Tired of washing your hands ALL THE TIME? In a strange, nostalgic way, hand-washing fills me with gratitude-here’s why.
Pink Hand Soap
What scent magically transports you into another place and time? For me, it’s the pink soap at the neonatal unit of the ICU. One whiff sends me running to call my first born son, Alec. Alec came along at exactly the right time. My parents had decided to divorce. Even though I understood why they were doing it, I felt sad, lost, let-down. My dad was moving to another city. Would he forget about me? Everything was going wrong. Then I heard the 6 words that would change my life forever: you’re going to be a mom.
Babies have a way of transforming even the most self-absorbed 20-something into a loving, generous person with great reserves of patience. I wanted to be the best mom ever. I would read every book and do everything right.
However, at 20 weeks, I learned that my baby would be born with a birth defect. The news shattered me. The doctor told us there were 2 possible things that could be wrong and that it was probably one of these:
- Gastroschisis – a birth defect in which a gap in your baby’s abdominal wall allows the stomach or intestines to protrude outside of the body. Scary, but usually correctable. The cause is unknown.
- A fatal chromosomal disorder.
The Best News Ever
The doctor told us that I needed to be tested to see which of the 2 it was. As you can imagine, trying to distract myself while waiting for the test results proved impossible. It didn’t help that when I looked down, all I could see was my gigantic, protruding womb. I cried. A lot. For days. I’d only been pregnant a few months, but my attachment to this baby was fierce.
On the morning that my husband and I went to the hospital for the test results, we fought bitterly. The emotional pain was killing us. We took it out on each other up until we got the news. The baby had gastroschisis, certainly something to plan for, but not the chromosomal disorder that meant he would not live long. It was the best news ever.
We decided to name him Alec. I was crazy in love with this tiny person I’d never met.
I gave birth on February 11. The minute I delivered him, a team of doctors whisked him away. I worried. Where did they take him? Was he ok? I later discovered that my newborn son was having surgery on his abdomen. When the surgery was over, they wheeled me down to see him. 5 lbs. of pure perfection. Without getting too graphic, since his abdomen wall was open, his organs were outside of his body. This meant that the skin on his abdomen needed to be stretched and the organs placed into his body.
One week later he had another surgery. More stretching, then pushing everything inside and into place. Everything was squished. He labored with every breath. But he persevered. Our little rock star.
Hand-Washing Neonatal ICU Style
During this time, daily visits to see Alec kept me sane. Each day upon arrival, the nurses (angels sent by God to watch over my baby) helped me prepare to enter the neonatal ICU. They required me to remove my rings and bracelets then wash my hands for a full minute from the fingers to the elbow. Once inside, I would sit by Alec’s incubator and read to him. I’m sure I looked like an idiot, but I didn’t care. It was the only way I could cope.
Hand-washing became a ritual, signaling my brain that I was about to see my son. One whiff of that pink hospital soap and it all comes tumbling back to me: the neonatal surgery unit, the first time they disconnected his tubes so that I could hold him, the first time I got to feed him, sobbing uncontrollably to his doctor saying that I was afraid he would never come home, laughing when the doctor said that Alec would outlive him, and we better go home and get ready for his release.
Alec, now 27, grew up to be one of the kindest, most patient people I know. I often wonder if it’s due to not being able to eat for 4 weeks as a newborn. His gastroschisis caused him some problems over the years, but overall he’s pretty healthy. When he was 19, his entire digestive system needed to be rebuilt, but that’s a story for another time.
That’s why today hand-washing fills me with gratitude. I’m grateful for access to soap and clean water. I’m grateful to be alive in this time of scientific knowledge of preventative measures. But, mostly, I am grateful for the precious people in my life worth keeping safe.