The entryway to the neonatal intensive-care unit in my hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, is lined with photographs of children who were born prematurely. Jeremiah, delivered at twenty-four weeks, sixteen weeks early, weighed one pound six ounces. In the picture, he’s a robust teen-ager, seated at a piano. Nearby is a photo of Caroline, a blond ten-year-old in a blue uniform, holding a lacrosse stick. She was born at twenty-five weeks, when her mother’s placenta abruptly tore apart. Caroline has cerebral palsy, and wears an ankle-and-foot brace on her right leg, but she “is able to dance, swim, ride a two-wheel bike, play lacrosse,” and “is very social,” according to the caption below the photo. Across the hall is a photograph of Jackie, who’s on a swing. Her mother’s placenta became infected at twenty-four weeks, and she was delivered “blue,” with collapsed lungs. Jackie was not expected to live through the first twenty-four hours. She’s now eight years old, with a lingering lung problem, but her mother describes her as “a very beautiful girl with lots of energy. Her favorite food is everything.” A few steps away, there is a drawing of a tree with leaves made of paper. On each leaf is the name of an infant who did not survive.
Jerome Groopman gives us a view inside a neonatal intensive care unit and families and babies who pass through. The physicians and nurses who dedicate their lives here are extraordinary. And there's so much they can't know.