Monday, January 24, 2011


The smell assaulted her senses, making her gag as the bile and panic welled up in her throat. It wasn’t the smell’s fault really. It was just a slightly fruity, floral, antiseptic smell, most identifiable by its sheer generic-ness, but the images it evoked had her gasping for air. Gasping was the central theme of her flashbacks too. A scrawny chest rising and falling; ribs showing through the paper thin skin. The graying of the face when he forgot to breath. The body-shudder as his brain remembered and started the gasping again.

It was all clear in her mind, because of that smell, as if it were just yesterday. And in a way it was, long-removed yet somehow omnipresent in its legacy: the same hospital but a different time.

But the smell of the soap remains with her, bringing back memories of washing until her hands were raw and bloody. For touching anything prior to his tiny body meant GERMS, the scourge of the NICU. Looking back she took the simple act of washing her hands to the extreme, but her hormonal, sick and guilt-laden self was convinced that she should do no more damage to this boy than she already had done.

As the smell faded and the pictures with it, she stops to smile at her boy in the hospital crib across the room finally asleep after another long ordeal of a night. His breathing is finally calm as the steroids have taken effect, calming his inflamed lungs. His cough stays with him, occasionally racking his sleeping form, but he is peaceful again.

She laughs a little then, quietly to herself, about how often she took air for granted. How she still does most days, until of course a cold or a cough returns. Then it is back to the nebulizers, and steroids, and doctor visits, all trying to keep a tiny pair of lungs doing what they are meant to. At least they aren’t quite so tiny now.

The boy has grown so much. Even asleep he seems to hum with some unseen energy as if life is so powerful in him it vibrates. You wouldn’t recognize him for the tiny paper-thin boy of his birth, except in the wisdom and glee and mischief behind his eyes. Those have always stayed with him. But now his chubby fingers grasp crayons instead of yanking his tubes out of place. His ribs are no longer visible behind is milk-fed Buddha belly.

In the midst of being back where it all began she marvels at how far they’ve come. The panic the soap brought her fades as she says a small prayer of thanks for this boy and his breath.

(A writing exercise I tried. ~Liz)


Emma said...

Yay, Liz! I'm so glad that you posted this. It's such a powerful piece.

trishatfox said...

It's good, Liz. It puts me right there. That smell will always remind me of my mom and the ICU.

Sarah - Fat Little Legs said...

Wow! Powerful and touching! I have tears on my face and a lump in my throat.

As I have told you before. You are never alone. And as the days go on those memories do fade... you will never forget, but you won't always remember either. I hope that makes sense.

Amy said...

Beautiful post Liz. Touching, tear inducing, and simply beautiful.

Marie said...

Utterly beautiful.

Jen said...

Beautifully written Liz. Thank you for sharing something so intimate with us.

Bonnie@TheFragileXFiles said...

This gave me an insight into having a preemie -- I never had one. Hadn't thought about how you watch his ribs. Hadn't thought about what a preemie looks like when he stops breathing and then starts again. Hadn't thought about the gray, thin skin. How absolutely horrifying. Gave me goosebumps. This was amazing, Liz.