Follow Their Eyes

By Jarrett Cobbs
Illustration by Phile

You never know how important reading a person’s face is until you can’t see it. As the globe was rudely greeted with the largest public health crisis in one hundred years, I was meeting the largest personal challenge of my life: having a child.

My son Rex was born on March 26th, 2020. He arrived one month early and was born into a time that I don’t think he will fully be able to comprehend until his generation has their own moment when the earth stands still. More than anything throughout this time, I have felt woefully unprepared. Truly, you can only ever be so ready or so well-equipped to bring a child into the world, but having to tack on dealing with life-altering circumstances that impact your every movement and action—it shakes you both existentially and physically to your core.

Being in a hospital during the COVID-19 crisis was one of the most intense times of my life, but as the pandemic put the city that never sleeps on life support, I was surrounded by resolve. Despite the circumstances of working through an ongoing pandemic, the medical professionals around me were able to demonstrably convey a quiet confidence even though it was hidden from view. Every single person in the hospital wore a face mask. Immediately, impressions and body language take on new if partially obscured meaning. It’s a very trying challenge to add to the already complicated nature of childbirth when the comfort of a smile or the stern confidence of a steely visage can never be seen even if you’re cognizant that they are there.

As such, a considerable amount of communication and emoting was conveyed and felt through the hospital staff’s eyes. My son Rex was admitted to the Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for issues with breathing. If you have ever met a nurse or a doctor that works in the NICU then you have met a proper angel. Their jobs are incredibly difficult, even so far as healthcare workers are concerned, requiring a patience and love of life that few humans possess. And now, with everything going on, the stakes were heightened even further. Still, I trusted in the NICU staff and knew that, with Rex in their care, he was not far away from being discharged. The nurses and doctors were doing God’s work while living through professional demands that I’m sure repeatedly challenged their faith and resolve. Yet, with them, you wouldn’t have known that there was anything going on in the world. They provided the best possible care while not letting slip in the dismay of the crisis to.

Their eyes told me that Rex was going to be all right and that everything else would work itself out as well. The only crack in the armor that I saw happened when I broke protocol. There is an unwritten rule that when you are taking care of a child that your focus is unreservedly devoted to that mission. It is a very insular experience that purposefully keeps the rest of the world and personal feelings at a distance.

Their eyes told me that Rex was going to be all right and that everything else would work itself out as well.

With all that was going on outside it dawned on me that going to work in a hospital during this time was a scary experience. “How are you doing?” I asked the nurse that was teaching me how to hold my son. I think she could tell that it was a serious question. Her eyes immediately changed and her sadness and exasperation were written across her brow. A small tear welled up in her eye. I don’t think anyone had asked her that in a long time. She quickly wiped the tear away and said: “It’s tough, but I have the best job in the world.” Then, just as quickly, her eyes returned to delivering the sentiment of solace to me and the other unnerved new parents.

In these uncertain times, when every day is a challenge, it is hard to know who to trust. Leaders, pundits, and public figures are pushing the masses in opposite directions. Getting caught in their ebb and flow is a daily occurrence. But my lesson from this all is: When you are looking for the truth, look in their eyes. Their eyes will betray their motives. It will give you all the information you need.

I imagine that one day when it is safe to go back to the hospital, I will thank the women and men who helped my son even though, I realize, I have no idea what they looked like. But my confidence in finding them remains because I will never forget those eyes.︎