In 1960 alone, about one in 40 newborns born in the U.S. would not leave the hospital alive, and many of those who did were not presented to the parents in factory condition. The most common problem with premature babies is their lungs not working well, so for the longest time, hospitals pumped oxygen into their incubators to help them breathe.
Unfortunately, we then discovered that too much oxygen made premature babies blind, as it caused their retinas to detach. (Sorry, Stevie Wonder!) But when we did the next logical thing and kept the oxygen lower to protect the babies' eyes, we screwed up and accidentally went a little too low, resulting in a bunch of kids coming down with mental disabilities. Oops.
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In the end, we discovered that preemies like to start their days the same way as everyone else: with beautiful, life giving caffeine.
Doctors finally started getting their shit together around 1963, after they failed to save JFK's son. His name was Patrick and he was born about a month too early. These days, it is nearly unheard of for such a baby to die, but back then, the hospital couldn't even keep the freaking President's child alive for two days. Things got better after that, but it was a slow, bumpy process.
The Job Is Both Heaven And Hell
We have to handle babies who are so premature that their skin comes off at the slightest touch, whose eyelids are fused, or whose lungs are like those of an 80-year-old smoker. Do that more than once, and you'll be ready to drink yourself into oblivion ...
"Code Red. I need 50 ccs, stat."
But then the next day, I might come home all happy and jazzed-up on adrenaline because I got to save a newborn's life by sticking a giant needle into its chest while imagining I'm John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, or because I got to watch an AWESOME fetal surgery on the hospital TV while eating popcorn. (Word of advice: If a nurse ever asks if you want to see something "awesome," you should probably say "no" and start running in the opposite direction.)
Just don't run screaming; there are kids trying to sleep around here.
Jane Doe is a nurse, ex-NICU parent, and the most depressing person to have at dinner parties when you ask her what she does for a living. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at email@example.com
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