Have you ever noticed that there are some songs that just stick in your head and won’t go away? This is the reason I’ve always hated nursery rhymes and lullabies. They become stuck in my head and mercilessly play on and on until I have to resort to a playing a Billy Joel album to exorcise these rhythmic demons.
When my children were young, grandma would buy them music boxes and, being the closest thing they were getting to a Walkman, they would play “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” until I was going out of mine. The music would ricochet throughout my head and echo off that Grand Canyon I call my brain.
My wife knows these songs torture me and this is why she is conspiring to get me back one last time on the Small World ride in Magic Kingdom this month before we say our reluctant good-byes to Florida for good.
“Small World” is a place she could never take me while I served in the military because it is off limits to military personnel. It is suspected that enemy forces have simulated this ride on foreign soil and would subject their captives to endless rides until they spill their secrets under the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard music of these animated munchkins.
Despite this aversion to nursery lullabies, I have come to appreciate the joy brought to our hospital through the intercom as it plays a few bars of “Rock a Bye Baby” to announce a new life. Since our medical center births more babies than any other hospital in our county, we hear it several times each day.
While I have been conditioned to associate this melody with joy, I have not yet learned to similarly associate the sound of a beeping pager. My most worrisome sound is when the sound of my pager coincides with the sound of “Rock a Bye Baby.”
Hearing the sounds together, unavoidably remind me that Labor and Delivery is the happiest place in the world or the saddest place in the world. Last night the two sounds collided amidst a cacophony of ironies that summoned me to that sad-happy place of “L & D.”
Walking into the hospital, I immediately heard the musical tinkle of the music box sound that announced another new life. Such a contrast – I’d come to say a blessing on one very close to leaving the world and the PA system played a blessing on one who had just arrived.
As the elevator doors opened to usher me to the baby whose life was in doubt, a new mother and her healthy baby crossed my path and into their waiting car.
Stepping from the elevator, I entered a world housing the parental hopes of precocious babies precariously hanging onto their lives. One wall displays the success story pictures of healthy children who tenaciously managed to secure their beachhead of life.
As I get closer to the room where a ventilator dispenses measured breaths to the baby, I see a vending machine that dispenses the cameras, which will record much happier moments.
I paused just outside the nursery to wash my hands of the germs I could possibly carry. This irony seems like a meaningless ritual in the face of the overwhelming and hopeless odds this child faces.
It is as all so ironic in the face of my meeting with a mom who had been hoping to be happy when the nursery song heralded the arrival of her child. She was a mom who had hoped to be the mom I saw wheeled out to the car or the mom buying film from the vending machine. Now she was could only hope that her child’s picture might at least be tacked to the “success story” wall.
Mom stood beside the daughter stroking the baby with her index finger in an attempt to reestablish the sustaining love of the umbilical chord. Her finger seemed just long enough to maintain a fragile connection between her and this baby of faith. It was a scene reminiscent of the fingertip touch between God and Adam in Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine chapel.
Hollywood tried to paint the scene using an extra terrestrial with a flashlight finger to deliver a healing touch to a child, but Hollywood could never paint this scene, yet it is a scene that is enacted everyday in our special care nursery.
Here was a mother trying to deliver her very breath to a child who could only breathe with a machine. Through this single umbilical-like touch of a finger, mom was trying to deliver the hopes and prayers of a family.
I am commonly asked where God is in situations like this and sometimes I reply with the story about a teenager hung by the Nazis in WWII. The boy struggled for 15 minutes at the end of the rope because his weight was not sufficient to bring immediate death. A voice in the crowd, cried out, “Where is God now?”
Another voice from the crowd replied, simply, “He’s on the gallows with the boy.” God also stands with these parents.
And behind these prayerful parents, were the frustrated eyes of a caring doctor who wanted so badly for this child to survive. I met his eyes in mine as used a nod to encode his negative prognosis to me, but will his nod be the final word?