Also, New Mowbray is the fictional city in which I like to set stories from time to time. It's located in Michigan, on the Eastern coast of the Great Lake of the same name. Basically, it's my way of using Buffalo as a location without having to be totally true to Buffalo locales. Two stories of mine that have previously appeared on Byzantium's Shores, "Elizabeth and Andrew" and "In Longhand", are set there.]
Alison burst through the front entrance of Our Lady of Eternal Hope Hospital and rushed for the bank of elevators left of the information desk. Already late, she only had time to take in a whiff of the coffee aroma from the little espresso bar inside the front door. Maybe later, she thought as she jumped aboard an elevator whose doors, in her first lucky break of the day, hadn't closed yet. She hit the button for the fifth floor, moved to the side of the car, dropped her purse and tote bag on the floor, removed her coat, tied back her hair, hooked her ID badge on its retracting cord to her waistband, grabbed her stethoscope from the tote bag, looped it round her neck, and scratched the annoying pimple on her right shoulderblade just below her bra strap. She did all this in one honed-over-many-elevator-rides motion, and only invaded the personal space of two other passengers in doing it.
At the fifth floor Alison disembarked the elevator and turned left, away from surgery and orthotics, toward the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she was a nurse. Even though she was late she did not run, owing to the two people shuffling along the hall in the same direction. There was such a thing as decorum, and it wouldn't do for a NICU nurse to appear desperate before two parents whose child she'd be spending the next twelve hours keeping alive. The mother was in her hospital gown and leaned on her husband's shoulder in the way of a woman three days past her C-section. One intern last year had described that gait as "the perp walk". That intern's NICU career had been brief. Parents were as important as babies, and those who failed to realize that were of no use here.
Alison swiped her ID badge through the card reader, opening the automated door into the NICU, where she dropped her stuff at the break room before joining the rest of the staff for evening shift change.
"So we're all here now," Dr. Franks said loudly enough to dig but not quite loudly enough to constitute a rebuke. "Shall we?" Alison fell in beside Mary Danford, one of the other nurses who would be on call this evening, as they headed toward Pod A. The NICU was divided into five "pods", which were rooms separated by walls and glass doors, each of which containing four "beds", only these weren't beds at all; most were isolets, with a couple of regular cribs distributed throughout.
"You'd think ten years and they'd be done building the GRF," Alison said in response to Mary's unspoken question. The Gerald R. Ford Highway was a main commuter route in New Mowbray, and some part of it was always under contruction.
"There are other roads, you know," Mary said.
"Draw me a map," Alison replied. Her lack of direction-sense was often a source of humor.
"How about the bus?" Mary asked as they stepped aside at the door to allow the cleaning lady, a tiny Puerto Rican woman named Flor, back out.
"How about the bus?"
"I'm not carrying a car payment so I can ride the bus."
Into Pod A they went, where Dr. Franks was getting started over at Bed 1, while his relief, Dr. Sandoz, was thumbing through the chart.
"Ashley's had a good day," Dr. Franks began. He'd been through twenty-four hours on duty and looked the part. Dr. Sandoz, however, bounced a lot on the balls of his feet and twirled a pen in his fingers. No doubt he was on his fourth cappuccino, at least. "She's producing more urine now, and her respiration is a bit more regular. For now we're still monitoring, but the ventilator isn't really doing any of the work for her. Little David over here has had a tough day, though...." And on to Bed 2.
In the NICU, things were pretty much like any other intensive care unit. Some patients left in better shape than when they came in; others left worse and some only left in the arms of angels. What was different here was the preciousness of those patients, their frightening fragility. The most innocent of us all, some were born too early to live without help while others were born at the right time but were somehow damaged.
Alison glanced out into the corridor, where the parents she'd passed in the hall were waiting. They'd be allowed in to see their child as soon as the shift change was over. The look on their faces was the same as it always was on parents up here, no matter what afflictions the babies suffered. In the mothers' eyes, Alison would always see the same mix of fear and love and sorrow and wonder. In the NICU, motherhood could end in mere hours, with the poor woman being escorted from the side of the only bed their child would ever know, their shoulders draped by the arm of one of Our Lady of Eternal Hope's chaplains.
Up here, you were a nurse for an entire family.
