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The 'Helping Hand' We Experienced When Our Son Was in the NICU

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Ten years ago my son, Thomas, was delivered by emergency caesarean section at 32 weeks gestation. He was tiny — exactly 3-pounds — but healthy. A “feeder and a grower” in the words of the NICU staff. He then contracted a strep B infection, which led to sepsis and meningitis, lung and brain bleeds, seizures and blood transfusions. On the seventh night of our baby’s life, my husband called me to join him in the NICU because the doctors had cautioned him that Thomas was unlikely to make it to the next morning. We spent a fitful night trying to grab bits of sleep in a cold, bare, hospital room. In the morning, Thomas was still there, but still very ill.

In the days that followed, we felt many things: fear and hope, confusion, exhaustion, grief, uncertainty. We didn’t know if Thomas would survive, and if he did, what his life might be like. I began to feel something else that the parents of children with chronic illness and disabilities may recognize. I felt lonely, terribly alone — despite all the other people in the NICU, despite all the love that was pouring out to us from family and friends (I can still see, in my mind’s eye, all the texts on the amber screen of my little Nokia phone).

IMage of baby in NICU, covered in wires and with a green pacifier in his mouth

My husband had recently reconnected with a high school friend when he discovered she lived near us — her husband is a rabbi. One day as we sat by the isolette, a nurse approached us saying we had a visitor. It was Jonathan, who asked our permission to pray a Mi Sheberach for Thomas. “I feel sure that Jesus said this prayer,” he said, and we nodded our assent and our gratitude. The nurses looked on in some confusion; days before, we had discussed emergency baptism and a visit from a priest. We joined hands and Jonathan intoned the ancient words over our small, struggling baby.

This summer, Thomas underwent major orthopedic surgery with a long recovery. We asked for prayers from everyone we knew, and the response was humbling. The help was palpable. Sitting in the waiting room for over seven hours, we knew people were praying for Thomas — from college students, to clergy, to old ladies, all across the world.

Being the parent of a child with disabilities still feels lonely sometimes. Every so often, though, I joke to my husband, “Remember when ‘our rabbi’ came to the NICU?” and we recall when we joined hands, not just with a friend, but with everyone who has prayed those ancient words through thousands of years of faith. At that moment, it was the best help that anyone could give us.

Originally published: October 24, 2018
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