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In May of 2000, my youngest sister, Janet who lives 60+ miles from D.C., gave birth to her second son. It was immediately apparent that he had serious, life-threatening problems. His esophagus was attached by a fistula to his windpipe, making swallowing and breathing extremely difficult. In every other way, Alex looked like a healthy infant.
Minutes after his birth, he was ambulanced to Children's, leaving his mother, father and big brother miles behind. Janet told me later that she hadn't even had a chance to touch him. As she recovered from a C-section and Dad took care of big brother and the home-front, Auntie Peg (me) was designated Alex's official visitor.As thrilled as I was about my new godson's birth, I wasn't sure I was ready to see him in the hospital. Eager anticipation turned to anxiety as I entered the hospital's garage. Clearing security, now wearing a fluorescent green badge bearing the iconic CNMC Teddy bear, I headed for the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). It took a few minutes to get clearance into the NICU inasmuch as I was not a parent. The first thing every visitor had to do was roll up her sleeves, remove jewelry and scrub her hands and forearms. I almost felt like a surgeon wielding the brush I'd always seen TV docs use. Having accomplished the several-minutes-washing-ritual, I pushed the button to open the door into the NICU proper. I was soon greeted by a smiling nurse who led me to Alex. The only way to describe his accommodation is as a clear plastic tub, lined with a thin mattress and cozy blankets. Above is a unit that contains a heating element and lights. Behind the baby's head are all the nozzles and apparatus one sees in an adult patient's hospital room. Wearing a receiving gown, his knees supported by a folded towel lay Alex. A huge tube ran out of his nose and he was out cold. Wires came out of his gown, but I really didn't want to know what they were. I stood and stared at his expressionless face and small body for quite a while. Some of his blonde hair had been shaved for a now removed I.V. line. A nurse caught me weeping and walked over to reassure me that Alex was doing fine. Ya, right! She said it was OK to touch him, but I was afraid to. After she left, I saw that his hands and feet were blue with cold. Aha -- my mission became clear!! The whole time I quietly sang to Alex and warmed his feet and hands, I don't think he was aware of anything around him. He never opened his eyes, moved or made a sound. Monitors assured me that his heart was beating and that he was breathing, but that was it. When I left after what seemed like only minutes, Alex's tiny hands and feet were pink and warm. I was comforted to know that I was able of help him at all. I reported this feat to Janet after I got home. She seemed pleased but I could hear her longing to get to her baby as soon as possible. Next episode: Janet's first visit with her new son. Please read more about Children's by clicking on this link Children's National Medical Center - Washington, DC . Feel free to make a donation, too. They never turn away a sick child for lack of insurance thanks to donations like ours.