We rounded the corner after scrubbing in for the obligatory 3 minutes. As we neared the fourth pod, I saw that the neonatologist was sitting on a stool right beside Tucker’s isolette. We were only 4 days new to the NICU experience, but I knew enough to know that if the neonatologist was camped out at our isolette, it wasn’t a good sign. We walked up and I peered in at the teeny 1 pounder. The impossibly small human behind the plexiglass was jerking his twig thin leg, in an unnatural movement, his underdeveloped nervous system still trying to reconcile that he was outside the womb. My mind was trying to reconcile the same thing.
An alarm screamed. The neonatologist began rubbing Tucker’s back, reminding him to breathe. “What’s wrong?” I asked, still unsure of which alarms meant what. “Well, he’s had a few too many events in the last hour. I think he’s getting tired. I’m running some tests to rule out infection.” Alarm screams again. I begin to cry as I’m at the weary breaking point between hormones, shock, sheer terror and exhaustion. “If I had to guess..”, she says as the alarm angrily sounds yet again, “…I think he needs blood”.
Blood. He needs blood? It wasn’t something I had ever considered. That my newborn, within 4 days of life, would need a blood transfusion. Within minutes of the doctor’s proclamation though, Tucker’s hematocrit numbers came back and sure enough, he needed the first of many blood transfusions.
If you’ve logged any measurable time in the NICU and especially if your baby was a micropreemie, you are well aware of the significance of blood transfusions. They mean everything. A blood transfusion can give your baby the boost he needs to make it through another few days or even weeks. Blood gives these babies the fight and ammunition to battle potential infections. Blood transfusions give weary and underdeveloped lungs the strength needed to continue the tiresome process of breathing in and out. Quite literally, blood transfusions save babies lives. Every single day.
Before we were discharged, Tucker had logged six blood transfusions. I know many a NICU grad who doubled or tripled that number. It’s probably the one badge that almost every NICU baby shares-close to every baby has had at least one blood transfusion. The day after Tucker had a transfusion, he would typically improve dramatically. I loved seeing that pale, dull skin turn pink again. Many times after a blood transfusion, the monitors were much quieter. The blood did it’s job. As it worked it’s way into Tucker’s veins, it carried health and vibrancy. It carried life.
So, I am thankful. Thankful for the people who walked into blood donation centers all over this country to give blood. It is likely they donated having never stepped foot inside a NICU. They may never know how critical their gift was to Tucker. They won’t know, that the pint of blood they just gave, saved my baby’s life. But I will know. And I will be thankful for their decision for the rest of my days. If you know someone who has given blood, tell them your story. Tell them how critical their blood is in the NICU. Tell them how thankful you are for their decision. Tell them why it’s not just a slogan. To give blood really and truly is, to give life.