In the 1400’s it was discovered that newborns have a soul. I am uncertain why it was necessary to document this, but at that point the field of neonatology was relatively unknown. I’ve walked into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit only once. It was a sobering experience. Everywhere there are clear white incubators and inside them small souls. Some babies lungs are not fully developed so they need assistance breathing from a ventilator. Some babies stomachs and intestines are not functioning, so nutrition is delivered through an IV. Other babies brains are not developed completely and cannot suck, swallow, or breathe in a coordinated fashion without choking. There are wires, tubes, iv’s everywhere in these babies. And around these small souls, is a circle of nurses, nurse practitioners, therapists, and doctors who encourage them to develop and grow, in hopes that they graduate somewhere into the world.
And that is where my husband comes in. He is one of the physicians who takes care of those premature sick babies. I want to say anyone can do his job, but I can’t. It isn’t just about the schooling, although it takes 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of pediatric training, and 3 years of fellowship training to become a neonatologist. It is the constant struggle of his day, death and life lurking in the shadows. Often he says to me, you can’t trust a sick premature neonate. The lines between why one survives and another doesn’t, is often too delicate to define. A baby who is ready to be discharged can be overcome by an infection, the anticipation of the road back to home sometimes, without warning, becomes planning for something unexpected. There are reasons why certain babies make it, while other’s don’t.
I think it is the constant teetering in between the crevices of life and death which makes my husband’s job complicated. At one moment he is praying with a family, calling a chaplain over to deliver last rights. The next hour, he could be discussing discharge instructions with parents, their newborn graduating to be a part of the world. The difficulty becomes being fully present in these two very different spectrums.
My husband has a huge responsibility. Trying to deal with a balance he doesn’t always understand, with grace and focus, and simultaneously offering hope in dire circumstances. I say it again, I don’t think anyone can do what he does.
*** Congratulations to my husband who is now a board-certified Neonatologist. A certificate to say he can officially shepherd these small souls.