I scanned the crowd, looking for the sweet woman who was always by her baby's bedside, day and night. I looked for Dr. Dar. And for the three nurses I loved best, all named Jennifer. I looked for the sleepless but incredibly competent residents. And the Spanish-speaking grandfather who was once accidentally left behind by the rest of his family - with no way to tell anyone he'd been abandoned.
I looked for all the people who had touched us during the month that Zev spent at Children's Hospital of Orange County's neonatal intensive care unit. I didn't see any of them.
Oh well, I told myself. The reunion ended at noon, and we showed up at 11 a.m. What did I expect? At a quarter to noon, we found one of the nurses we knew, said hello, schmoozed with parents we hadn't met before and then prepared to take off. Kind of a bust, really.
Then I saw him. He was walking briskly to his truck, a purposeful stride that made him instantly recognizable, even without his police officer's uniform.
The day Zev left CHOC, attached to an oxygen tank and still so frail, Officer Dad was the last person I said goodbye to. I hadn't made a point of doing so, it's just that he was standing in the hallway, and we'd seen each other in passing every day for a month, and I was so gushingly happy to be taking Zev home that I just extended my hand, introduced myself and said goodbye.
By way of introduction, he told me about his son.
Officer Dad's baby was born so extremely premature that he weighed less than 1 pound and could fit in the palm of your hand. He may have been the smallest baby the NICU had ever seen - no one knew for sure. But he wasn't going to make it, that much everyone did know. His lungs were underdeveloped, his brain was underdeveloped, his heart, his digestive organs, his everything.
After a few weeks of trying to keep him alive, the doctors and nurses told the family nothing more could be done. The tiny baby was taken off his ventilators in a solemn ceremony at his bedside. As a priest gathered with the family to give the last rites to this unlived life, the baby's mom asked to pick him up. Because he'd been in an incubator for so long, this would be the first time she would hold him in her arms.
"And something happened," Officer Dad said.
Pressed against his mother, the baby's vitals signs started to return.
He normalized. He came back.
From that day forward he kept fighting - just like Zev, just like all the kids who have "graduated" from the NICU - to stay alive.
The day Zev was born, a doctor told me, "He has one foot in this world, one foot in the next." I'm just glad he extended so much as a foot, so we could all grab it and pull him here.
Officer Dad's story reminded me of that. I've thought of it countless times as Zev has defied odds and gotten better. So when I saw him at the reunion a few weeks ago, I practically chased him down.
"Hey," I said, breaking away from my family and running. "Hey ."
He turned around, and I flooded him with questions. How is your son?
When did you come home from the hospital? How much does he weigh now?
Officer Dad answered all my questions evenly and then asked me one of his own: "Wanna hold him?"
I had never actually seen him before, sequestered as he was in a private room. So holding him felt something like a miracle. He held me in his gaze, and I told him that I'm proud of him for being well enough to go home and that I know he'll keep growing bigger and stronger. Then he rested his head on my shoulder, reached up his tiny hand and stroked my cheek. I felt like I was receiving a blessing.
I handed back this amazing baby; and just like I had 10 months earlier, I said goodbye to Officer Dad, gathered my own son and headed home, truly touched.