AAHPM — Spring Quarterly
THE ART OF CARING
I cared for you. Your name made me think to “pray deep.” Your parents were precious and fragile. They spent many long hours every day at your side willing you to live. I cared for them, too. I ordered pizza very late one night and shared it with them. The next week they brought me some traditional ox butter tea from Nepal. Your mother told me your name meant “precious gift”— and you were.
You started out as strong as a 2-pound, 26-week gestation baby could, but your lungs didn’t cooperate. If I turned you on your right, your right lung collapsed. If I turned you on your left, your left lung collapsed. You were stuck with an oscillating ventilator that prevented anyone from getting too close. One night, in a moment of frustration and compassion for your parents, I took you off the ventilator and placed you into your mom’s arms. I crouched at her side and ventilated you by hand so she could feel you in her arms. I don’t know what made me do it, but I’ll never regret it. Many more days passed, but your lungs never healed. Your parents finally took you into the family room and your dad disconnected your ventilator, setting you free. This was their gift to you, and it was not without great pain and sadness. You were 6 weeks old.
I went to your parents’ home weeks later for a gathering to honor you. All the familiar friends and family from your bedside vigil were there. Many traditional Nepali dishes were served. Pots of tulips and daffodils were placed around the kitchen as a reminder of spring and life. I was preparing to leave when your mom stopped me to give me food to take home; she said it was a cultural tradition.
I asked about your room. She took me upstairs to see what would have been your bedroom. It was a sweet little corner room with big windows on the back and side. There was a colorful rug on the floor and a rocker. In the far corner, a small altar stood with your framed picture and your ashes divided between two tiny urns: one to keep here and one to go to Nepal. There were some tiny statues, your little socks, and the name card I made for you the day you were born. Under the altar was a memory box filled with the little polar fleece squares that had been your blanket and the outfit you wore when you died. I kneeled in front of the altar with your mom and dad and we went through each item remembering you. Your mom put each piece to her face and inhaled deeply trying to find your scent in the tiny blotches of spit-up breast milk on your blankets and little hat. When she found your scent she cried out, throwing the clothes from her hands, and fell over sobbing on the floor. Then nothing. No breathing, no crying—as if her own spirit left her body to search for yours. I sat at her head, stroked her hair, and remained quietly as her connection to find her way back. Your dad sat and placed his hands on her back. Even the cat came into the room and placed his paws on her arm. The sun set and slowly she returned.
Your brother was born yesterday, and we knew you were there. Your spirit was in the air and your photo was cradled in your dad’s hand. They gave him a name very much like yours. They were conscious to make sure you were not left out of this day. Your mom looked happy for the first time since she first saw you. Her love for your brother and her longing for you at that moment seemed to cause her confusion. It made me think of a line in the movie “The Hours.” While writing her novel, Virginia Woolf’s character said, “Someone must die so that we value the lives of those left, it provides contrast.” You’ve certainly done that for your parents. The lives of your parents and brothers will forever be changed because you were here.