|By: Jon Burks|
Jon Burks, father to "Jr. E-Males" Austin (37 wks) and Eric (28 wks) started the E-Male column with our
It's early December, in the shadow of Thanksgiving and with Christmas looming on the horizon, and my son Eric turned three a week ago. He's
always shown an affinity for holidays; unfortunately, his history is the stuff of a Hallmark nightmare:
The holiday season kicked off with Mom's emergency hospitalization the day before Halloween (big trick, no treat), and despite everyone's best efforts, Eric was born the day before Thanksgiving (at 28 weeks, weighing about as much as a can of pumpkin pie filling). We spirited the little turkey to the NICU and adopted the siege mentality typical of NICU parents. With Christmas approaching, my wife and I stopped by the hospital after a rare night out to celebrate our anniversary, only to be greeted with the news that Eric had taken ill and was on CPAP for the first time in his abbreviated life. True to form, he recovered just in time for Christmas Eve and, as his parents tend to do, skipped New Year's Eve altogether. But Martin Luther King Day was fast approaching (the third Monday in January), so to celebrate, Eric chose to get septic. After recovering from the direst episode of his NICU stay, the little dickens apparently decided that observing holidays in the hospital had lost some of its appeal, because he was released home to his eager yet apprehensive parents (and brother) on St. Valentine's Day. Of course, Eric had one last trick to play, and he was readmitted to the hospital the following Monday (President's Day, naturally) with a suspected case of RSV. Nothing really came of that episode and he was sent home for good the following day. Now, with a history like that, it's a wonder we don't approach every holiday as if it's Friday the 13th.
When Eric was first born, I was a semi-regular on Preemie-L, drinking as much as I could from the firehose of information, and posting when work and time spent in the NICU would allow. Most of my posts were (I hope) of a jocular nature, as I felt that my greatest gift to the group would be a little humor. To that end, I started the E-Male column, ostensibly to provide the male perspective on raising a preemie, but really more to give me an outlet for being a smart aleck.
But as time went by, and Eric continued to grow and progress, I found myself posting, and even reading, with diminishing regularity. It became more and more difficult to find the time to participate, and when faced with the choice of being a part of Preemie-L or actively raising my children, I made the decision I suspect we all would. With a touch of remorse, I unsubbed from Preemie-L and relinquished ownership of this column.
The years passed, and although Eric still had some minor developmental issues, I found myself drawing less and less of a link between these issues and his prematurity. The social trips to visit the NICU dropped off. As Eric grew and experienced fewer and fewer health problems, visits to the plethora of specialists he saw in the hospital ceased as well. Incredible as it may sound, we actually were able to put the horrors of the NICU behind us. But as with most of life's traumas, you may move on, but you never forget. And there have been a few incidents lately that broached some of the old memories.
The first and most obvious of these was his birthday. Looking at that little boy running around enjoying every second of his birthday party, it was hard to believe how far he'd come in three years. But for anyone who has been through the NICU experience, you know you never truly forget. Wedding rings that can be used as bracelets, IVs in the forehead, bruised and bloodied feet from the heel sticks; these are images indelibly printed on our brains, laying dormant, just waiting for the trigger that brings them screaming, unbidden, to the surface.
That trigger could be as overt as a cross stitch project that I presented him on his birthday; one that I started when he was still in NICU and that took me three years to finish. Or as subtle as a Christmas card from his primary NICU nurse. For me, the capper was the experience of him having surgery for ear tubes.
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