That night there was Jessica Grey, who was doing quite well now for having been born six weeks early; she would probably go home in another day or two. Less fortunate was Michael Conrad, who'd been born at full term but had presented signs of distress moments after birth. It had slowly become clear that he had somehow suffered brain damage and faced a life of disability. Josie DiMarco was the worst case of jaundice anyone had ever seen at Our Lady. Christina King and Marcus O'Donnell were the newest of the preemies, both born just the night before at twenty-seven weeks and both hanging by the thinnest of threads. And the twins, Jason and Jacob Williams, were still hanging in there. Their problem was genetic, an accident of being born of two parents whose enduring love was impotent in the face of chromosomal biology.
In this manner the days nurses and doctors handed off the responsibilities to the night shift, and then they let the parents come back in. Alison made a cup of coffee and then went to start Brittany Murphy's next feeding.
Nineteen hours later, Alison drained her sixth cup of coffee. She was sitting at the main desk, catching up on chart work when Mary came over and plopped down in the chair beside her.
"Josie's looking less yellow," Mary said.
"Well that's good news," Alison replied. "Quiet night."
"Been a while," Mary said. "So, did that boyfriend of yours get in all right?"
"He's staying an extra day," Alison said. "More meetings."
"Gotta hate those 'impromptu' meetings."
"Yeah. Oh, hi, Flor."
Flor, the cleaning lady, was on her nightly rounds, pushing her cart of cleaning supplies. "Hello, Nurse Jeffers," she said. "You look tired."
Alison laughed. "I'm always tired."
"More than normal," Flor said. "You should take vacation."
"Sure," Alison said. Flor was sweet. She was working her way through night school for...something, Alison couldn't remember what. Something that would mean that maybe one day Flor would be able to afford a vacation. "Maybe I could go to--"
She was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. As she picked it up, Flor smiled and went on her way. "We'll be ready," Alison replied to the person on the phone and hung up.
"Incoming?" Mary asked.
"Incoming," Alison said. "Pod C, bed three."
They moved quickly to get things ready for the baby who'd be here momentarily from Labor and Delivery, five floors below.
It had been two hours, and Ethan Bly wasn't even close to breathing on his own. He'd been on the vent since about two minutes after he'd been taken from his mother's belly in an emergency C-section. His Apgar score was two out of ten, and that was scoring liberally. Ethan's skin was pale and tinged yellow. His ears looked like they were on sideways, a sign of the difficult delivery. That would correct itself in time. Everything else that was likely wrong with him? Probably not.
In the space of two hours, Ethan crashed three times. Each time they got him back. In cases like this, Alison was never sure if the babies were meant truly to live or die. When they got him back the third time, Alison happened to glance away, through the glass door of Pod C into the NICU corridor. Flor was standing there, staring back at her, her eyes wide and her face pale.
Only later would Alison remember how, at that moment, Flor held her hands over her lower abdomen.
"Who brewed the coffee this morning?" Mary asked.
"Janet," Alison replied.
"You didn't warn me?"
"You didn't notice that I'm drinking tea?"
Mary shrugged, and Alison went back to filling in more of the notations in little Ethan's chart. He'd made it eight days now, but only through the miracles or curses of modern medical technology that could preserve some definition of life that didn't match anyone else's.
Today was Wednesday; it was almost eleven in the morning. In just a few minutes the two doctors who'd been on duty for just about all of Ethan's life would be meeting with his parents to discuss their two, and only two, options: a mockery of life for Ethan, or no life at all.
"Did you see Josie's weight this morning?" Mary asked.
"Sure did. She's a fighter, that one." Alison took a sip of her tea. "Gonna be trouble for the boys."
"Oh yeah." Mary gestured to Flor, who was gesturing into Pod C, across from the nurses' station, indicating that it was time for daily cleaning. "Oh, go ahead, hon. The coast is clear."
Flor nodded and went into Pod C, her cleaning towel and spray bottle of window cleaner in her hand.
"So how are Rick and Amy doing this week?" Alison asked. Mary grunted.
"Same as always. Rick's pissed at his boss, and Amy's not going on that ski trip if she doesn't get that geometry grade up."
"Still not getting the congruent triangles?"
"Who knows? I had terrible grades in geometry too, but don't tell Amy that."
After a few more minutes of such conversation, Alison stacked up her paperwork and rose to her feet, which had only just stopped aching minutes before. "I'd better go check on the boys," she said. That would be the three patients in Pod C: preemie Matthew Hooker, generically unhealthy though soon-to-go-home Trevor Marks, and poor hopeless Ethan Bly.
