Thursday, February 13, 2014

Million Dollar Baby

Dear Ellie,

There are a lot of things we can afford to ignore here at the NICU.  The constant beeping, the perpetual crying, the fatigue of long days and late nights at your bedside… but there is one part of your NICU stay that one cannot ignore: the bill.  There are innumerable economic and philosophical implications surrounding the expenses involved with taking care of a preemie born as young as you, but we’ll set that aside for a later letter, maybe.

For now, let’s just examine the sheer VOLUME of resources involved with keeping you alive.  Here in the NICU, there are scores and scores of high-cost diagnostic instruments that are employed to assess your condition, sometimes daily.  Your incubator alone costs around $35,000.  And the manpower?  You are never, ever left alone.  By my observation, there is roughly two specialist per baby (so that means two highly trained professionals, often doctors, working to keep you alive 24 hours a day).  And of course, I’m sure the hospital is charging us $100 per diaper and $50 per alcohol swab whenever we aren’t looking.  When all is said and done, the bill per day is between $3000-$6000.  When you consider that you’ll be here at the NICU for about 4-6 months, the total comes to $360,000-$1,000,000.  This number might be optimistic because because many people have reported bills as high as 2 million dollars.  Fortunately, insurance will cover virtually all of the expense, but the cost of your survival is ultimately shifted to society at large.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, baby girl.  Or a free 6 month NICU stay.  Someone’s gotta pay.

In that way, a great debt is owed that weighs heavily on the conscious of your mother and I.  And we always repay what we owe.  Therefore, in the coming years, we will do everything in our power… to make sure YOU pay it back!

That’s right Ellie, darling, your uphill battle won’t be over once you leave the NICU, but don’t worry, we’ll get you started as soon as possible.  It will be a hard road to travel, but your mother and I are willing to make that sacrifice.  As soon as you can crawl, we’ll hook you up to a little toy carriage: the kind that a My Little Pony might tow a Barbie Princess on.  We’ll start a clever, lucrative business called: Adorable Deliveries.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  "I didn't even know how to count yet, so how could I do any of the accounting?"  To this, I say: "Don’t worry, we’ll do all the bookwork and all you’ll have to do is the leg work" (or the knee work, specifically, because you won’t be able to walk yet).  Adorable Deliveries will be a specialty freight delivery option on Amazon.  I've already got the slogan figured out: “Precious items delivered to your door by a precious little baby!” 

At times, it won't be easy.  It’ll break my heart seeing you tow around little boxes of jewelry and the like.  To see your tiny little knees skinned up by the hot, rugged asphalt.  But in this splendid capitalist experiment we call the U.S.A., everyone must pull their own weight (and sometimes the weight of a 24 karat gold, diamond studded ring, as well). 

As you get older, we’ll have to adapt, since you won’t be a cute baby for very long.  The profitability of cuteness diminishes with age and random strangers will care about you considerably less as time goes on.  Door to door cookie sales is an option, but not profitable enough.  You’d have to sell at least four million over-priced cookies to pay off your debt.  That's a lot of diabetes, and I refuse to inflict health problems on the rest of society in order to pay for yours.  So instead, we’ll prepare the backyard for some commodity crops.  It’ll be difficult for your mother and I--- glancing aside from the couch through a crack in the blinds--- as you till the fields amid the glowing orange light of the harvest moon.  Despite the pain in our hearts, we’ll find peace knowing that we are doing what is best for you.

Keep in mind, too, that there have been many kind friends and relatives who have helped us during your time here at the NICU.  Like good parents, we’ll afford you the opportunity to pay them back, too... but it’ll probably have to be after you’re done taking care of your mother and I in the frailty of our old age.  If it looks like you are falling behind on your payments, we can give you forbearance on the money you owe us for the food you ate as a child.  Parenthood is as much about flexibility and adaptability as it is love and nurture.  You’ll learn that one day when you have children of your own.  

Now, I know you will probably chaff at the perceived injustice of it all, but before you shout, “child workers of the world, unite!” understand that I’ve felt the way that you have, once.  One time, your grandmother made me do the dishes.  “Why do I have to do the dishes if I not only didn’t cook the meal, but only ate a small fraction?!” I asked.  Your grandmother was patient and wise.  She sat me down and said something that would change how I felt about responsibility and duty for the rest of my life.  Something now, that I wish to share with you.  Unfortunately, I can't do that because I wasn’t really listening to her at the time (I wasn’t paying attention for good reason.  The First Gen X-box console hit the market that summer and the legendary Halo 1 was released!  I was developing a strategy for using the energy pistol in team death matches for months to come!  You see honey, in First Person Shooter Video Games, if you master the starting weapons, you won’t have to rely too much on “better” weapons like shotguns and rocket launchers.  If there is one vital lesson I can impart on you, it’s the importance of working with whatever it is the world gives you.  Mastering such a skill will make you well rounded and consequently, you’ll always do well if you get crappy teammates or you end up on multi-player maps that are unfamiliar to you.  Also, get in the habit of being well rounded because it sometimes can be good for stuff other than video games.  Stuff like life).

What were we talking about again?    

Oh yes, responsibility and debts.  There will be times in your life when you wish your life was different.  Just keep in mind, precious daughter, that there are many people in the world right now that are less fortunate than you.  People suffering in the slums of India.  Children wracked with malaria in sub-Saharan African.  Billionaires who have tragically had their 2.25 percent capital gains tax cuts relinquished and who now must wait for a tax holiday before they can sell their stock in Exxon-Mobil and buy that island for which their heart has yearned since their earliest... you know, that’s enough examples for right now, honey.

Just know that through all of your ups and your downs, you can find solace in that fact that your mother and I love you with all of our hearts.  You are the light of our life.  Even if it feels unfair at times, we know what’s best for you.  The hospital gave us a free pamphlet on how to be good parents.  I made sure that your mother read the entire thing.

Love always,

Your Father

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