Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sixty-Three Fragile Moments

Each One a Gift, 2010

Yesterday morning, as part of a project I’m working on, I visited the neonatal intensive care units at our local children’s hospital.

Spread across a half dozen or so separate and carefully isolated areas, sixty-three tiny babies are struggling to survive. Sometimes the hospital has to find room for more. Most were born prematurely. They’re placed in high tech cribs, many covered by home made quilts that minimize stimulation. The lights are kept low here. Monitors and lines and machines that hiss and hum and beep are everywhere. The average stay is thirty days. A few of these infants won’t make it. Twins are apparently especially vulnerable. Nurses or doctors are never more than a few steps away.

Parents from all walks of life are one when it comes to being here, there being little more than a chair and a curtain, and sometimes not even that, separating one crib from the next. But parents seem to like having each other close by to share moments of progress and to have someone to lean on in moments of crisis.

Sixty-three fragile infants. Each breath a gift. I tell you, there’s nothing like a visit to a place like this to remind you just how inconsequential any problems you think you might have really are.

On my way out, I heard a loud cry from one of the tiny infants, a child barely bigger than my hand. The nurses all turned around and smiled. One exclaimed, “That’s the kind of lungs we like to hear around here!”


  1. Touching, and a beautiful photo to accompany it.

    A good friend of mine had a very premature baby, and he had cerebral palsy. He was in the NICU ward for months, a tiny little guy, and survived, and is now a teenager who is the nicest kid I know. He's overcome so many obstacles, and has had tons of surgeries over the years for his eyes and leg muscles etc. He still uses a wheelchair and leg braces, and his struggles aren't over. But he's a handsome, fabulous kid. Your lines immediately brought him to mind.

  2. I went through this with my daughter, but hadn't thought about the experience the way you've framed it here. Brilliant little piece, Chris. Touched me deeply.

  3. While I was stationed at Langley part of my routine training and re-certification syllabus was pulling ER tours in local hospitals, Norfolk General being one of them. This led to many visits to King's Daughters and the NICU located there, not as part of our duties, just to sort of root for those little fighters.