When she entered Pod C, Alison found that Flor hadn't finished cleaning. In fact, she hadn't even started. She was standing over little Ethan's isolette.
"Oh!" Flor jolted around with a start, nearly knocking over the supplies on the table beside Ethan's station as she swung her glass cleaner about. "Forgive me, Nurse Forster," she said. "I am sorry – I know I shouldn't be here --"
"It's all right," Alison said. "I won't report you. But you know that you're not supposed to be looking at the patients."
"I know," Flor said. "But this one is so helpless. I can see it."
As before, Flor drew her hands across her stomach, down low.
"You're right, he is helpless," Alison said. Then, not knowing why, she added: "He is in God's hands, not ours."
"The finest hands of all," Flor said. "Nurse Forster, would it be all right if I said a prayer for this child?"
Alison's brow furrowed. Such a simple request, after all, and yet she'd never known a member of the cleaning or maintenance crew to become concerned with the patients. Not that they were uncaring, of course, but that they were trained to do their jobs as quickly, quietly, and as unobviously as possible. Their jobs were to get in and get out without being seen. And yet...it was a request to offer a prayer for a sick child.
"We never discourage prayer at Our Lady of Eternal Hope," Alison finally said. She touched Flor's shoulder, and then she turned to look in on little Matthew as Flor began to whisper in prayer.
Something about that moment would stick in Alison's mind for the rest of the shift. It was only when she was driving home the next morning that she realized what it was. Perhaps it was because she hadn't heard it since taking a single semester of it in school years before that she didn't immediately recognize the language of Flor's prayer, not as Spanish, but as Latin.
The decision was made, as it always was. One of the hospital Chaplains, Father Duffy, was called in to the NICU to provide the saddest of services that a hospital Chaplain at a Catholic hospital. At two o'clock in the afternoon, little Ethan Bly's family arrived: Robert the father, Jennifer the mother, and Hannah, the beautiful and brave older sister who was taking the day off from first grade to watch her baby brother die.
They all gathered around the isolette as Father Duffy began reading the Last Rites. Then, as tears ran hot down the cheeks of the Bly family and the nurses gathered round, Dr. Richter unhooked Ethan's breathing tube and deactivated the machinery to which he was connected. Alison stood by, pen and chart in hand, ready to note the time of death.
But little Ethan did not die.
No one had any explanation for it. How could they? What possible explanation could there be? How could anyone ever explain the spontaneous regeneration of brain tissue? It wasn't supposed to be possible. Every organ in the body could heal, every organ but one – and little Ethan Bly had been born with just enough healthy brain tissue to not die outright. Now, though, he was healthy. He cried, he began nursing, he did all the things a baby is supposed to do. And no one could figure out why. Over the next week, little Ethan Bly became the center of the medical world as doctors and scientists descended upon Our Lady of Eternal Hope from all over the world. So too did priests and clergy from all faiths. Ethan Bly, the miracle baby.
After a couple of weeks, the hospital could not find any real way to justify keeping Ethan in the NICU for any longer, so he finally went home, carried in his mother's arms to the car, where he was nestled into his infant car seat. It was the most normal of scenes, if you don't count the hundreds of news photographers taking shots of the least likely homecoming of all.
Of course, the news cycle moved on as it always did, but the healing of Ethan Bly was still of enormous import, and everyone connected with his case knew that it would be discussed for years to come. Alison herself did a couple of print interviews, but rejected invitations to go on Oprah or any other TV shows. Eventually the furor died down, and life returned to normal for the nurses and doctors of the NICU – except that Alison would look at Flor, and wonder just what prayer she had said that afternoon.
Two months later Alison arrived for her shift just in time for Dr. Franks to rush through shift change. His day wasn't ending, after all; he had to spend the next six hours or so sitting in on meetings with doctors and researchers who had come to study the case of Ethan Bly. As soon as shift change was over, Alison went into Pod B to give little Abby Rhinehart a bath. She was doing well, and she'd be going home soon.
"I went to Mass the other day," Mary said. She was one bed over, giving David Reisner his morning feeding. "First one in a year. My Mom's been after me to go."
"Moms are like that," Alison said. "There there," she added in a hushed whisper to baby Abby, who was squirming a bit.
"Your mom, too?"
"About some things, yes. Not about church. She gave that up years ago."
