhero so Heroically Super
November is Prematurity Awareness Month.
But aren’t the muppets almost two and a half? Haven’t their medical records been stamped, signed, sealed and delivered with “no lasting effects of prematurity?” Why continue harping on this topic?
Other than because this is my blog and I can do what I want, the fact remains that even as the muppets grow into big healthy boys, their first home remains full. There are still too many tiny babies struggling for each tiny breath from the interior of a Giraffe isolette warmer.
Yesterday we celebrated a friend’s first birthday. (She was a “termie” but also did time in the NICU, so it was a big fancy bash.) Search got Superman’s emblem painted on his cheek. Destroy got a blue lollipop for sitting still while getting Mickey Mouse emblazoned on his adorable chipmunk cheek.
His lips turned blue. It instantly brought me back to those days in the NICU – our eyes fixated on his tiny face. Blue meant he wasn’t breathing. Blue was bad. What a contrast to see today’s little boy blue running and laughing. He’s got no wires to hold him down. Today, blue means someone gave a little boy too much sugar and mom is going to pay for that later (at no-nap o’clock).
When the boys were under (plastic, incubated, wired and sensored) lock and key of NICU Department 302, my biggest fear was The Big One – an intense Northern California earthquake. I was absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get to them in time. Would there still be power to run their oxygen? To keep their incubators warm?
Last week superstorm Sandy battered the east coast. And one news story splashed across the headlines punched me in the gut like none other. The generator at NYU Hospital had failed. All patients, big and small, were being evacuated.
I heard stories of nurses being carried down the nine flights on stretchers, so they could maintain the skin-to-skin contact of kangaroo care for babies unable to control their own temperature. Others carried their tiny charges down the stairs while manually pumping air into their tiny lungs.
With no power to provide oxygen, heat, medicine or food, those fragile beings of the NYU NICU were totally dependent on human power for each and every breath.
When Search and Destroy were busy fighting for life, their NICU nurses became surrogate parents. Those nurses told us that we would ultimately be sent home part parent, part nurse. At the time it didn’t occur to me that they had become the same.
June – The first one who spoke to me, telling me my babes were stable, as I laughed about fate’s cruel joke. (I’d begged the universe to put off the boys birthday until June. We got her as Search’s primary nurse instead.)
Susan – Destroy’s afternoon primary nurse, who took a weeklong vacation to Hawaii, yet still called the hospital to see how her twins were doing. She would chat with me about life late into the night as I held sleeping tots, distracting me from the monitor numbers flashing and beeping above.
Margaret – Search’s no-nonsense morning nurse who would challenge the doctors. Her dry sense of humor made those morning visits a little more fun.
Anne – Destroy’s morning nurse. And the only person in the hospital who insisted Destroy would be the first muppet home. “Well, *my* baby only had three desats today…”
Lynn – The first nurse I met, on the day I met the muppets. She told me their tiny bodies couldn’t take stimulation and to just place my hand over them. My hand, that covered their entire being, so they’d feel cocooned – safe and secure like they would be if they were still safe in my tummy.
Jennifer – A mom to two preemies of her own. She told it to us like it was, giving us insight into the truth of being part parent, part nurse.
The night nurses – Miracle workers I never met, but who never failed to take my 1 a.m. call, calming my nerves with mundane status announcements.
Each and every one of the boys’ caretakers pushed our little dudes. They cared for them as though they were their own. This was never an experience I wished to have. But it was our NICU family that not only got Search and Destroy through it. They taught mom and dad to breathe too.
Breathing. The ultimate superpower. Surviving. That makes them superheroes.
And those nurses keeping them alive with encouragement to keep breathing? Thanks for being our Alfred. The general public may not readily see the supersuits our preemies wear, but it’s their nurses who bestowed their superpowers upon them.