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Last week it was my daughter Heather's birthday-now 25! Out of college, employed, about to get married, and wise, and pretty, I couldn't be but the proudest father on Earth. I thought I heard her say, "... a promotion with a salary increase," as she punched the microwave buttons to heat the fudge, the sweet scent of the hot fudge quickly filling the kitchen.
Then in a hallucinating second, the kitchen surroundings became the delivery room at New York Hospital; the hospital where my baby was born. Suddenly I saw myself clad in a white gown; I had been allowed to watch the delivery. And as I held my wife's hand and watched the miracle of birth, in a New York minute the dazzling brightness of the room change into dark foreboding.
Something was definitely wrong!
The turmoil that ensued left me paralyzed: beepers resonated, screens flashed, voices became louder, commands snapped. At first I heard whispers: "umbilical cord..." "blue ..." "oxygenation ..." "blue baby!" And then shouts, "upstairs-code blue!"
The rush of the moment had beclouded my reason, and all I could think of was that I had lost my daughter; that my baby was born still. Since no one bothered to explain what was happening, my mind filled itself with the worst thoughts. All the offending acts of my life marched in procession in front of me, mocking me, reminding me that I wasn't a perfect human being, and that I had sinned against God, stranger, and neighbor. Guilt assailed me.
In my distress I called to the Lord
In utter despair, my mind beclouded, yet not quite panicked, I fell on my knees and I raised my eyes to the heavens and begged, "I have tested your patience dear Lord, punish me, but let this child live." Raspy and cracked and lame my voice kept repeating, "Take me God, but don't take her." Having forgotten my prayers, since I had been away from church for many years, all I could manage was to repeat my own simple words.
The nurse that had been left behind promptly attended to my wife, soothing her, calming her down. But she had no more information about my baby than I did. Seeing my distress, she assured me that the rush and the turmoil were really precautionary, and that the babies usually recovered; that they had a special unit on the sixth floor for the "pree-mees," (prematurely born), the "blue babies," and other difficult births.
"They got the best equipment and trained personnel in the world!" she boasted. "Upstairs, is like a space ship."
"Where, upstairs?" I asked her. "Will they let me in?"
"Yes, parents are allowed, but not during the emergency. But go and see."
My heart in my mouth, half-tripping on my own clumsy steps, I made a mad dash toward the elevators. Once on the sixth floor, through the wide glass windows I could see the obstetrician and his retinue gathered around an incubator. Apparently, the child had been saved, for everyone in the group seemed to be collected; in fact they appeared cheerful, smiles showing on their faces.
Of all the faces in the group, one looked in my direction and nodded in a reassuring way. I found this incongruous, for the man was a giant, a tall and heavy African American, clad in a light blue uniform, with a matching cap--obviously a male nurse. Yet his smile and nod seemed odd, almost angelic.
Not wanting to be called out for trespassing, I hurried back to tell my wife that the baby was saved; that she was breathing on her own in an incubator. As I hustle back, the hallways seemed long and interminable, the elevator slow, my own steps ungainly, and I moved as if in the midst of a nightmare. Doubt filled my mind, was my baby really well? Or, had I conjured up that scene? "God, don't let me go off my senses," I begged.
I called out to my God
Early in the morning when my wife started having contractions way ahead of her due date. A premature baby! I realized then that I had to miss work. Since I had just hired a new assistant controller, I immediately called him at home and instructed him to review the multi-million dollar payroll, transfer funds to cover it, check the protective collar or puts and calls I had on the investment portfolio, and other tasks that I normally handled. In my arrogance and hubris, I feared my department would collapse during my absence. Needlessly I overwhelmed the poor man, as I snapped commands.
Little faith I placed back then on the abilities of other people. Now, as I watched the hospital staff work as a team in seamless effort, it dawned on me that people care and they take pride in their assigned chores. Shame filled my mind.
Within minutes, the obstetrician and the nurses returned and explained to us that the umbilical cord had twisted and knotted around the baby's neck and cut off the oxygen, and that they would have to keep her in the sixth floor for a few days. And though she was "a little blue," she didn't fall into the category of 'Blue Babies Syndrome," since these babies are born with a congenital heart defect.
As I listened, my heart was bursting with joy. Yet a voice of reason held me, for I wanted to yell my thanks to the heavens. The word Hosanna came to my mind, but I wasn't sure what it meant; so I kept quiet, enjoying the warmth, the ecstasy of triumph of life over death.
From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.
With the doctor's permission, I was allowed to return to the sixth floor to see my daughter. Only the nurses are allowed near the incubators, so I had to content myself with watching Heather through the glass windows. The giant black male nurse walked in with a "pree-mee" --kicking and screaming-- on the palm of his wide hand, and as he placed the loudhailer pree-mee in the incubator, the giant smiled at me. The man's name tag read, "Samuel Moseley."
Pointing at my baby I could see that he had twisted a piece of pink ribbon into a tiny bow and scotch-taped it on top of Heather's head. I gave the man a thumbs up as I mouthed through the window: "Thanks, Samuel."
What follows next is something I have never confided to anyone, but it's high time that I share my experience.
When I walked into my wife's room the next day, I felt a little silly carrying a bouquet of flowers, for flowers were all over the place. Some friends were already there, and well-wishers kept the telephone ringing. After a while I excused myself and ran to the sixth floor to see my baby and to give Samuel a box of chocolates. But Samuel was nowhere to be seen.
I ran to the reception station and asked the attendants to give the box of chocolates to Samuel later when he came in. The nurses looked at each other. "There's no Sam or Samuel-or male nurses on this floor," one of them said. "You must be confused," the other nurse added, "maybe in another building or floor."
The loud beeps from the microwave and the clinking and clanking of dishes drew my out of my reverie. "Dad?" I heard Heather say. "I'm thinking about applying to law school--do you think I'm ready, or am I too premature?"
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual: