After hanging up the phone with the NICU I quickly showered, dressed, and hurried down to my car. I wanted to be strong that day for Maddie and Heather, but as I drove toward the hospital I found that very hard to do.
Typical of Los Angeles the road leading to the hospital was clogged with traffic, and as I sat in a sea of motionless cars I started to cry uncontrollably. This was very awkward, and from the corner of my eyes I could see the people in the cars to my left and right gawking at me.
I switched on my CD player in hopes of hearing a frivolous song that might help me pull things together, but what came on was anything but a fun diversion. It was “The Way,” a gentle song by Neil Young that features a children’s choir. Soon my car was filled with the angelic voices of children singing:
“The way, we know the way. We’ve seen the way
We’ll show the way
To get you back home
To the peace where you belong…”
As I listened to the children’s choir sing this refrain I imagined that they were the voices of all the babies who had ever died in the NICU, and that they were singing to Maddie that they could show her the way to peace – away from all the pain that she was in. This, as you can imagine, made me cry even more.
But then it occurred to me that maybe what I was hearing wasn’t the voice of the children who had died, but the children who had survived, and that they were singing to Maddie that they knew the way to health – the way for her to get back home with Heather and me. I clung to this second interpretation as traffic finally started to move.
When I walked into the NICU Maddie’s isolette was once again surrounded by doctors and nurses. Remembering Dr. Walker’s proximity test, I knew this wasn’t good. I looked to her blue number…it read only 44. The amount of oxygen in Maddie’s body was dangerously low. A nurse soon told me to go to the waiting room and that they would come give me an update when they had one.
In the waiting room I opened a book about babies that Heather had given me and saw that it had a chapter entitled: “Coping with Loss.” With a heavy heart I turned to that chapter and began to read.
After about fifteen minutes I got up and walked down to the NICU because I couldn’t wait for an update any longer. Once there I saw that even more doctors and nurses surrounded Maddie’s isolette, and that her blue number was now at an inconceivably low 11. I knew then that my daughter was going to die.
I turned and left to go call Heather. On my way to do so I ran into the cardiologist I hadn’t seen since the first night.
“I have good news,” he said. “That serious heart problem I thought your daughter had? It turns out she doesn’t have it. We got a better x-ray yesterday and saw that her heart is just fine.”
I mumbled a “thank you,” and shuffled away. I couldn’t believe there was amazing news about Maddie’s heart right when it appeared she was about to die.
Heather, after hearing about Maddie’s condition, told me that she was going to check out of the hospital against doctor’s orders once again and come to the NICU. I then went upstairs to wait.
My parents soon arrived and found me sitting in the chairs by the elevator practically comatose. I started to babble about arranging a funeral for Maddie, but they told me not to discuss that yet…to be hopeful. I nodded and stared into the distance. I just wanted Heather to arrive so badly.
Eventually the elevator doors opened and Heather walked out. Despite having been on bed rest for months, and mere hours after having major surgery, she had walked the long way from the parking lot to the NICU because she wasn’t about to waste time waiting for a wheelchair. I jumped up and took her hand.
Together we walked into the NICU. As we got closer to Maddie’s isolette I saw it was no longer surrounded by doctors and nurses. I initially feared the worst until I saw Maddie still laid in the isolette. I then looked to her blue number – it was in the nineties. I couldn’t believe it.
Heather and I hurried over and looked in at our baby. Her tiny chest rose and fell. She was very much alive.
The doctors, it turned out, had once again managed to release the air constricting Maddie’s lungs at the last moment, and from then on Maddie was on the road to recovery. There would be setbacks along the way, but nothing like the first few days. Finally, sixty-eight days after she arrived at UCLA, Maddie was on the way home.
We give thanks every day for the amazing work of the NICU’s doctors and nurses, and for having an incredibly strong daughter who just wouldn’t give up.