Baby ER: The Heroic Doctors and Nurses Who Perform Medicine's Tiniest Miracles

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With Baby ER, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes tells the unforgettable story of wonder and hope that lies at medicine's cutting edge, where extraordinary healers and extraordinary patients come together to make miracles -- in a place where lives are held, literally, in the palms of doctors' hands.

For the parents of sick and premature babies, some weighing less than a pound and no bigger than a can of cola, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- the "Baby ER" -- is their one ...

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Overview

With Baby ER, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes tells the unforgettable story of wonder and hope that lies at medicine's cutting edge, where extraordinary healers and extraordinary patients come together to make miracles -- in a place where lives are held, literally, in the palms of doctors' hands.

For the parents of sick and premature babies, some weighing less than a pound and no bigger than a can of cola, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- the "Baby ER" -- is their one bastion of hope during the most terrifying moments of their lives, when their children's very survival hangs in the balance. Given unprecedented access to this normally private world, Humes witnesses the midnight deliveries, the harrowing Code Blues, the heart-wrenching setbacks; be there when a young mother first holds her son as he finally emerges from the incubator, and for the triumphant day of discharge, when families are at last made whole.

Set in Southern California's Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, home to one of the largest and most respected neonatal units in the nation, Baby ER also describes the inspiring and dramatic efforts of the uniquely gifted physicians, nurses and other healers who work medicine's tiniest miracles, bringing life to a place where, for all but a minute fraction of human history, death has reigned supreme. The neonatal unit has been transformed in recent years by revolutionary advances that have enabled impossibly small preemies not only to survive but to thrive. Children born so early they would have been considered miscarriages fifteen years ago are now going home in their car seats thanks to state-of-the-art care; parents who would have faced unspeakable loss now have diapers to change.

But there is also a cost to the wonders of technology and skill that preserve such fragile lives. Though joy is most often the result of this remarkable brand of medicine called neonatology, a life saved does not always lead to a life worth living. The accompanying burdens -- sometimes grievous ones -- raise difficult moral, ethical and financial questions. In a narrative both lyrical and intense, Humes does not skirt these tough questions, nor do the talented physicians at the center of Baby ER, who must ask themselves not only how far they can go to save a child, but how far they should go. In an era when aggressive new fertility treatments have created an epidemic of high-risk multiple births, and one in ten babies in the U.S. is born premature, Baby ER provides a timely and compelling portrait of medicine's brave new world.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Curwen
It is a remarkable and searing book: Some cries, we quickly learn, can never be comforted; some silences can never be coaxed into a cry....In Baby E.R., Humes has written a book that is hard to forget, a picture of sadness and joy that is all the more beautiful for its pervasive humanity and its inherent mystery. When one nurse comments, "You know, you work here, you can't help but believe in God, that there's something more going on here than what we do and what the doctors do and what the drugs do," you can't help but believe her.
Los Angeles Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Humes (Mean Justice; etc.) spent a year observing life inside the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach, Calif. In this heart-stopping account of medical prowess, triumph and tragedy, Humes writes about 11 critically ill premature babies (seven of whom survive). According to the author, premature births are on the rise for a number of reasons, including the wide use of fertility treatments, which have resulted in many more high-risk premature multiple births. Many premature births, however, are unanticipated; in some cases, it is unclear why they occur, while in others, a mother's drug addiction or undetected genetic disorder plays a role. The author portrays both the commitment and skill of the medical professionals who perform technologically advanced surgical and treatment miracles on newborns who often cannot eat or breathe on their own, singling out the indispensable role of the overworked and underpaid neonatal nurses, who provide not only physical care to infants, but also emotional support to the parents. Humes is also clear about the economic realities of neonatology, "a growth business"--which he attributes to insurance companies' fear of denying coverage in the face of negative publicity and huge public support for this special and specialized area of medicine--and NICUs' resulting profitability, "which is why they are being scarfed up by Wall Street medical conglomerates." Readers who are drawn to tales of medical emergencies and victories will take to this title. There will be a 20-city radio satellite tour and local publicity in southern California, where the author resides. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
L'ange Vert
[Humes] does a masterly job of portraying the daily grind . . . Despite its flaws, I found 'Baby ER' to be splendid reading. . . . [G]reat medical storytelling forces us to look at humanity's best and worst aspects.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684864105
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Humes
Edward Humes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting, is the author of many critically acclaimed nonfiction books including, Monkey Girl, School of Dreams, Mississippi Mud, Mean Justice, and Garbology. He is currently writer-at-large for Los Angeles Magazine and lives in California. Visit EdwardHumes.com.
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Read an Excerpt

