Early in December of each year, Santa starts his visits to the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s. We start with a photo visit for the little ones in the Neonatal Unit and the children in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. There might be thirty or forty babies in the nursery and NICU, but each one is brought to Santa. I sit in a rocking chair near a decorated tree for this special occasion. To keep all the details straight, a hospital photographer and a staff person with a clipboard match the child’s hospital armband number with the photo numbers. Near Santa on the wall is a hand sanitation unit where my big white gloves are sprayed to make them germ-free between every child.
Sometimes the family members are present, which adds to the fun. Sometimes there are twins. And sometimes children are brought attached to IV poles or oxygen apparatus. This gets a bit complicated. But sometimes the children are just incredibly small, and I marvel at the strength of their will to survive.
Once the photos are finished, Santa goes into the unit where the very little ones are in the controlled environment of an incubator. These infants cannot even be removed from the unit. For these shots, Santa gets down to the child’s level on the far side of the unit, while the photographer shoots through the plastic to record Santa‘s visit. The miracle children seem to get smaller every year. The tiniest child I have ever seen was less than 500 grams and born sixteen weeks premature.
The staff in the unit are wonderful. Little Santa hats, tiny Santa pyjamas and red-and-green blankets all come out when we record the child’s first visit with Santa. The whole event takes several hours, and it is so important for everyone. Sadly, not all the children pull through this stage. In those instances, the photos will form a lifelong memory for parents and friends.
On the same floor of the hospital is the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where there might be children of any age. In 2012, when we had completed the NICU visit, a nurse asked me a simple question.
“Will you visit PICU, Santa? There is only one child.”
My answer was immediate. “Of course!” Santa will visit wherever he is needed. The numbers of children, their names and even their conditions are not an issue. For each one, the visit is special – as we sense in this story from a mother of one of those children.
It was December 3rd, sometime in the morning, when I heard that Santa was going to be visiting the babies in the NICU (the nursery) that day. Our son Jacob was in the PICU (intensive care) and he was the only patient. I had asked several nurses if Santa was going to be coming here today as well, and they didn’t know – but they would certainly try to find one of Santa’s helpers to find out. Jacob was having a fussy day. The only place he wanted to be was up in Mommy’s or Daddy’s arms being rocked. If he was put in his crib at all he would cry, so we would pick him up again. Brian (his daddy) had decided to run home to get a quick bite to eat and shower, because we were spending every waking minute in the hospital, taking turns leaving for a few hours. I remember Nurse Emily dressed in her shamrock scrubs at Christmas time coming in all excited from the hallway saying, “He’s here and he’s coming to visit Jacob.” I was so excited that I immediately began to tear up. Our beautiful little boy was going to see Santa and have his picture taken. Two more nurses came over and said, “It’s only for a short time, so we are going to take Jacob’s oxygen off for the pictures.” Then, from just down the hallway, I heard Santa’s bells and as they got closer I began to cry harder, just from pure excitement. Then he came through the door with his helpers right behind. Two nurses came over and took Jacob and placed him in Santa’s arms. His helpers started taking some pictures, while I stood back and was so emotional that the nurses were coming over to comfort me. Then I watched Jacob look up and stare in amazement at this white bearded man holding him, as if to say, “Wow! This is nice.” Jacob was content. Then Santa started talking to him. At that moment I felt that Jacob understood every word. Santa said he had a very special bear that he gives a special baby, and he would like to give it to Jacob. Well, if Mommy had started to calm down, that went out the window. Now I started sobbing uncontrollably. At this point, the nurses took Jacob and put his oxygen back on. Then Santa came over and put his arms around me and said that Santa gives the best hugs – and boy, does he ever! It was an amazing experience, one I will never forget. Five days later, on Saturday, December 8th, Jacob’s three-month birthday, he was released from the hospital. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Santa’s helper came in with the pictures they had taken a few days before. On December 12th, just a few short days later, at home in his Mommy’s and Daddy’s arms, Jacob passed away due to being born with Edwards syndrome. We are so grateful to have had Jacob’s picture taken with Santa, and to have a special teddy bear to treasure forever – along with the wonderful memories Jacob gave us in the short three months and four days he was here with us. So, thank you, Santa, for visiting our son Jacob and for giving us the memory that our little boy saw Santa before he passed away. Your teddy, the photos and our memories will be with us forever.
The Man With the White Beard
by Bruce Templeton
$21.95, hardcover, 180 pp.
Creative Book Publishing, September 2014