"Oh, yeah. Well, don't get yourself into any rush, because that won't stop just because you get married."
"I figured. There you go, sweetheart." She was drying Abby off now; Abby was beginning to fuss. And then there was a knock on the sliding glass door.
"Is it OK to clean?" Flor asked, sticking her head in the door.
"Come on in," Mary said. "But we haven't really had time yet to mess things up much."
Flor nodded, ducked out, and came back in with Windex, cleaning cloth, and a few trash bags in hand.
"Wow!" Mary said. "You're really showing now!"
Alison glanced over, and sure enough, Flor's belly was growing nicely. "Six months?" she asked.
Flor put a hand on her belly and smiled, blushing all the while. "Six months."
"You're looking beautiful," Mary said. Flor blushed again and headed for the windows. She was looking beautiful, as mothers-to-be always did.
"So how was Mass?" Alison asked.
Mary shrugged. "I don't know. I keep waiting for God to speak, but I guess I'm not there yet."
Alison nodded as she put Abby's diaper back on.
"Still," Mary went on, "I've been reading my Bible again. I'm thinking that in my next confession I should tell Father Jeffries that the Old Testament makes God look bad."
Behind them, Flor chuckled. Glancing back, Alison saw that Flor was smiling. She turned back to Mary. "Do you ever wonder why now?" Alison asked.
"Why now, what?"
"Why are you going to church now? We've been up here in the NICU together for six years. Why now?"
Mary was silent for a moment, and then she shook her head. "Maybe I'm getting older. Maybe it was Ethan Bly. Is there a better way to explain him, other than God?"
Alison had no reply to that, even though she'd been thinking in much the same way all along. The only difference was that so far, her own thoughts had not yet led her to God.
Flor passed by again, having finished her work for now. She was lightly caressing her pregnant belly as she exited the Pod. For no reason, Alison thought back again to Flor praying over little Ethan Bly.
A fairly uneventful week went by after that – a week which ended with the arrival in the NICU of little Rosa McKinley.
Lakesha McKinley had been young, bright, and pregnant. She'e been working had at a secretarial job and taking classes at night, while her new husband worked just as hard at the auto-body shop he'd opened with a generous loan from his father. Lakesha had been determined to make her baby's life better than hers had been.
That night she had just reached the six-month mark in her pregnancy, and had gone out with some friends. They drank, she didn't. She was conscientious. She did the right thing. She wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the precious life inside her belly.
Sometimes, though, the decision isn't ours to make.
At 10:38 p.m., Lakesha had been on her way home when she'd made a right turn onto Wilson Blvd. It had been a perfectly fine turn, and she'd had the green arrow all the way. Seconds later Lakesha took the brunt of the impact when Chris Whitford, who'd been tying one on at the very same bar, plowed his car right into hers.
The ER had all they could do, keeping Lakesha and the two others in the car from dying. In the midst of all that, her baby came, three months early, and injured as well. The baby came up to the NICU, but it was clear to everyone that the child would die quickly, probably within hours. Lakesha was still unconscious in surgery. She would awaken to learn that her child had been born, lived, and died without ever having even been named. A girl.
Mr. Whitford, the drunk driver, suffered only bumps and bruises. He'd pay a heavy price with his driving license. Lakesha McKinley was marked to pay a different price.
It was Alison's job to stand watch over Lakesha's child, little Baby Girl McKinley. She was the only child in Pod C that night, strangely enough; that was rare in itself. Alison sat beside the isolette, monitoring Baby Girl's ventilator-assisted breathing and making notations in the chart. More than once Alison found herself just gazing at Baby Girl's wrinkled, deeply dark skin and her not-completely-formed features. So many dreams, destroyed by a drunk in pseudo-command of a ton of motorized metal.
"So beautiful," said Flor. Alison turned with a start, having not even noticed the cleaning woman's entrance. Then she turned back to the isolette.
"Yes, she is," Alison said. "They all are, you know." She glanced down at Flor's belly, which was now becoming quite pronounced.
"She is sick, no?"
"Very," Alison said.
Flor nodded as she fingered the cross she wore around her neck. The broom in her other hand was completely forgotten.
Alison sighed. "I wish I could understand why God touches some babies but not others," she said as she starting notating Baby Girl's current numbers. They were getting worse. In an hour, she'd be coding.
"We're not supposed to understand that," Flor said.
"I know," Alison replied.