Baby Er

The Heroic Doctors and Nurses Who Perform Medicine's Tinies Miracles
By Edward Humes

Simon & Schuster

Copyright ©2004 Edward Humes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743264436


Chapter One


Admission History and Physical:

Allman, BB
Day of Life: 1
Days in NICU: 1
Condition: Critical


Robert Allman races down the hospital hallway, following the plastic embossed signs leading him toward his son, a baby born far too soon, a frighteningly motionless child who had been swept from the delivery room inside the heated acrylic case of a premature-infant transporter, bound for something called the "Nick-you." That was how the nurses pronounced it, turning the acronym into words, confusing Robert until his stress-fogged mind pieced it together. Nick-you...NICU. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

How could he have forgotten that? They had told him about the Nick-you, showed it to him, readied him for it — though that brief tour seemed a lifetime ago, which in a way it was. His son's life had not yet begun back then. Now the baby was here. And everything was going to hell.

Robert thought he was prepared for this moment, but he wasn't, he realized, not even close. Both he and Amalia had been lulled by nine uneventful days of hospital bed rest, her leaking amniotic fluid and premature labor stopped in its tracks bypowerful drugs. They were buying precious time, the doctors said. Every extra day in the womb meant the baby's survival chances would increase. Each day they held out without rushing to the delivery room, each day Amalia spent confined to bed twenty-three hours a day like some prisoner in solitary, meant two fewer days in the Nick-you for the baby, the doctors said. If they could somehow hold out for six weeks, they'd be home free: The dangers and uncertainties of premature birth would vanish like a nightmare at daybreak.

And it had looked for a time as if that might happen. Amalia Allman had been determined to keep that baby in, by sheer force of will if necessary. She had always been the strong one, Robert would say, the one who had grown up first and had helped him do the same. Whereas he would have gone stark raving mad, she had settled in with her books, her cross-stitching, his Game Boy, camped out for the long haul. When she had made it past the first forty-eight hours, a nurse had told her she was over the hump: Half the premature labor cases never made it to this point — she was doing great.

But today, day ten, out of nowhere, the contractions had kicked back in with a vengeance, excruciating and insistent, unstoppable this time despite the IVs, the breathing exercises, the prayers. The delivery had been awful. Despite the baby's half-normal size, his shoulders had been turned in such a way that he had gotten stuck. The neonatologist had stood poised at the foot of the operating table to receive him with a blue warming blanket in hand, exchanging worried glances with her nurse as the obstetrician struggled to extract the little boy. The fragile baby had been bruised from head to toe in the process, his head pulled into a frightening cone by the force of the vacuum extractor used to wrest him from the womb. He had cried, but just for a moment. Then the neonatal team had gone to work, the cries silenced by a plastic tube and the sudden, searing flow of pure oxygen down his small windpipe.

Now all Robert could think of were the stuffed animals he hadn't had time to buy, the baby's room that was nowhere near ready, the sheer normalcy of their shattered plans, all of it contrasted with the image of that tiny bruised baby — oh, God, he was so bruised — who hadn't cried or moved or even looked quite real as he entered the world. He and Amalia had barely gotten a look at him. Holding their son had been out of the question: He was headed to Baby ER.

Now Robert simply wants to find him, the vivid cartoon characters and nursery verse adorning the corridors of the children's hospital passing by in a surreal blur. "Go," Amalia had told him as they stitched her up, "I'll be fine. Just go. Stay with him." And so he dodges visitors and gurneys, desperate and helpless and alone, running toward his new son, toward the unknown.

Continues...


