And yet John wasn’t gone, he wasn’t lost, he was very much within her reach, just a short walk down the hall, in the maternity ward’s intensive care nursery, just off the nurse’s station. She only had to walk down there, and take him. He was hers after all. In the most intimate way, he was hers; not as a possession, but as a part of her. Nobody could get in the way of that intimacy, of that primal and essential value, which is far greater and more urgent than any hospital administrative procedure or restriction. Mary hastened out of bed and left her room, clothed in only her sleeping gown, and barefoot. She made her way down the dark hallway towards the light from the nurse’s station, which reflected off the waxed floor ahead of her, leading the way. The floor was cold, and her bare feet slapped lightly against the linoleum as she walked quickly, practically running, to rescue her boy. There was one nurse sitting at the desk, and she was busy doing a crossword puzzle, when Mary asked to see her baby. The nurse explained that it was after visiting hours, and she was the only one on duty tonight, so even if she wanted to, she couldn’t leave her station unattended. Mary pushed her to reconsider, but the nurse held her ground, saying that the NICU nursery wasn’t simply a place one could go in and out of without precautions; special gowns had to be donned, as well as gloves and masks, and all of these procedures took time, which she just didn’t have right then. She was very busy. Mary glanced down at the nurse’s desk, prompting the nurse to slide her right hand over the crossword, as she looked up into Mary’s eyes defiantly. They locked eyes momentarily, and Mary expended great effort to hold her tongue; refraining from uttering the sarcastic observation that the nurse was obviously busy with her games. Still, the look in Mary’s eyes conveyed pretty much the same thing that her sarcastic comment would have, and the nurse got the message. Nurse Pleasant—that was her last name, though not always her attitude—grew embarrassed. She wasn’t a bad person, nor even a lazy one, but just extremely overworked, and she coveted her nights at the maternity ward—long hours typically with very little to do, which provided a respite from the countless tasks she performed around the hospital during the day. As a senior nurse, her responsibilities were legion, and she was exhausted. Covering the night shift, while other nurses were sick, was actually a chance to catch up on her puzzles, and even get some sleep, which she couldn’t even do at home—where her husband always had some complaint or another, which needed her immediate attention. For Nurse Pleasant, even being at work was a vacation, compared with being at home.
Mary appealed to Nurse Pleasant’s own maternal identity and memories. Surely, she must remember what it was like to be a new mother, how she had needed to see her newborn child and to hold them? Couldn’t she imagine the agony of being denied fulfillment of this need? Nurse Pleasant did remember those feelings. She loved being a mother, and she loved holding babies. She looked up into Mary’s desperate eyes, which had filled with tears, and she relented.
“Okay, I’ll bring him to the window, so you can see him. No, I can’t let you in to hold him. We have very strict restrictions on that. The priority is to keep the nursery sterile and free of anything that could harm the babies. I’m sure you understand. That’s the best I can do. If you want to go over there, to the viewing window. I’ll go get suited up and bring him over for you.”
Mary nodded, and took a step towards the window, but couldn’t help noticing Nurse Pleasant reach into the top drawer of her desk and pull out a key on a long lanyard. Mary looked away, pretending not to notice, but out of the corner of her eye she kept the nurse under close observation, as she walked through the windowed door, where she donned a gown, pulled on a fresh pair of rubber gloves, and placed a mask over her face, and a surgical cap over her head, before using the key from the desk in the door which led into the intensive care nursery. Mary turned away and walked to the viewing window, considering what she had just seen. “Anton would be furious with me if I snuck into the nursery,” she thought. “No, that would be wrong. He’d say I trespassed; he’d be disappointed. But is it really trespassing if I’m just getting what is mine?” She mulled these things over, until she saw Nurse Pleasant pull John from his incubator and bring him over to the window. Excitedly, she pressed her face up against the glass, and devoured her baby with her eyes. As you can imagine, everything about him appeared beautiful to her: beautiful little feet and toes, beautiful hands and fingers, pretty soft pink skin, fine blondish brown hair covering his perfect little head. She pressed against the floor with her bare feet and stood on her toes to get a better look at his face. Again, perfectly beautiful; though the look in his eyes disturbed her, he looked uncomfortable. And why was he arching his back, and his limbs were all quite stiff, as if he were trying to get away from the nurse and didn’t like the way she was holding him. “Doesn’t she know how to hold a baby?” Mary thought incredulously. “What’s the matter with her, why doesn’t she hold him so that he is comfortable?” This bothered Mary, and she gave Nurse Pleasant an exasperated look, which the nurse ignored, while she continued to look down at the baby’s face, smiling and cooing soothingly. This also annoyed Mary, though it was really jealousy that made her feel this way. It was she that should be holding John, not a nurse. Nurse Pleasant looked up at Mary, smiled and returned the baby to his incubator.
Several minutes later, the nurse came out of the nursery and sat down again at her desk, returning the key to its place in the top drawer. Mary thanked Nurse Pleasant, who went back to working on her crossword puzzle, and Mary returned to her room. But she didn’t sleep. Instead, she formulated a plan. Her thoughts briefly flitted to her husband, he wouldn’t approve, she was fairly certain of that. He’d forgive her.
(to be continued)