Painful proximity

Posted: December 13, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
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The newest additions to Team Vandrovec, twins Ty and Taylor, born on Nov. 25 at 33 weeks gestation and weighing 4 lbs., 3 oz. each, continue to do well in the local NICU. And, for the record, Ty is the boy – think Ty Webb from Caddyshack – and Taylor is the girl as in Taylor Swift rather than Taylor Lautner. We didn’t anticipate how much that would confuse people. Ambiguity was not the intention.

Eat and grow – that’s their only task right now. In fact, there’s an outside chance we could bring home Ty by Christmas as he’s already taking more than half of his daily food via bottle. Neither tyke needed to be intubated or get umbilical catheters or  blood transfusions or surgeries or be pumped full of pain medicatinos. It’s unbelievably different from the circumstances of our last NICU visit – a 133-day sentence that involved one death and too many narrow misses with a second.

It’s also unbelievably different than what’s going on around us.

You can’t miss it – the hushed tones, the visits from specialists, the noisy ventilators, the frightened parents. It’s gut wrenching to watch your tiny neighbors and the people who care for them struggle. Certainly, some of those feelings are sympathy pains born from the fact that we’ve been there, losing a daughter at 2 days old some 27 months ago. Plus, NICU survivors have a bond that’s hard to explain, like a club that nobody wants to join yet can’t function without.



But more so, it just hurts to see other kids in rough shape while ours are doing so well. That internal response has been surprising and conflicting. It’s not guilt, exactly, because we didn’t do anything right just like our fellow occupants didn’t do anything wrong. It’s more like … dread, the distaste for human suffering. To be surrounded by it during a largely joyous time seems unnatural, if valuable in terms of fostering appreciation.

The nurses have to juggle these extremes all the time – we see that, too. They seem genuinely happy to host us again and under less dire circumstances. We’re able to sort of enjoy being reunited. But it’s another story in another room – most nurses care for the occupants of at least two self-contained spaces.

There are times when I’m trying to keep track of my kids, talk with my wife and track work via Twitter that my head starts spinning – it’s as if man wasn’t meant to ingest so much information at once, to be so stimulated. So how then can a NICU nurse possibly go from  happiness in Room A to devastation in Room B in a span of 10 feet. That’s got to be virtually impossible to process. Maybe they don’t internalize it, maybe they grow callused to the highs living adjacent to the lows. But I doubt it. Because you don’t get involved in a field like this without being a soft-hearted individual.

It’s more likely that they find ways to cope or – as we’ve come to learn – decide to float between departments or change jobs. Lots of turnover in two years. Burnout would be completely understandable – we’ve sampled that in a combined four kids and 150 days in the NICU.

Wednesday was bath night. I cleaned and fed both monkeys, dressed them in new pajamas – penguins for him; elephants for her – and snuggled them up. Because life isn’t fair, there’s never a moment where awful things aren’t happening to innocent people. What makes the NICU experience unique – it forces us to be aware of the extremes, to witness the amazing and the awful and find a way to come to grips with all of it.

  1. Rich Jensen says:

    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

    There’s a book out glorifying psychopaths for their ability to detach themselves from the suffering of others. I find the idea deeply disturbing. The suffering of others *should* bother us.

    • Wow. I’ve never thought of it that way. I also pegged psychos as sort of enjoying suffering rather than being detached from it. Interesting … and morbid.

      • Rich Jensen says:

        The book, ‘Wisdom of Psychopaths’, doesn’t go so far as to suggest that we all channel our inner Ted Bundy, but it does emphasize the advantage of acting without empathy in a world where most assume that you have at least a shred of it.

        We feel for others because we see ourselves in others. It is central to what makes us human. Far better to “rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep” than to be cut off from that connection with humanity.

  2. I hope your twin children will be well. Don’t give up ANY hope.

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