by Lee Ambrose
At just past noon on July 27, 2000 life as I knew it was forever changed. One phone call from a stranger set into motion a cascade of events that would soon prove to be both life-altering and life-affirming. The doctor’s office where I worked had just closed for lunch when I received an urgent phone call from someone I’d never heard of before. She claimed to be a room-mate of my daughter’s – the daughter who had run away many years before and had been estranged for some time. The caller simply stated that Ali was in labor and asking for me. Now, let me first explain that Ali hadn’t seemed to need or want me in her life for many years. And secondly, I must explain that while I knew that she was expecting a son — it was my understanding that he wasn’t due for another thirteen or fourteen weeks! With every ounce of the mother in me, my heart raced. All the while every ounce of the nurse in me sprang into the pragmatic mode: making mental notes regarding the deeply concerning state of such a premature delivery date.
Fear and disbelief were my passengers in the car as I sped to the nearby hospital where she’d been transported by ambulance. But, before I got there, Caleb was born at just 27 weeks’ gestation. There had been no warning so there had been no opportunity to administer the medications neonatologists know to provide important benefit to lung function when the lungs have not had sufficient time to mature naturally. Caleb was unstable and his prognosis was frighteningly poor.
He was rushed forty minutes away to the closest children’s hospital where he could [hopefully] receive the necessary care to help him over this very dangerous period. That night, when I arrived at the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU for short) and spoke with his doctor, I heard the grim message. “This baby is very tiny. His lungs are very under-developed. He may not be strong enough to make it but we will do what we can.”
Over the next several weeks, I spent time with Caleb in the NICU every single day. Sometimes I made the drive after a day’s work only to return home when I absolutely had to for a few hours sleep before the routine began all over again. Other times, I spent entire days there at his side. When at last I was able to hold him for the first time, I marveled at the incredible life that I held literally in the palm of my hand. His little bum rested on the heel of my hand, his heels rested at the watch-line on my wrist and over the top of his head, I could easily see the ends of each of my fingers. So very tiny! So incredibly tiny! So very fragile!
The NICU nurses announced to me that he was a “WWB” – in fact, they said he was the only WWB there at the moment.
“What’s a WWB?” I asked, believing that I had a good understanding of most medical alphabet soup but not this one!
“WWB - Wimpy White Boy” they told me. They went on to further explain that, for some reason not really scientifically proven, the tiny caucasian male babies did more poorly than all the other babies brought to the NICU. Not exactly what I wanted to hear from them but I guess, in their own way, they were trying to prepare me for what would surely be the inevitable outcome: a not-so-good outcome from our time at the NICU.
As he grew a wee bit stronger, Caleb and I passed many a day in that NICU with me in a rocker and he nestled on my chest attached to all of his monitors and breathing apparatus. Nurses remarked on what I’d noticed but been too afraid to mention: whenever I held him next to my beating heart, his heart slowed down, his breathing became less labored and he was able to rest peacefully with oxygen levels near normal and seemingly not a care in the world.
Days and weeks passed and were marked by small yet positive improvements in Caleb’s status. There was talk that he might soon be able to leave the NICU. When the day finally came for Caleb to leave the hospital, I brought him home with me on none other than Grandparent’s Day. What more fitting day for his discharge from the hospital? None that I could think of that’s for sure!
Today, Caleb turns eleven! He is “my little miracle baby” for he is a happy, healthy and perfectly normal child – except for his slightly less than average weight. He is smart, makes good grades at school, excels in baseball and basketball, has an inquisitive mind for all things history and science related and is just an amazingly gentle and compassionate little soul.
I give thanks every day for the neo-natologists and NICU nurses who saved his life and helped him come home to me. I also give thanks that he proved to them that he was neither a WWB or one who would succumb to a poor prognosis. During his stay in the NICU he endured more than many people endure their entire lifetimes. He fought hard — and won! And in doing so, he forever changed my life.
So, today, on Caleb’s 11th birthday, I honor the child that he has grown to be — the man that he will one day become, and I give thanks for the joy that he has brought into my life. July 27 will forever be a day for me to cherish… It is Caleb’s day but in many ways it is my day too.
Lee Ambrose has been a member of Story Circle Network and its Internet Chapter for several years. She serves as the president of the Internet Chapter. Lee’s lifestory writings take form in the poetry and prose she shares in her writing e-circles. Lee is a reviewer for the Story Circle Network’s Book Reveiw Site. One of the most challenging and rewarding roles she has within SCN is to write the weekly Women’s Wise Words and writing prompts.
In addition to her many SCN activities, Lee is working on a historical fiction book, a chap book for her poetry and a collection of stories and poems that chronicle her very special relationship with her grandson, Caleb.