Baby Girl's chest moved with the gentlest of movements as the ventilator machine breathed for her. That motion was getting harder to see. Baby Girl was weakening.
"She will die soon," Flor said.
Alison looked sharply at the other woman. The custodial staff weren't supposed to ask about the patients. But Flor hadn't really asked; she'd simply stated it outright, and Flor wasn't returning Alison's look anyway. She was staring hard at Baby Girl.
"Yes," Alison finally said, choosing not to chastise Flor for overstepping her bounds. "She will die soon."
Flor nodded. "Then I will pray."
Alison nodded, finished making her notations in the chart, and moved away from Baby Girl's isolette as she always did when prayers were being said, figuring that encroaching on a conversation was no less rude for one of the participants being The Almighty. Flor placed her right hand on the plexiglass of the isolette as she began to whisper a prayer. Her left hand she kept on her pregnant belly.
And again the prayer was in Latin.
And Baby Girl McKinley lived. Somehow she held on to life until Lakesha awoke after surgery. She lived to receive her name, Rosa. Somehow she held on to life for days, and then weeks. Somehow, Rosa McKinley grew stronger and stronger, until the day Lakesha was able to take her home.
Alison had been in the NICU long enough to have seen many improbably recoveries, but never like this. Never so close together, and never to a pair of infants whose lives had been so close to death. Little Rosa defied longer odds than just about any child she could remember, save little Ethan, who hadn't just defied odds. He'd defied the very definition of what was possible.
Brain tissue doesn't heal. It just doesn't. Unless God, or someone else, wills it.
Alison had thoughts about that, which she kept to herself. Two days after it became clear that Little Rosa was rebounding, in a routine shuffling of maintenance personnel Flor was reassigned to Oncology and Radiology. Alison made a mental note to keep her ear to the grapevine. Perhaps there would be a stunning recovery or two in the cancer ward over the next couple of months...but instead, she heard nothing at all from Oncology.
Two months. Alison ate, slept, came to work. She went on a few dates that didn't come to anything. She thought about children: one day having her own, and about her fears that even if she eventually did, she wouldn't be a good mother.
She thought about God and the babies He saved and the ones He ignored.
Alison worked in a Catholic hospital and every day she struggled with God. But then, didn't everybody? Even the Chaplains? Every priest or pastor she'd ever heard sooner or later spoke of struggles with faith, although Alison wondered sometimes if that was mere rhetoric for the not-quite-yet-converted. Only one, a Franciscan from her college years named Brother Tony, had an answer that was in any way satisfying: "Faith is hard. If it wasn't, we wouldn't have needed God's son in the first place. And it was hard for Him, too."
Alison was thinking of those words one night when, as ever, the NICU phone rang. She answered it, listened, said "Yes, Doctor," and then gestured to Mary and paged the other nurses and Dr. Garth, the on-call attending.
Two babies, born minutes apart, were on the way up.
The cases were eerily similar. Both boys. Seven pounds six ounces versus seven pounds four. Both had been distressed during labor; both likely suffered brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. And in the cruelest of strokes, both mothers suffered uterine injuries that required emergency and complete hysterectomies. Alison had seen cases like these before – they were the worst of the worst – but never two in the same night, at the same time.
Two baby boys on the brink of death, with their mothers forever unable to bear more children. Alison could not remember a night when she and the other nurses had worked harder to keep two children from dying outright. And even then the fight was far from over.
One of the babies was named Matthew. His father was a graphic designer; his mother was a graphic designer. The other baby was named Juan. No one knew anything about his father. His mother was Flor.
Somehow both Baby Matthew and Baby Juan survived long enough for their mothers to get out of bed and come upstairs from recovery to see them. By this time, Baby Matthew's body was beginning to shut down as he crossed the ever-shifting, but never vanishing, boundary between medical ability and inevitable death. Matthew's parents came up at last, in what would certainly be the last time they saw him. His mother held him for as long as she could manage it, and they stood by as Father Duffy administered the Last Rites. Standing nearby, watching the monitors the whole time, Alison brushed tears from her cheeks. It took a special blend of love and strength to be a NICU nurse, but even so, she never got used to the cases where the parents said Hello and Goodbye to their children in the same moment.
Some time later, while Baby Matthew waited in his mother's arms to die, Flor arrived to see Baby Juan. Against all odds, he was actually healing. Alison stood across the isolette from Flor, and both looked down upon little Juan, whose tiny chest moved in gentle rhythm with ever-strengthening breath.
