Clean hands and a sudden reminder

Nora's "home" during her stay in Duke's NICU right after she was born.
Nora's "home" during her stay in Duke's NICU right after she was born.

After Nora's frightening first two weeks in the NICU at Duke Hospital, it took a long time before my husband and I could drive up the Durham Freeway without having a pretty emotional reaction. Even if we were just going to a Durham Bulls game, or to see some friends who live sort of near the hospital, it was a bit rough to see that stretch of road for a while.


But enough time has passed and we've had enough good checkups at the hospital that now we can drive right to the building, park in the same parking deck, and even see the faces of some of the same doctors we met in the NICU without tearing up.


But -- obviously -- our initial experience there is one you never fully get over.

Nora had a checkup -- her last! -- with a cardiologist this week at the hospital, and we felt fine (aside from some pretty severe annoyance at being told we couldn't let her eat the morning of the appointment, which turned out to be unnecessary, and then waiting two-and-a-half hours to see the doc even though we were the first appointment of the day). We walked in without thinking too hard about that NICU, and those two weeks, and what could have been, etc., etc., and we walked out with our spirits still pretty high, especially since the checkup brought nothing but good news.


But on the drive home, I brought my hand to my face to scratch my nose and caught a whiff of the hand soap the hospital uses in its restrooms. And for just a second, everything stood still and that scent brought me right back to those two weeks of wearing a surgical gown and sitting next to my sweet baby as she lay in a warmer with a million tubes coming out of her. I snapped right back to that fear and confusion, and how it felt mixed in with the intense love any mama feels for her new baby and the anguish of wondering whether she was suffering.


But then I shook it off and glanced in the rearview mirror, where I could see Nora chowing down on little crackers, counting and stacking them between bites. I heard her talking and singing to herself, and remembered how moments earlier, when we were still trapped in an exam room, she entertained herself by jumping and spinning.


So I kept my hands away from my face for the rest of the drive and sought out our most heavily scented soap as soon as we got home. It's good to be reminded of things that have happened, but I think that was enough for one day.