A Moment Lost

The door of the neonatal intensive care unit closed behind me with a gentle swishing sound. Trying to be as quiet as possible, I followed a hospital volunteer into a stark white room in the isolation ward. A nurse, dressed in a cheerful floral smock was standing next to an oval crib checking Annemarie’s vital signs when I entered. When finished, she moved back a bit to allow for my approach.

I walked up to the crib on shaking legs, afraid of what I was about to see. My sister, Carol, had told me that Annemarie was in critical condition, and warned me about the respirator. As I looked down at my niece, my vision narrowed. The hospital room disappeared and the life support equipment faded into the background. Annemarie became the focal point. Lying on her back on a cooling pad wearing nothing but a diaper, she appeared to be sleeping. Her little eyes were closed, and her head was turned to the side. The only sound in the room came from the whooshing of the ventilator as it forced air into her lungs. I watched as her chest rose and fell in tandem with the machine.

I reached out and stroked her brown curls, marveling at their softness. “Hi honey,” I murmured into her ear. “It’s time to wake up now. Your mommy needs you.” Annemarie didn’t respond. She was unable to hear any longer in her present state of limbo somewhere between life and death.

The nurse finished checking her vital signs, and turned to me with a sad smile. “I’m so sorry. I hoped it would turn out differently.”

I realized the truth at that moment. Annemarie, sweet little trooper that she was, couldn’t fight her way back this time. “She’s not going to make it, is she?” I asked.

The nurse looked at me and slowly shook her head. Fighting the tears, I turned my attention back to my niece and gently stroked her fingers. It had only been a couple of weeks ago that I had watched her playing with her rattles. She would do so no longer for illness had forever stilled her chubby hands.

I remembered the morning of her birth. She was lying in a similar hospital room when I first saw her. Although her doctors recognized that she would eventually need several operations over the years to correct congenital abnormalities, they predicted a good outcome. Somehow I knew they were wrong. I was convinced of this when I saw one of the nurses draw her blood. Upon having her heel pricked, Annemarie cried out in protest. Her tiny face contorted and turned crimson with effort. She wailed with all her might at the unexpected intrusion, but her complaints were barely audible. I knew then that she wasn’t going to survive. She just didn’t have the strength.

Unable to bear becoming attached to this precious baby only to lose her in the end, I made excuses to stay away, convincing myself and everyone else that I just didn’t have time to visit. In the seven months of her life, I had only seen my niece on four occasions. My previous visit had been joyful, for she had finally been released from the hospital and was allowed to go home for the very first time. Despite the IV line and feeding tubes that connected her little body to various machines, she laughed, played and was happy. I realized I would never see her this way again.

“I’m sorry,” the nurse said softly, interrupting my reverie. “You’re time’s up. Visitors are only allowed in the intensive care unit for fifteen minutes at a time.” I kissed Annemarie one last time on the forehead and quietly left the room.

A Moment Lost

ctorsey

Seattle, United States

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

The last moments I shared with my niece before she passed away.

Tags

memoir

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