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An Artist in the University Medical Center Collection

Three infants in isolettes in an neonatology intensive care unit of a public hospital. Four nurses in sterile lab coat stand to the end of the isolettes.

'Neonatology Intensive Care Unit, Public Hospital'
From: An Artist in the University Medical Center plate 236, page 168
©May H. Lesser


The infants in the neonatology intensive care unit create an impression far beyond their minuscule size. I associate them with Alberto Giacometti's toothpick sculptures. Even when living beings are reduced to a minimum, they don't lose their human appearance. A thousand grams, a little more than two pounds, contain our whole essence.

These infants and the equipment used to treat them affect me profoundly. For example, it takes me many days to assimilate the inch-long needles. My brushstrokes become short, stiff, more delicate and detailed. I even dilute my black ink to make it lighter. Before me these scrawny red babies lie naked in what look like brightly lit cake boxes. Their eyes are covered. They're breathing fast, with so much effort to live.

A few babies die. A newborn transferred from another hospital has just died from an aplastic lung. Another died yesterday of a beta strep infection. Some staff members said that if he had reached the unit sooner, he might have been saved. His doctor kept waiting for him to get better.

A mother of one of the prematures comes to the nursery to read her baby's chart. She notes an episode of missed breathing. Because she's a nurse, this mother understands more than the other mothers. I wonder whether ignorance, if not bliss, is at least kinder than knowledge.