The Harkness Family Neonatal ICU Story

Published: Monday, October 25, 2021
Jen Harkness
Guest Author, Mother of NGMC NICU graduate

Maya Angelou once said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve thought of these words a lot during the 89 days that my family and I were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and I have come to realize this is only partly true.

Eloise Lucy Harkness was born at 27 weeks on a windy Saint Patrick’s Day—a tiny 2 pounds 3 ounces, and 13.6 inches long. Before we had time to process what was happening, we were thrust into a world unlike any we had seen before. An alternate universe where terms like BPD, ROP, Desats, Bradys, and RDS were regularly tossed around and completely unknown to us. All too soon, however, we would become fluent in this language and this world.

Our stay was not without its own set of hardships. Our baby entered the world before she was ready. We watched her sleep in a bed we did not pick out, wearing sterilized clothes we did not wash. We watched a tiny chest rise and fall too hard and too fast all the while refusing to give up. We watched her oxygen saturation drop steadily and were given hard talks and hard choices to make. Despite all of this, we were also given the gift of knowing a group of people that we may otherwise have never known.

We encountered a lot of departments during our time in the NICU. Given that we were considered “long-term residents,” we had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know nearly all of the nurses, doctors, assistants, techs, specialists, and therapists in the unit. Each encounter was unique in its own way, but one group comes to mind more often than not.

The Respiratory Therapists are a small group, which is perhaps why we were able to get to know them better than some of the other departments. It is a team filled with some of the most wonderful people I have ever known. The care they show each baby (and family for that matter) is unparalleled and has touched our hearts in ways we may never be able to describe.

During the scariest time of our lives, each RT showed us a kindness we will never forget. They encouraged us when we needed it. They rooted for us when we needed it. They showed us compassion and understanding when we needed it. They helped Eloise when we could not. But perhaps more importantly, they loved our baby when she needed it most.

Someday, Eloise will ask us to tell her a story and we’ll tell her the tales of the heroes that were there for her in those first months full of uncertainty.

  • We’ll tell her of Howard, and how he was bald like daddy and had a little girl that he loved just like we love her. We’ll tell her that he called her “peanut” and how he always fixed her tubes and tape on her face. We will describe his patience as he held her wires and tubes while he waited for us to carefully arrange her during our skin-to-skin. We’ll tell her of the time a nurse told us he was picking up a night shift and how it was the first night in a long time that we slept hard because we knew there was someone who knew our baby that night. We knew there was someone who cared about our baby that night and we felt like she was safe while we weren’t there.
  • We’ll tell her of Kurt with his scruffy beard, and that he had two little girls and loved to go out on a boat just like her and daddy. We’ll tell her how he always came running when her alarms would ding and of his constant encouragement on her progress. “She’s doing so well,” he’d say excitedly. We’ll tell her that he was there in the room with us as she entered the world, and how he helped keep her safe when mommy and daddy could not.   
  • We’ll tell her of Mike and his laid-back approach and we’ll make “vroom vroom” noises with her as we tell her how he loved riding his motorcycle. We’ll tell her about his calm demeanor when we’d ask him a question and how he always responded with a simple, “well, let’s take a look and see…”
  • We’ll tell her of Alicia and how she loves dogs just like mommy and that she has a big pack of them waiting for her at home. We’ll tell her that she stopped in every single day that she was working and would cheerfully ask, “how’s my girl?” even when we no longer required respiratory support. We’ll tell her how Alicia kept a watchful eye over her and waited for her to give the signal that she was ready for each next step, encouraging but never pushing her too hard. Just enough.
  • We’ll tell her of Renee and the sweet stories she shared of Ella and how we loved talking with her about good food. We’ll tell her how she traveled around with her family on hunting trips far and wide. She’ll smile when we tell her that Renee always came to her room first thing after being away on a trip, just to see how she was doing. How she rooted for her even when she wasn’t on duty that day. How she never failed to ask me how I was doing, too, and the way she advocated for us to get a room with a window. “We need to get you out of the dark,” she’d say. And we’ll all smile when we remember that she was there the first time we held the sweetest bundle we had ever known.
  • We’ll tell her about Aly, with her pixie-like hair and her piercing gaze and ability to say what we needed to hear when we needed it most. How she encouraged us not to sit and watch the monitors. And we’ll giggle when we talk of her excitement when she found Eloise in her big girl crib and how she and Howard returned later that day with a mobile just for her.

We’ll tell her about the scary day she decided she was ready to try breathing without the ventilator (two full days before we were ready!). She’ll have our sense of humor and laugh about this. She’ll think it’s fun to scare mommy and daddy, just a bit. We’ll tell her how Kurt came in so quickly and without a word, began working with speed and precision and a gentleness that our tiny girl required. We’ll tell her about Howard briskly walking down the hall, giving mommy a small reassuring nod as he disappeared through the double doors and into her room in the back left corner. We’ll tell her how he stayed with her so that we could go get a drink of water, assuring us he wouldn’t leave her alone until we got back. We’ll tell her all about the heroes she met and how they have changed our lives forever.

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. We will remember how each of you made us feel. But we will also remember what every single one of you did for us. We will remind Eloise what you did for her. She will grow up knowing your names. She will remember you. We will all remember you.

From the bottom of our hearts,

Adam, Jen, and Eloise Harkness

About NGMC’s Women & Children’s Services

At Northeast Georgia Medical Center, life’s most sacred moments happen every day. Choosing where these precious moments are created is important. From the very first embrace to caring for your children when they are sick, we treasure each moment just as you do.