"He is strong," Alison said. Flor made no reply. She only reached down and caressed her son's face, wept, and after a time, looked across the room to where Baby Matthew was living the last of his hours.
"That one will die," she said.
"I can't discuss other patients," Alison said. Flor met her eye and held her gaze, and Alison relented. "Yes," she finally said. "He will die."
Flor nodded, and looked back down at little Juan.
"You haven't asked about his father," she said. "Thank you for that."
"It's not my place, no matter whether I know you or not."
Flor nodded as she continued stroking Baby Juan's cheek. "Doctor Flynn says that he will be mildly disabled, but he should be able to have a good life."
"You've been blessed," Alison said.
"Blessed," Flor echoed. "Truly, I have been blessed." Again she looked over at Baby Matthew and his weeping mother.
They passed the next three minutes and fifteen seconds in silence as Flor touched her son, imprinting upon her memory the feel of his warming skin. Alison updated the charts.
It on that sixteenth second that Baby Matthew began to crash for the final time.
Alison hit the alarm button. "You need to leave now," she said to Flor. Mary and two other nurses were already rushing in, and Dr. Flynn was right behind.
Flor leaned down over little Juan, her eyes full of tears. She rubbed her cheek against his. "Be well, little one," she said. "I will see you again." She closed her eyes and whispered something else, in Latin. And then, without being watched by Alison or anyone else in the room, Flor slipped out into the hallway, and from there out of the NICU entirely.
For Alison, the moments when a baby's life was either about to end or not were always the quickest and slowest moments of all. Everything seemed to both slow down and go by so fast.
They laid Matthew in his crib. They brought out the defibrillator. They charged, and they shocked him when his heart stopped. His parents had wanted this. They had ordered the doctors to fight for every minute Matthew could possibly have. His mother stood to one side, clutching his blanket in her fingers, sobbing. He couldn't die in her arms. Not yet.
And he didn't.
After the second shock with the defibrillator, his rhythm returned. His oxygen levels rebounded. His color pinked up. For a few brief seconds, he opened his eyes and when he opened his mouth, he cried for the first time in his short life. In that moment, Baby Matthew's recovery began.
And in that same moment, little Baby Juan died.
When Alison tried calling Flor at the number the hospital had on record for her, there was no answer, and no machine picked up, either. She tried calling Flor many times over the next few days, to the same result, until finally instead of unanswered ringing, she received the standard recorded voice telling her that the number dialed had been disconnected. Her final paychecks went uncollected, and mail to her home was returned. No one from Our Lady of Eternal Hope ever saw Flor again.
Little Juan's body would have been dealt with in the way that all anonymous dead were dealt with, but Alison used some of her savings to pay for the cremation. Realizing that she knew absolutely nothing about Flor and thus had no idea as to what Flor would want done with the ashes, Alison had a tiny portion of them placed in a necklace for her to wear, and then on a warm spring day she scattered the rest of them into the waters of Lake Michigan.
Baby Matthew's recovery was the last of the three miracle recoveries in six months that took place at the Our Lady NICU. Things returned to "normal": some babies lived, others died. But the three – Ethan, Rosa, and Matthew – were the subject of much study and discussion. Some hypotheses made mention in the New England Journal of Medicine, while in other circles, different hypotheses took root. Father Duffy speculated occasionally that their recoveries were miracles performed by Father Tobias Mollander, a legendary local priest who'd been mentioned by the New Mowbray faithful for Sainthood. An emissary from the Vatican came to discuss the cases. That made the New Mowbray Times – but no one ever mentioned Flor or Baby Juan. Alison didn't, either, although she couldn't exactly say why.
And life went on. Alison got into a serious relationship and eventually got engaged; she also started attending church more often, albeit not every week and not to the point of commitment. She still had questions that the clergy weren't able to answer to her satisfaction, but she took it as a sign of progress that she was willing to listen to their answers.
On the third anniversary of Baby Juan's birth, a postcard came to the NICU, addressed to Alison. On the front of the card was a reproduction of some Renaissance painting of the Madonna and child, and on the reverse, the message – written in a female hand – read:
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, no crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
Alison kept that unsigned postcard for the rest of her life. Sometimes she would recite its words as she stood, in the NICU, over the isolette or basinet of a sick child.
Including, ten years later, her own daughter.