Excerpted from Baby Er by Edward Humes Copyright ©2004 by Edward Humes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

Admission History and Physical:

Allman, BB
Day of Life: 1
Days in NICU: 1
Condition: Critical


Robert Allman races down the hospital hallway, following the plastic embossed signs leading him toward his son, a baby born far too soon, a frighteningly motionless child who had been swept from the delivery room inside the heated acrylic case of a premature-infant transporter, bound for something called the "Nick-you." That was how the nurses pronounced it, turning the acronym into words, confusing Robert until his stress-fogged mind pieced it together. Nick-you...NICU. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

How could he have forgotten that? They had told him about the Nick-you, showed it to him, readied him for it — though that brief tour seemed a lifetime ago, which in a way it was. His son's life had not yet begun back then. Now the baby was here. And everything was going to hell.

Robert thought he was prepared for this moment, but he wasn't, he realized, not even close. Both he and Amalia had been lulled by nine uneventful days of hospital bed rest, her leaking amniotic fluid and premature labor stopped in its tracks by powerful drugs. They were buying precious time, the doctors said. Every extra day in the womb meant the baby's survival chances would increase. Each day they held out without rushing to the delivery room, each day Amalia spent confined to bed twenty-three hours a day like some prisoner in solitary, meant two fewer days in the Nick-you for the baby, the doctors said. If they could somehow hold out for six weeks, they'd be home free: The dangers anduncertainties of premature birth would vanish like a nightmare at daybreak.

And it had looked for a time as if that might happen. Amalia Allman had been determined to keep that baby in, by sheer force of will if necessary. She had always been the strong one, Robert would say, the one who had grown up first and had helped him do the same. Whereas he would have gone stark raving mad, she had settled in with her books, her cross-stitching, his Game Boy, camped out for the long haul. When she had made it past the first forty-eight hours, a nurse had told her she was over the hump: Half the premature labor cases never made it to this point — she was doing great.

But today, day ten, out of nowhere, the contractions had kicked back in with a vengeance, excruciating and insistent, unstoppable this time despite the IVs, the breathing exercises, the prayers. The delivery had been awful. Despite the baby's half-normal size, his shoulders had been turned in such a way that he had gotten stuck. The neonatologist had stood poised at the foot of the operating table to receive him with a blue warming blanket in hand, exchanging worried glances with her nurse as the obstetrician struggled to extract the little boy. The fragile baby had been bruised from head to toe in the process, his head pulled into a frightening cone by the force of the vacuum extractor used to wrest him from the womb. He had cried, but just for a moment. Then the neonatal team had gone to work, the cries silenced by a plastic tube and the sudden, searing flow of pure oxygen down his small windpipe.

Now all Robert could think of were the stuffed animals he hadn't had time to buy, the baby's room that was nowhere near ready, the sheer normalcy of their shattered plans, all of it contrasted with the image of that tiny bruised baby — oh, God, he was so bruised — who hadn't cried or moved or even looked quite real as he entered the world. He and Amalia had barely gotten a look at him. Holding their son had been out of the question: He was headed to Baby ER.

Now Robert simply wants to find him, the vivid cartoon characters and nursery verse adorning the corridors of the children's hospital passing by in a surreal blur. "Go," Amalia had told him as they stitched her up, "I'll be fine. Just go. Stay with him." And so he dodges visitors and gurneys, desperate and helpless and alone, running toward his new son, toward the unknown.

Copyright © 2000 by Edward Humes

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2001

    An amazing book!!

    This book is amazingly well written. It not only gives you a medical tour of the NICU but is also moving and captivating. I believe that anyone would be fascinated by the topic and thoroughly enjoy reading this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2001

    A 'must-read' for every parent-to-be

    This is mind and heart stuff. The real thing...and written as a source of hope, and a real tribute to all those amazing people that work for the true love of other people, and that don't get the recognition and help that they need so much. This is our future...the entire human race depends on the way things are handled by the people that work the Nicu's, not how the HMO's want it to be done. Edward Humes has done a brilliant job of bringing all of these important issues to our attention...now we need to learn from it. Thank you to him!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2000

    I Stayed Up All Night To Finish - and Loved It

    I haven't read a book in a long time that made me laugh, cry and hope as much as Baby ER, or that kept me up all night reading about the miracles that go on in the furtherst corners of our hospitals. Every parent, and every one who expects to be a parent, should read this marvelous story about the best nurses, doctors and healers you've ever seen, and the amazing babies and families they bring back from the brink. This is how we wish ALL of medicine worked - dedicated, tireless, humane. What a joy to read. It restored my faith in the medical world, at least a little.

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