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Remembering the Kindness of Strangers

This month, as I’ve written my memories of Elli’s first weeks with us, nearly ten years ago, I’ve been amazed again at the kindness shown to us during those terrifying and tenuous weeks. On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things, but I’m especially thankful for the way God has used people to encourage us.

Here is another excerpt from Elli’s story, one of my most treasured memories of the kindness of strangers. I thank God for the two women, whose names I cannot remember, who gave me this memory, this moment.


The rest of that day and the next was a blur of visitors. Family and friends poured in, doing their best to bring comfort and support at this critical moment, the day before extremely risky open heart surgery.
            The entire CICU staff, who had been friendly all along, revealed a whole new level of kindness and sensitivity to Meg and Brandon. Thursday afternoon, two of the nurses walked into Ellie’s room and asked Meg, “Would you like to hold your baby?”

“Oh! Oh yes.”
For over two weeks, Meg’s arms had been empty. Her only physical contact with her newborn had been rubbing her fuzzy head, wrapping Ellie’s tiny fingers around one of her own, stroking the one leg not mummified with tape and I.V.s, and warming Ellie’s feet in her hands. Her daughter had been so fragile and tangled in lines and tubes and monitors that even diaper changes were a tenuous and delicate affair.
This day, before a surgery with only a 20% chance of success, these nurses offered her an impossible gift. The nurses knew Ellie, her situation, and the reality that she might not make it back to the ICU after surgery. So they offered what every mom hoped to have – a last chance to hold her baby before saying a final goodbye.
They pulled in a rocking chair and a pile of pillows. “Sit down here and we’ll get you all ready before we move your baby.”
Meg sank into the rocker, positioned at the foot of Ellie’s bassinet. They laid a pillow across her lap, then folded a second one and tucked it under the arm she would use to support the baby’s head. 
One nurse slid her arms under the blanket under Ellie, while the other nurse gathered all the wires, monitors, and tubing, and held them carefully so that they wouldn’t pull or bend in a way that cause pain, particularly the ventilator tubes that stretched down into the baby’s tender lungs. The pair moved cautiously, talking the whole time so their movements would be perfectly synchronized.  The way they lowered her baby into her arms reminded Meg of a helicopter descending into a narrow canyon.

Despite their care, the little baby’s face twisted and pulled as she cried soundlessly.
          At last, she cradled Ellie’s warm round head in the crook of her arm, and snuggled her arms and legs close. How she had longed to comfort her daughter this way through the long days of waiting. She watched as the nurses pinned things to the pillow cases and tried to prop the ventilator tubing at an angle that matched Ellie’s airway.
          Then she offered, “I can hold those tubes if you want.” They smiled and guided her hand to just the right position.
“How are you doing? Everything ok?” they asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’ll sit here all afternoon if you’ll let me,” Meg replied.
           They smiled. “I’ll be right here if you need me,” one said as she headed back to the nurses’ desk.
Brandon pulled his chair up to the rocking chair, wrapped his arm around them both as best he could, given all the paraphernalia, and soaked up the vision of his wife holding their baby, trying to memorize every detail.
Meg memorized too, her throat tight. It was the first time she’d held Ellie since they were in the Emergency Room, and it might be the last. And she was the one to receive this gift. She hated that Brandon wasn’t a part of this, but she knew that they couldn’t move this fragile little body more than they already had. How could happiness hurt so badly? Tears stung her eyes as joy mingled with a soul-deep ache.
They sat blissfully unaware of the creeping minutes, enjoying their moment as a family, a womb of peace in the midst of monitors and equipment and bustle all around them.
Finally, the nurses returned, full of apology as they said it was time to settle Ellie back into her bed. Meg nodded, but in hopes of extended the time another few seconds, she didn’t help as they carefully air-lifted her baby back to the bassinet and the moment ended.

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