I was watching a show the other night on the History Channel. It was about art crimes, those who commit them, and those who prosecute them. There was a piece about the theft, and subsequent recovery, of some stolen paintings, one of the original copies of the Constitution, and one about a Peruvian back plate, a three pound piece of worked gold designed to protect an ancient warrior-priest’s backside in battle.
They were all interesting, the Peruvian perhaps more so than the rest, but I’m not writing about the “art crime” part now. Instead, I’m writing about a little vignette at the end of the Peruvian piece describing some of the terrible things that happened to the guys who stole, transported, and sold the back plate. Kind of like King Tut’s Curse, South American-style.
One of the stories was about one of the U.S. brokers who was actually trying to sell the back plate after it was smuggled into America. It seems that after this whole thing went down, he and his wife had a baby boy. The child was born prematurely. Too prematurely to survive, it turns out. He lasted 44 days, and at the end, the intensive care nurse let the man hold his infant son for the last few minutes of his life.
I cried when I saw it the other night, and I’m shedding a tear or two right now, just putting “pen” to “paper” talking about it. And it’s not because I’m soft on criminals, and it’s not because every infant death affects me this way.
It’s because when my son was born, he was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for almost three weeks. My wife was on painkillers for a back injury when she was pregnant, you see, only she didn’t know she was pregnant until my son was six months along. By then, it was too late to stop the medication. My wife tapered off, but she couldn’t stop, because if my son had gone into withdrawal or seizures in utero, we would have lost him.
So my son was born addicted. My wife and I got to hold our son for about three days after he was born. After that, his symptoms and suffering were too severe, and he had to go to NICU. His tapering process went beautifully, all according to a three-week schedule. And my wife and I sat by his bed the entire three weeks. I left to go to work, but that was about it. I slept at the hospital, went to work, then came right back.
And during that entire time, we couldn’t hold our son. Not the way we wanted to. He had all kinds of wires and cables attached to him, so that we had to slide our way around all of them just to pick him up and tell him that we loved him.
Don’t get me wrong. I am extraordinarily grateful for the time my son stayed in NICU. It saved his life, and he is happy and healthy now. I saw five other children die in NICU, premature infants born without a chance, beyond the efforts of the heroic medical personnel who rushed to the bedside of even the most hopeless case. Infants like son of the art dealer I saw on the History Channel.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed that part of the show, except for the fact that I’ve gone through it myself, and I know how important it is just to hold your child. So my son’s and my three weeks of hell in NICU were good for something.
And when people ask me if I’m bitter about all the things I’ve lost in my life, all the pain I’ve caused, all the pain I've gone through, all the heartaches, I can honestly tell them no. No, because without them, I wouldn’t be able to open my heart the way I can today.