Doctor Harris held the baby gently, at an arm’s length, her feet against his chest, then firmly manipulated her tiny body. Even though Lara knew that it was impossible, she still rooted for baby Mauve to push into the man’s burly chest, or cry –
Anything at all.
But, of course, she didn’t. Couldn’t.
Her mother sat in the upholstered rocker, her gaze fixed on the man who held her infant daughter, her face faraway and expressionless. She hunched over her own middle, thin arms wrapped around herself as though to shield her. She couldn’t be more than twenty, but the marks on her arms said that she was very determined at escaping- or had been, until reality presented itself in the form of a beautiful baby girl.
The doctor went through all the reflex tests – not a glimmer of response from the baby; not a glimmer of hope for the mother. Around them, the NICU was alive; nurses bustling about, parents rocking babies, holding babies, chatting with one another about their progress or setbacks, or, like this mother, sitting in stunned silence, unable to comprehend the mixture of love and hopelessness that they felt for this tiny person who had just entered their lives, and was already in danger of leaving it.
The doctor passed the baby to Lara as he turned to the computer. He had an expert, reassuring manner of handling the infants, even with the most complex life support and monitoring equipment. Lara settled Mauve in the nestlike incubator, fitting a clean and rolled gauze square into each clenched fist. There was little reason – this baby would never open her hands, never use these muscles, except during a seizure. Already, she was on enough anti-seizure medication to have toxic side-effects – and she still seized several times a day.
“I’m sorry.” Doctor Harris used that tone they all affected with bereaved parents. Kind, but distant – a Joe Friday delivery of simple facts that allowed them to keep doing this job that held both tragedy and joy.
“Sorry…” The mother echoed, tonelessly, as though she was tasting the word, but not taking any meaning from it.
“No!” said the other girl, at the same time. She hovered over the young mother’s shoulder, as though she could protect her if she only stayed near enough.
“I am sorry,” Doctor Harris said again, meeting the stunned and accusing syllable with compassion. He frowned a bit as the child’s mother just sat there, hugging herself and rocking slightly.
“Then there’s no hope?” the dark-eyed girl asked.
“It’s as near total ancephaly as I’ve seen. If she had any less of her amygdala or brain stem, she would not have survived to this point, and quite possibly would have died before birth.”
A baby girl without a brain.
Sometimes, Lara saw things here that were unspeakably cruel, and she wondered why she stayed.
The girl – she couldn’t be more than sixteen – came nearer, stared at the screen. The glow bathed her face, as her composure crumpled, and she began to sob. “This just isn’t fair!”
Lara sighed to herself. No. It wasn’t fair. It never was.
As if the exclamation had awoken her from whatever trance she’d escaped to, the mother leapt from the chair, and pressed her hand against the plastic that separated her from Mauve. Then she stared at Lara, and stabbed out at her with a trembling finger. “You have to save my baby!”
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