Chapter Three: The Quiet Room
“Nurse Eunice. Have you checked in on baby Tobey?”
“No Matron. The next check-up is due in 35 minutes.”
“Is that what’s written down on the chart?”
“Yes. The last check-up was carried out by nurse Lilly. She was accompanied by Dr. Lawson.”
“Yes, I see.” The Matron replied looking down at the chart. “And judging by the notes they’ve also decided to increase the dosage...” she muttered shaking her head.
The Matron was about to say something else but changed her mind. Her eyes briefly darted towards the end of the corridor, where little baby Tobey lay in a bleak state of unconsciousness.
There are only three suites in the Special Care Baby Unit. The first one was the special care room - the safe room - where the babies there received minimal monitoring. They were also granted liberal visitation rights and were steadily being prepped for their exodus from the hospital.
The second unit was often referred to as the precarious room. Here, behind the protective glass barrier, babies were given around-the-clock supervision and were routinely drip-fed all their vital vitamins. In addition, the room was packed to the nines with the latest respiratory devices, all, in case, that the worse should happen...
And then finally, there was the third cubicle. It was the last room at the end of the corridor. The glass partition at the front of this door was only several inches wide. It provided a small view to a tiny bed. A bed surrounded by a variety of clunky medical appliances. It was home to only one fragile resident. It was the room where baby Tobey lay…
“When will his parents be coming back again?” The Matron asked.
“I believe Mr. Daley has gone to work but his wife has just popped down to the cafeteria. We urged her get a cup of coffee and have a little rest. I don’t think she’ll be too long.”
An announcement was made over the intercom.
“Okay. That’ll be all,” the Matron placed the file in the tray. “But, just before you go please notify me when the mother gets here. I’ll need to explain some of the changes that have been made in his report.” She took off her glasses and gave them a quick wipe. “Oh. And Nurse Eunice try not to look so gloomy! I fear that we greet the Daleys with a look of utter hopelessness.”
“Yes Matron,” the young nurse hesitated.
“The doctors. Don’t they seem a little…baffled to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s long been established that the baby has a rare form of CMS. Every day, since the moment he was born, he’s been on a respirator. I recall the last time they attempted to remove it, he could only breathe for 15-minutes before he was rushed back onto it again. Ever since then, the baby has had to undergo painful procedures and complex treatments to clear his lungs and keep his temperature down.” She paused. “It’s been...almost a year now…How can any functioning human being endure all this, let alone a 12-month old baby?”
The Matron peered down at the young nurse from over the top of her glasses. “Nurse Eunice. Be clear. What are you trying to say?”
“H-how long will the doctors continue to further their findings. We’re just wondering...How...?” She didn’t finish her sentence.
“Eunice! A nurse of your experience shouldn’t be holding this kind of conversation, especially at this time.” The Matron frowned. “And you and the others you consort with would do well to refrain from talk that doesn’t benefit anyone. The specialists are doing their best. That’s all you need to know.”
“I know,” the nurse protested. She then lowered her voice. “I-I just can’t begin to imagine what the parents are going through, that’s all!”
“Yes. Well if you think this is too much for you to bear, by all means please do think of the parents.”
“We are,” the nurse groaned. “We are…It’s just that…there doesn’t seem to be any… positive…” She trailed off again.
Matron Graham was highly respected on her ward. She was thorough but fair. She could see the young nurse was having difficulty explaining what was bothering her. However, the Matron was certain that whatever it was, was also troubling most of the staff on the ward. She was certain of it because it irked her too.
“Eunice,” she said softly. “We know things can’t go on like this forever. I’m sure a decision will be made very soon. All we can do is pray that it is the right one and also the best for all involved.” She produced a small smile for the nurse. “But right now, we have to keep our spirits up. At least for the parent’s sake, okay?”
“Yes Matron Graham,” the nurse quickly replied. “And thank you Matron. I won’t bring this up again.”
The nurse turned to go but before leaving she said. “That baby Tobey, you know. Ever since I’ve started working here I can honestly say - hand on heart - I haven’t come across a more beautiful looking baby - in spite of the illness. He is such a cutie!”
Matron Graham gave a candid smile. “Absolutely,” she agreed.
She watched as the young nurse scarpered off to her duties. “And what a shame,” she murmured, as she took in the doctor’s bleak notes, each line an angry scribble across the baby’s medical chart.
The special care baby unit at St Margaret’s Hospital Trust was a quiet place. The silence cocooned the area like a new born swaddled in a blanket. It is widely accepted that the silence is beneficial and has thus become a requirement in every special care baby unit around the globe. It is hoped that within a highly serene and sanitized environment feeble babies can be nursed back to a normal state of health. Nevertheless, the silence which surrounds the special care baby unit is never without interference. The sounds from the ever-present life support machines create a hypnotic rhythm of their own. But in spite of these slight intrusions, that is; the invariable hums, beeps and mechanical clicks, all are very much at home with the quiet…
The medics on call glide from room to reception with minimal noise. The only thing that creates more clamour, than the life support machines, were the brightly coloured collages that adorned the walls; huge paintings of popular cartoon characters, furry animals and photos of healthy, smiling teenyboppers.
Occasionally, a baby’s feeble wail could be heard over the noise of the machines. It was a blessed sound indeed - it signalled life!
A baby’s cry is often like a beacon call. Nurses begin to rouse from their short-lived stupor: There’s work to be done! Someone needs them!
The unit is suddenly humming with activity - the deathly silence is broken. The piercing call of a wailing baby and the bustle that ensues is warmly welcomed at the special care baby unit, as invariably the alternative was much worse.
And that is why, to some measure, the nurses at St Margaret’s Special Care Baby Unit were particularly wary of the small room at the end of the hall. It was the room where little baby Tobey Daley lay.
From the day he was born he never cried out. He never whimpered. He never moved. And if things weren’t grim enough for the helpless newborn - he couldn’t breathe either, well, not without the aid of a technologically-advanced respiratory machine.
His room was chillingly quiet. The only activity coming from there was the routine inspections carried out by the various health officials, nurses, doctors, and of course, the little boy’s parents.
Baby Tobey’s case was interesting. It was interesting not only because it was extremely rare but because of the kind of reactions it solicited from those involved with the case. The nurses and medics on call hurried past the baby’s room, as if to outrun a curse, tutting and shaking their heads as they went by.
However, it appeared their apparent discomfort for the situation wasn’t always so. In fact in the early days, many of the staff members that were assigned to the room were reasonably upbeat and some even dared to hope. After all, this was St. Margaret’s Hospital Trust - the best hospital in the south of England. This hapless boy and his doting parents luckily had a first class team of experts from around the country working with them.
But as the weeks turned into months, despair slowly corroded their optimism like black ink over blotting paper.
Why can’t they find a solution?
Is there a solution?
Who said there was a solution?
The questions grew louder. But in spite of the scrambled quests for answers, the staff dutifully assumed a bold face of assuredness; they kept on working and they kept on assisting.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, baby Tobey - who was lying in his soporific surroundings and heavily medicated state - was only waiting. Somebody was coming to see him you see. He had been expecting this person for some time now and when that day comes, there will be much to do. But until then, in spite the gripping pain and sporadic calls for his death he will continue to wait. He had to. His wellbeing and the life of others depended on it…