Last Tuesday I spent the day with the Princess in the Pediatric ward of one of our upmarket private hospitals. She mostly slept, sometimes puked, so I mostly sat with her, read and observed. And had a chat or two with some of the other parents. It is such a sad, but also positive place to be and the staff is more often the dedicated ones than anywhere else (apart maybe the NICU) in a hospital. I have in the past spent two solid weeks on separate occasions and 3 single day at 3 different hospital's wards so I am somewhat of a veteran. We even had the same head of the unit that I had when I spent a week there back in 2008 with Little man L! Even though (thank goodness)it has been 3 years since I spent time in one of these, the types remain the same:
The short term stayers
A first visit to the hospital and just for the day. Like the mom with the 7 year old boy who has an abscess that was drained. They do not leave their children's beds for a second, but try to be relaxed although stressed. They make optimal use of the free coffee and tea station and try to get home asap.Carefully chosen gifts and distractions are brought along. Often mom and dad are there for at least a part of the day. They do not talk much to the other parents, they just focus on their child. When another child near them cry, they call the staff, or go into an isolation room (despite the notices) to console a child themselves.
The first timers
These are first timers not just for a simple procedure, but because their kids are really sick for the first time. They always try to get one of the mom's rooms, even though they might not breast feed any more (and I did get one for both my week long stays with the kids, but I was breastfeeding). They fully intend to stay with their kids every second of the day. Often mom and dad are there - plus other family members like grannies etc bringing clothes etc and hastily purchased gifts form the hospital coffee shop. On Tuesday this was the very young mom of a 3 month old boy who had bronchiolitus. She was shattered when he cried and cried while they nebulized him. Scared of the oxygen pipes. And never moved from his side. I think some 10 other family members came to the bed during the day. Once everybody has left and their child is sleeping, they might make eye contact with you and greet you. A sure sign of wanting to talk a bit about all this with someone that may not worry about their child too.
The "here by accident" ones
There are always at least one of these in any ward - just find the kids with the balloons, flowers and soft toys crowding the space. Often they broke and arm badly in a sports match or on the playground, or something of the sort. The older the patient, the more the clutter and visitors. These are generally the noisiest patients too and they may pop out now and again to see friends (not allowed int he ward) in the hallway, crutches, wheelchair and drip stands and all.The parents have friends popping in often and they do not tend to mix too much with the other parents unless it become a long term stay, in which case they become first timers.
The occasional veterans
Here I count myself in - it is those of us who have had more than one stay with a kid in the hospital - possibly this one, but maybe others. We are good chart readers and maybe know some of the staff, who might or might not remember us. We know that the staff is crucial to our child's well being and am as help full, but persistent as the occasion calls for. We already know about the tea and coffee, but also realize that a few minutes of quiet in the coffee shop while your child sleeps, is like balm for the soul. We also know that the coffee shop delivers if needed. We know that sometimes it takes sooner to get meds there if you go to the pharmacy yourself. We know some of the doctors, some of which were on stand by when our kids were there before.On Tuesday, our paediatrician was surprised to see us there, only to learn that we were there for the plastic surgeon and not for her. She still stopped for a chat and asked out about all her patients and had a look at the Princess. We are the talkers, the consolers of others. We ask about the other kids and tell our tales if called for. We know how the channels on the TV work and that sometimes silence is golden. We come armed with colouring books and a book for ourselves to read plus a magazine, for those times when you simply can not concentrate. And a laptop - to catch up on work. Because sometimes you just do not know how long you may be there. We know that sometimes you sleep over and sometimes you don't. Moms and dads and sometimes other family tend to spend some time together, but to do a bit of a "tag" to allow the other some time off.
Long term veterans
These are the really sad cases, with the most upbeat parents. The cancer kids, the kids who had multiple operations to correct birth defect etc. The staff knows them by the name and does not call them the pesky "mommy" or "daddy". The parents who read charts with confidence, who have the coffee shop in the lobby's number on their phones but rather go downstairs to have some quiet time. The ones where the kids own an ipad or a portable DVD player. They look relaxed in the most dire of circumstances and generally are one parent at a time only with the child. They know that track suit and jeans are more comfortable that anything fashionable.
The newly diagnosed parents that will become the long term veterans. They have already picked up on reading charts and lots of clever looking professors pop in during the day. The sadness is overwhelming. It is all so new, although it has sunk in that this will be part of their lives forever. Tuesday I met the parents of a 3 month old boy who was born with a cancer growth on his liver. He has seen 9 doctors in 6 days and had his port planted in the day before so that chemotherapy can start soon. The mom's eyes are swollen - she says that she is done crying - now they need to move on. The dad is positive and was so worried about our little girl that really, was just nauseous. Maybe it is a coping mechanism - reaching out to others while your child is so desperately sick.. My heart just went out to them and I find myself remembering them in my prayers long before the list of others start.
I truly hope that we will spent as least as possible time in one of these wards, but it really is, to some extend one of the places where you will see the very best of human kind. Strangers offering to make you coffee, to bring you something from the shop. To offer advice and just share in the temporary togetherness of a not so happy occasion.Humankind in its best form - united to protect our most precious, most vulnerable.