Ripple Effect: Memories of a NICU

Evi Dewhurst

Medical professionals have a huge impact on the public, creating a ripple effect down the chain of communication from friend to friend, family members to others, and even acquaintances they barely know.

How often have you heard a friend or family member rave about the medical attention they received and how the treatment healed their (sometimes quite serious) affliction? These experiences stay with us and are often shared with much enthusiasm and excitement, even to perfect strangers encountered in a brief moment of common connection. I recently had this type of experience, but it was not I who shared the story, and it was in the most unlikely of places: an endodontist office.

Much to my dismay, it had come to my attention that a root canal was necessary on a troublesome tooth. No further gory details are required, except to say that I was in The Chair, receiving lengthy numbing injections in preparation for the dreaded procedure when the common connection occurred. The dental assistant asked where I happened to work. Ignoring my half numb face, I informed her that I was lucky enough to work for a company that designed and manufactured medical devices for the NICU. Her response was instant: her face lit up, her eyes sparkled and she smiled such an infectious smile that I couldn’t help but respond in kind with the cheek that was still functional.

“My nephew was in the NICU!” she exclaimed. “He was so tiny, I couldn’t believe it. We were all very scared, but they took such good care of him. It really made us feel so much better to know he was in good hands in the NICU.” She explained that he had been born at 27 weeks and stayed in the NICU for months. I asked her how old her nephew was now, and she proudly informed me that he was six years old and keeping up just fine with children of the same age. She then proceeded to pull out her cell phone and share pictures of her healthy nephew. He had wavy brown hair framing his warm eyes and a smile very much like hers. She radiated pure joy as she revealed her photos to me, and fairly gushed with exuberance for the caring nurses and physicians who had watched over her once-fragile nephew. “I can’t imagine our lives without this little guy,” she said. “They performed a miracle, and we get to enjoy it every day.”

Her happiness stuck with me the rest of the day, making me reflect on the ripple effect her NICU experience had created not only with her family, but also with her friends, and their friends. I thought of the nurses and doctors who probably never knew this woman carried their efforts and words so closely in her heart, and still remembered their contributions to her loved one’s survival each day. Did they know she spoke of them to perfect strangers, even six years later, and was still excited to share the story of how they saved her nephew? Were they aware of the gratitude she still felt, and her specific memories of names, dates and faces from the experience? If they did not know, I thought, then they should.

Thousands of people each day carry memories of NICU efforts to save a loved one. They share their experiences because they are in awe, because they understand the depth of the gift they have been given. So much so, they are willing to share a story with a perfect stranger.

And this perfect stranger wanted to share it with you.