The Best Gift of All

It was December 2001, fiber optic trees sitting on top of the tiny beds in the NICU. Twinkling little branches adorned with miniature ornaments displayed across the room. The six inch Christmas trees were an attempt to spread joy, a gift from a tiny NICU patient’s Aunt. Her niece was a precious baby girl, born at twenty-eight weeks in a tent while her parents were camping. It was unexpected, there was no warning. She was tiny, she was fighting. On the other side of her crib was a tiny boy. I remember his name was Harold, big name it seemed to me for a baby boy that barely weighed a pound. His mama brought him in new clothes that were made for dolls, purchased at Walmart from the toy department. Across the room, on the other side, were the two beds that held my tiny boys who, in comparison to Harold, were giants at 3 lb 2 oz and 3lb 12 oz. Here we all were, strangers only days before, now bonded by the crazy roller coaster ride of the NICU.

     

I can still see my ten year old little girl (Laney) holding her brother’s hands through the isolettes. She is proudly wearing her “I’m the Big Sister” shirt, huge brown eyes full of awe by the fact she's finally a big sister! She was excited and happy despite things not being the way she had pictured them to be. She thought we would bring babies home from the hospital when Mama came home. She was quiet, thoughtful, observing and taking it all in. She listened intently to everything to do with their medical care. She understood, it seemed, as someone far beyond her years. Mama would react to the sounding alarms with fear. Very gently but confidently, my ten year old daughter would speak with calming reassurance explaining what the alarms meant. “He is fine Momma. He had a little apnea spell but he recovered on his own. His heart rate is up because he's mad. He is moving around and I think one of his leads came off.”

Laney has said “It was during this time of watching them fight, and watching the nurses fight for them, that my desire to become a nurse began. I was fascinated by the way the unit ebbed and flowed. They worked together as a team especially during a crisis. They were kind and compassionate. They would handle my brothers with love and explain every move they made, making us feel more informed and more knowledgeable about a situation that we had completely lost control over. They would lighten the gloomy, scary days with humor and witty jokes. They would comfort us with kind words and a gentle touch. I was ten and a big sister. They were not my children but I felt each moment with my parents. The nurses saw that and would let me help. They used distraction to comfort. They treated the boysand the family. I was amazed and that nurturing of the whole family unit has stayed with me till this day.”

We spent five weeks in the NICU riding the highs and lows. Necrotizing Enterocolitis, blood transfusions, and respiratory distress were all a part of this journey. While still on the high of a good report, the next report would bring you down. I would take Laney to school and head to the hospital each day. I stayed until it was time to pick her up from school. We would come home so Laney could shower and get the school germs off. Then the three of us, Mama, Daddy, and Laney would tuck them in after praying over them and head home empty handed. This was day in and day out.

We very hastily decorated our Christmas tree on the 18th of December that year. Normally we are decorating the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t think anyone of us remember much about the tree or gifts, because the next day we brought our tiny little bundles of joy home. It was Christmas for us on the 19th of December! Jake and Zack were home!

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Fast forward almost fourteen years later. Christmas will be very different this year. My little brown eyed girl has moved into her own place. She will be working Christmas Eve because there will be Mamas that will need to be calmed and comforted, and babies that need to be helped along in their journey towards going home healthy. Laney will be spending Christmas Eve working the night shift as an RN in the same NICU that was the home for her brothers the first five weeks of their lives. Santa will come as he always has, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Daniel, my husband, is a Fire Medic and spent the first twenty or so years of his career working twenty-four hour shifts. Thankfully we personally know Santa, and that Jolly ole Chap has always planned his trips to our house accordingly. This year, I am expecting him to arrive Christmas morning sometime after 7:30 am when the NICU nurse pulls in our driveway.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~ Burton Hillis

From our family to yours Merry, Merry Christmas!

Karen

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