“Crap!” I said to the crowd in the doorway, all vibrating on adrenaline. “I just had a question!” They stared back at an astonished middle-aged woman, hands in the air like it was a stickup.
I’d meant to cause the opposite of trouble. My great-nephew, born a week prior, had been rushed to Children’s Hospital on a helicopter. My niece and sister (his mom and grandma) had not left his side. If one went to the bathroom, the other stood by his incubator. No disrespect to NICU staff, but no one touched him without supervision. Their dedication was admirable, but stress was wearing them down. My sister jumped a foot if anyone coughed, and my niece couldn’t see life beyond the time-warped, hushed landscape of the hospital floor.
“They need to breathe different air,” I told my husband as I left home. They’d agreed to eat in the lobby and look out the windows. Just to see that it was all still there.
I knew my orders. I could touch the baby, after washing carefully for at least thirty seconds. To my elbows, my niece said. Take off your watch, my sister added.
I could speak to the baby. I could sing. Not loud.
I could — and should — watch the baby’s chest go up and down regularly.
If anything weird happened, anything, a nurse was always close by.
I bobble-headed through the instructions. I’d been in this hospital with my son. Not the NICU, it was true, but surely it was the same.
“I got this,” I said. “Go.”
They’d been gone a few minutes and I was on the second — soft! — verse of “You Are My Sunshine” when the baby’s chest lurched. I blinked and waited to see if it was a fluke.
He lurched again. I could see his tiny ribs. Could he breathe? The tube down his throat meant he couldn’t make noise. It was all up to me. His chest heaved again, and I flew to the communication panel to get a nurse.
All the buttons were different than I was used to.
Blue meant someone was dying. No. Red with an alarm. I didn’t want to cause a fuss. Orange said something about assistance. Yes!
Ten seconds later, I learned that “staff assist” does not mean a staff person will assist you. It means that all staff will assist you. At a dead run.
I confessed the moment they came back. My sister was speechless. My niece thanked me for testing the emergency response time. I’d hoped they wouldn’t ask, but a minute later my sister asked what the problem had been.
“Oh,” I said, and sighed. “He had the hiccups.”