I look down at the rough paper towel I'm using and cringe. I've been struggling with my cracked, sore hands, but no lotion can combat the amount of hand washing I do here. Every time I walk into the NICU I wash my hands, and then again each time I move back and forth between my twin boys. I have probably washed my hands a thousand times in the five months since their birth. I smile as I realize this is my last time doing this here; the first of many things I will do for the last time today.
We're totally organized to go home. Most of the boys' belongings have been slowly leaving with us all week. Their nurse and I review their complicated medication schedule and then our pediatrician arrives, ready to give them their well baby exam; it's strange to see after all the intense procedures they've been through. She graciously lets our three year old daughter help her, explaining everything as she goes along. She is kind and beautiful and our daughter is enamoured by her.
When both boys have been assessed, my husband and I excitedly dress them. For months they wore only a diaper in their hot, humid isolette; when they could maintain their own body temperature in a crib they graduated to sleepers with a hole cut in the leg, allowing for the wires connected to their monitors. Today they are free to wear whatever we choose and I have carefully considered the cutest possible outfits. When they're ready to be shown off we parade them through the nursery and everyone shrieks at the sight of them. We joke that babies are seldom big enough to leave the hospital wearing jeans, collared shirts and sweater vests.
As we're making our final preparations, one of the neonatologists comes in to say goodbye. "Can I hold them?" she asks, clarifying, "as babies, not as patients". The boys were at their most fragile, barely tolerating touch when they were under her care, so this is the most contact she has ever had with them. We snap a photo of her and our pediatrician before she hands them back to us, telling us how proud she is of them. I'm sure I see her eyes glossing over.
After strapping them into their car seats, there's nothing left to do but say our final goodbyes. Everyone is so happy for us, knowing what a long journey we've been on. The staff take a family picture and admire the boys one last time. They make us promise to visit and keep them updated on the boys' progress. We hug them and thank them and tell them how much they mean to us but the words aren't needed. They know.
And then we turn and walk out the door. It should feel surreal but it doesn't. We're all more than ready to go home.