One of my favorite things about working maternity is that you never know what will walk through the door. One quiet night in the maternity, an emergency suddenly arrived and before we knew it, a premature baby was born at 31 weeks. Two days later, another premature baby was born at 29 weeks. The two little babies were placed in our crude NICU, and they have been steadily growing up together side by side in their separate incubators like really good, friendly neighbors. Between all the feedings, changes, and medications, we nurses have grown quite fond of these kiddos and their mommas. In fact, since babies here don’t get named until later on, we affectionately call them baby Ashli and baby Megan, named after their two favorite nurses.
The day after the babies were born, their families started asking if they could go home. It was explained to them that they would be spending several weeks minimum in the hospital, but despite the repetitive explanations, they kept asking. Like every day. It kind of became a running joke. Here is a 29 weeker on CPAP and a 31 weeker with a feeding tube and oxygen, both on IV fluids and antibiotics, and yet every single day without fail they would ask, “Today? Going home?”
But that’s only one of the many things that made us laugh while working with these babies and their families.
One time Megan went to go check on one of the babies, and her mom had taken her out of the incubator, taken off her oxygen, and was about to put her in a bucket of warm water to bathe her!
Another time, I heard the alarm sounding on one of the pulse oxygen monitors, and I went back to find that the mom had taken the baby out of the incubator and was laying on the floor with it breastfeeding…which was of course making the baby’s blood oxygen levels fall rapidly. The baby had only begun to take very small bottle feedings and was obviously not yet ready to breastfeed. I wanted to scream “aspiration!” but instead calmly collected my 1 kilogram patient off the floor, and the mom didn’t even notice because she had fallen fast asleep!
Then there was the ant problem. One day we found ants crawling on the babies, and we discovered that they were crawling up the IV lines of D10 in search of sugar, and up the NG tubes in search of milk! No matter how many times we cleaned the incubators, switched the sheets, and wiped down all the lines, the ants still kept coming back. “Only in Africa!” Megan and I would say as we laughed to keep from going nuts.
Despite all the craziness of working in an African NICU, my favorite thing is seeing those tiny premature babies grow and transform from looking like little aliens to adorable little big-eyes, round-bellied babies.
One day Megan and I foot-printed the babies and taped them to their incubators. The moms thought that was absolutely hilarious since it’s not something they typically do. We told them they could take it home with them when they leave. That really got one of the moms laughing and she exclaimed in between chuckles, “What am I going to do with that?” They probably all think we white nurses are crazy – the way we talk to the babies, the way we sing to them when we feed them. But that’s how we show love and value, and the mommas are catching on. They love those babies, too, and they love that we love them.
So one day doctor Elizabeth and I wanted to show a fuller extend of our love. We went up to the hospital on our day off and spent two hours with them, just hanging out, encouraging them, and sharing the gospel with them.
Two days later, baby Megan was discharged and went home. I was so thankful for that last memory I had with her and that we got to share the gospel in perfect timing before she left.
Sometimes I wonder about my work in the maternity. Am I just helping populate the Muslim world? What if these are just muslim babies born to muslim families who may never hear about Jesus or be given a free choice to choose what they believe and who they follow? But then I remember who God is and how he is working. I think about how every woman who delivers at our hospital sees the Jesus film and gets a visit by a chaplain. I think about how God can work in a thousand different ways to draw people to himself. And I wonder if one day baby Ashli will find her footprints and the card I wrote with a gospel-sharing scripture on it, and her mom will tell her about the crazy white nurses who sang songs about Jesus every time they fed her and who came up on their day off to share the gospel. Maybe, just maybe, this baby will grow up to believe.
I have adopted one of doctor Elizabeth’s prayers as one of my own: God, surprise me with the end of the story.
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