They were six simple words, important ones, that have helped define the past six years of my family’s life.
The sentence, a simple statement of fact, flashed through my head Friday morning at 5 a.m. when my son, Spencer, whispered me awake. He quietly reminded me that it was his birthday, then skulked out of the room to wake his 2-year-old brother and deliver the same good news.
“Somebody else is always worse off,” said the nurse six years ago today. She never told us her last name — nurses in her field were discouraged from getting too attached to patients and their families.
Her first name was Ann, and she always wore a delicate smile, even at 3 a.m. when sleep-deprived parents wandered past her expecting the next round of bad news.
She was no stranger to helping fatigue-tattered parents cope with the plight of their newborn children. And we were nothing out of the ordinary for the night-shift nurse assigned to care for our newborn son, Spencer.
Ann was a veteran of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver. She never cut punches or tried to soften bad news like the doctors often did. Instead she stood straight, looked us in the eye and told us what we needed to hear.
And what I needed to hear that night was perspective.
Our news wasn’t always good, but it wasn’t all bad either.
She gently reminded me that Spencer would soon be strong enough to leave the hospital. Then she said, “He’s a lucky one.”
Yes, he had been born two months early. And, yes, he needed plenty of extra care. But he was healthy and strong. The extended stay in the NICU would be just a small bump in the road, nothing more. Sure the two preceding days filled with air ambulance flights and emergency delivery were scary, but things were turning out OK.
I sat back that night in an old rocking chair stationed near the thick-plastic incubator were Spencer laid attached to wires, tubes and monitors and I looked around. I had already spent the better part of 48 hours sitting in that chair watching my tiny son sleep, serenaded by the seemingly constant beep and blip of dozens of monitors.
The hasty events of the three previous days had begun to catch up to me and a sort of stress-laden tunnel vision had taken hold of me.
Every corner of the small, dark hospital wing was occupied by grieving parents staring through half-inch-thick plastic at their ailing babies. Most hadn’t heard good news in days or weeks. Many had run out of hope after weeks of sleepless nights.
We left the hospital with our newborn, albeit fragile, son in tow about a week later.
We went home to celebrate six Christmases, six birthdays and one first day of school. We tried not to look back, to enjoy each day we have together.
Still, each year early in the morning of Jan. 19 I find myself laying awake in bed wondering how many were as fortunate as we.
I find myself regaining perspective.
You can reach Record-Eagle Features Editor Nathan Payne at email@example.com.