Elizabeth L. Silver: Dealing with Uncertainty in the NICU

By Cassandra Lane

the tincture of time

Elizabeth L. Silver is the author of The Tincture of Time, a memoir about living with uncertainty during her daughter’s life-threatening medical emergency. PHOTO COURTESY ELIZABETH L. SILVER

When we bring our first newborn baby home from the hospital, we expect that we’ll be up at ungodly hours. We have been told by loved ones and strangers alike that our lives are about to change forever. In the midst of our nervousness and joy, we accept these night- and life-altering changes with chagrin and glee. 

Three-and-a-half years ago, L.A. parents Elizabeth L. Silver and her husband, Amir, were in the midst of new parenthood when their 6-week-old daughter started having seizures. Silver, whose surgeon father had allowed her to watch one of his surgeries when she was 10, tried to stay calm as she and Amir, also a physician, attempted to figure out what was causing their baby’s convulsions and vomiting. Wrestling with guilt, fear and contradicting expert theories, the couple learned that their daughter, Abby, was suffering from serious brain bleeds. No one knew why.  

Their time in the newborn and infant critical care unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is dramatically chronicled in Silver’s memoir, “The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty.” Weaving science, mythology, interviews and memoir, the book is beautifully written, suspenseful and, at times, hard to read as we worry about little Abby and her parents. Fortunately, they all pull through this traumatic experience. 

At what point did you realize you needed to write about what happened to Abby, you and Amir? 

Initially, I wrote down everything that was happening as a means of documentation. If I could help convey the details of events to medical professionals, then we could get my daughter the best help available, we could solve the mystery and she could heal. I also wanted my daughter to know what had happened, and I wanted her to have a record of this time before her memory truly formed.  

Can the writing process help parents who aren’t writers deal with trauma? 

Absolutely! You don’t have to be a writer to write down your thoughts and feelings to help you navigate a difficult time. You can do so for yourself. In fact, I think this form of expression is key to the healing process for many people suffering physical or emotional trauma. I recently teamed with the PEN Center USA to teach a writing workshop at Cancer Support Community Los Angeles for those who are coping with difficult diagnoses. the tincture of time

Any advice for parents dealing with emergency situations? 

Having a concrete and objective form of a narrative to present to your medical team is the most helpful information you can provide. For example, taking videos, audio recordings, handwritten notes, photos that you can present to your doctor while presenting your narrative can only help clarify an already tense and potentially mysterious and misunderstood situation. 

Abby is now a healthy 3½-year-old and you also have a 17-month-old son. What is family life like now? 

My son is an exact replica of my husband in looks and personality, and my daughter is my mini-me. My son is tremendously loving and plays a 24/7 game of peek-a-boo. My daughter is in preschool and is active, happy, joyous and a typical “three-nager.” Her memory is remarkable. She loves to sing and dance and perform, to read. Her empathy for others astounds me. She adores her little brother and her friends, and I am grateful every day for her health and recovery. 

To purchase “The Tincture of Time” on Amazon click here.

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