This is Jeannie.
I met Jeannie in the NICU when she was assigned to my identical twin girls one Saturday afternoon. Still early enough in our NICU stay, we had bounced around from nurse to nurse, a new face each day, a new name to try not to forget, and a new personality to try and gauge, at a time when everything in our world was already on edge.
Jeannie was maybe my parents’ age, soft-spoken and gentle. She had braces on her legs, and her fingers curled from arthritis. But she treated my husband and me with kindness and looked after my girls like they were her own. She loved her job, and it showed through every action: every diaper change, every feeding, every word spoken to us to explain something we needed to know. She made me feel at ease in a place that so far made me extremely uncomfortable. She seemed made to do this, and when we left that day, she told us she’d like to sign on as their primary nurse.
If only I’d realized then what benefit this would have for all of us.
We ran into Jeannie recently and completely randomly at an eclectic shopping area downtown just before Christmas. I exited a store to find her standing just feet away from me.
And I froze.
My husband encouraged me to go say hi to her, but what would I say? “Hi, guess what? These gigantic 7-year-olds were once your favorite patients in the NICU!” Or maybe, “Remember these two? Can you tell them apart? Hey, neither can I!”
I am really good at socializing.
She hugged me, likely as she has hugged many people who have approached her through the years. But then, “Yes!….Torres! Where are those sweet girls of yours?”
Being a classic introvert, I’m not great with new people or new situations. I didn’t love having a new nurse every day, but I also hesitated to let this stranger into my life. I’d have to get to know her, and she would have to get to know me. She’d want to…talk to me. Like every day.
Jeannie did get to know me, and I got to know her. We spent mornings and afternoons talking about art and books and how much we loved living in Austin. I admitted to her I was planning to leave my job once the babies came home. She helped me settle into the NICU and make myself at home, until one day she said, “It’s so nice that you are so self-sufficient in here.” She meant I didn’t rely on her to get me blankets for kangaroo care of pillows for nursing. She watched as I grew comfortable enough to come in and immediately scoop up one of my girls for some sleepy snuggle time.
She meant I was doing it – being a mom to my girls, even if they were still in the hospital.
I consulted Jeannie for weeks – months, maybe – after we were discharged, asking questions about breastfeeding, vitamins, things that eventually shifted to our pediatrician as I grew to trust her as well. She babysat for us not long after we were discharged, allowing my husband and I to go out on a rare date night. We exchanged Christmas and Valentine’s cards. I wore the hand-stamped necklace she made me every day for months.
At a time when I was so unsure about everything, Jeannie represented strength and calm. I wasn’t the first mother she had guided through the NICU, and I certainly wasn’t the last. But she helped give me the confidence I needed to bring these babies home and to find my own footing as their mom.
Before we parted that afternoon before Christmas, Jeannie admitted she had locked her keys in her car and was waiting for a local locksmith. I wished there was something I could do to help.
“You know,” she told me in her soft-spoken voice that soothed my babies – and me – for so many days in the NICU, “It’s been a huge inconvenience, and it’s very frustrating, but I’m so, so glad I ran into you. This has just turned my whole day around.”
The pleasure was all mine.