Angel in the NICU

Our triplet boys were born ten weeks early, at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. We learned Mary was expecting three babies instead of two just seven days before.

At 3:30, 3:31, and 3:31:30, our precious tiny babies were lifted into the world. Baby A weighed four pounds. Baby B weighed three pounds, three ounces. Baby C weighed just two pounds, nine ounces. As each baby was removed from the womb, he was handed to a nurse who then ran from the room.

After a short time, Dr. Chan, head of neonatology at Hurley, came and took me out of the delivery room where Dr. Joe Metz was preparing to close the cesarean section.

I followed Dr. Chan into a room where a crowd of doctors and nurses were trying desperately to save our three sons. Each baby was breathing with the aid of a respirator. Wires and tubes covered their little bodies, surrounded by white gauze and tiny warming blankets.

“These babies are in very serious condition,” Dr. Chan said. “At this point, we give them an eighty-five percent chance of surviving.” He gave me time to see each of our boys, and I silently prayed as I watched the team of skilled physicians and nurses.

After several hours in recovery, Mary was finally taken to a private room where I stayed with her for the next three nights while she slowly emerged from the haze of surgery.

The staff of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) showed me the routine we would follow every time we visited our sons in the unit. I scrubbed my hands with a soapy brush, then scrubbed them again with a betadine-covered brush. I then suited up with a gown.

Each of the boys was in his own isolette, a special self-contained unit covered in plexiglass, designed to provide the best possible environment for our premature babies. It had two portals on each side. The NICU nurses checked the boys’ condition continually, taking blood gases every ten minutes, and adjusting the respirators as needed. Several bags of intravenous medications hung above the isolettes. A monitor screen flashed with information. It was terrifying.

On the second night at Hurley, I awakened from a sound sleep in Mary’s room at 1:30 a.m. and knew I had to go to the NICU immediately. I rushed through the halls to the unit and pushed open the door. Dr. Chan was waiting, as if I had been summoned.

“We have a problem with Baby A,” he said. He drew a diagram of bronchial tubes and lungs. He pointed at the drawing and said, “The points where the bronchial tubes attach to the lungs are leaking. They’re behind the sternum above the heart, there’s nothing we can do.”

Fear gripped my heart as I walked over to the isolette. I pulled a stool up close, sat down, opened the two portals and reached inside. I held my hands above my little boy and began praying. I didn’t say anything out loud, I didn’t close my eyes. I just prayed for about twenty minutes.

There was a doctor in the room I had seen the day before. He was young, tall, and had blond hair. As I prayed, he came over to me, and putting his hand on my shoulder said, “I want you to know something. You’re doing more, by being here for these boys, and doing what you’re doing, than all these machines and people are doing.” I thanked him and he dropped his hand and walked away.

Just a few minutes later, I felt a very heavy weight lift from my shoulders. I pulled my hands out, leaned over and looked through the portal and said, “Goodnight, buddy.”

At 7 a.m., the phone rang in Mary’s room. Dr. Chan said to me, “Just after you left, both of Baby A’s lungs ruptured. We put chest tubes in and now he’s doing fine.”

We never saw that young doctor who spoke to me so kindly again. He was gone.

Was he an angel sent from God just when we needed him? Yes. Was he a real person? Could be, but that doesn’t matter. In that moment, he was an angel.

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