The first time I walked through a public cemetery, a chill went up my spine. I had to walk past a neat row of freshly dug little graves that had been prepared for babies. It was an experience that left me ice cold.
I never thought it was possible to feel anything more heart-breaking until a few days ago when I was at the intensive care unit of a major hospital. The patient was a little baby who hadn’t lived on this earth long enough. I honestly believe that whoever came up with the intensive care unit never envisaged it having to host children. The ICU patient units come with an adult-size bed. There are no baby cots.
I stood there feeling lost. It was a moment when all reality was suspended, time stopped moving, and the stillness and quiet became deafeningly loud.
The beeps came to a halt, the humming machines went silent one by one, the vibration of the pressure mattress ceased and the soft patter of the nurses’ feet became distant. Baby was no more!
For baby Elvis* it had been three weeks of fighting, three weeks of hope, three weeks of holding our breath ... and it all came down to this. There were no more emotions left to express. No more bargaining with God, no more begging the doctors to do more.
It is not possible to describe the gut-wrenching torrent of emotions that parents go through when they lose an infant. The birth of a baby into the family that has been expecting one is a source of pure joy. The young couple goes through an amazing experience preparing for their baby. Each little step is special, from finding out the gender, shopping for baby items, thinking of names for the little one and choosing the hospital to welcome their baby. The birth of a baby is a blessing that brings families together in celebration.
It is therefore impossible to imagine how one so little and innocent can be snatched away by death in such a cruel fashion. No mother ever imagines that she could lose her infant. Hearing such stories only makes mothers hug their little ones tighter in an unconscious effort to protect them from evil.
The intensive care unit is intimidating for any person. Everyone is aware that the circumstances that culminate into having a patient in the unit are nothing short of grave. While the healthcare providers are walking a tightrope, well aware that the outcome could go either way, the family is always full of hope. Their reasoning is pretty simple; the ICU represents the last weapon left in the arsenal of medical care. It cannot and should not fail!
Little Elvis spent many days on his mother’s lap. She spent endless hours seated, holding her baby as he lay on the infant protective mattress. She did not tire; she did not complain. She was oblivious to the hours that passed. She was only aware of the readings on the myriad of monitors and though she did not quite understand what they meant, she knew when they were good and when they were askew.
Her baby had so many tubes connected to him that she could only kiss his forehead and touch his toes. He was swaddled in cotton wool to keep him warm underneath the blanket as he was mostly unclothed to allow the monitor sensors to be attached to his skin. Though her breasts were heavy with milk, she could not feed her baby. He fed on liquid nutrients through a nasogastric tube.
CHAMPION TO THE END
When I met her, she had been informed that her baby’s condition had taken a turn for the worse with virtually no possibility of recovery. The little angel was certified “brain dead”. It meant that without the machines and drugs running in his veins, he was incapable of sustaining the basic life functions of breathing and having a heartbeat by himself. In polite terms, he was only living because the machines were in charge. The doctor was asking Elvis’s parents to say goodbye to their little angel because it was time to let him go.
I cannot comprehend how a mother is supposed to process such information. It is not humanly possible to remain sane after such a declaration. It is possibly worse for the father, who in such instances, finds himself expected to disregard his own emotional turmoil and make a rational decision.
Little Elvis was a champion right to the end. He must have felt the struggle his parents were going through. He chose to relieve them of the burden of having to make the decision to let him go. His little heart gave in and he suffered cardiac arrest. The ICU team stepped in and employed their skill to bring him back one more time.
It was heart-wrenching to watch eight people in the room working in tandem to resuscitate the little one while he was on his mother’s lap. She looked on but she was completely spaced out. Her mind could not process what was going on. The heartbeat was restored but only for a little while. He was ready to go. The primary nurse stood by the sink and wiped away a tear. She didn’t think anyone was looking.
Death robs us all of something we are not ready to lose. When it comes to losing a baby, it plunders without shame. The candle we will light in his memory will shine bright because it is a memory without blemish. He will never be forgotten!