by Amanda Parry
My daughter Charlie and I recently spent some time in the hospital, although it wasn’t for anything serious. The poor kid has a hair-trigger gag reflex, which means that the tiniest amount of post-nasal drip can cause her to start vomiting. (She even throws up in her sleep, which is both impressive and unsanitary. It’s like living with Janis Joplin.)
As a result, a little cold can land her in the hospital, as she becomes unable to keep any medicine or fluids down on her own. Last year she was hospitalized five times for colds, so we feel lucky she’s only needed one stay this year.
During her cancer treatments, we pretty much lived at the hospital. Each surgery or round of chemo meant a stay of several days to several weeks. We got to know most of the people who worked there and easily slipped into the rhythm and routine of the children’s ward whenever we were back.
What surprises me when we return these days is not how familiar everything seems, but how much I have forgotten. You spend that amount of time in one place, and you assume the details will be etched in your memory forever.
But I’m middle-aged and have the memory of a goldfish. During our recent stay, I was reminded of the following aspects of hospital life:
1. The food is amazing. Our hospital makes its own pizza and has a sushi bar. A friggin’ sushi bar. On the children’s floor, the staff stashes candy, ice cream and cookies to cheer up the tiny inmates. If you can get past the fact that your child is bedridden in a hospital, it’s kind of like being on a cruise.
2. Someone is always giving you stuff. People feel really sorry for sick kids and are constantly donating stuff to the hospital to cheer them up. Within five minutes of arriving last week, Charlie received a board game, a stuffed animal and an Irish Dancing Barbie: I think this proves once and for all Barbie really has held every job in the world.
3. Pranks are good for morale. Time really drags in the hospital, so it’s important to entertain yourself.
Sometimes when an earnest teenage volunteer stops by, I slurp apple juice from an (unused) urine specimen cup. “Toddler pee!” I’ll say. “Great for the menopause.” They are usually backing out the door before I can add, “Hey, where are my manners? Let me shake her u-bag and get you some.”
When passing a nurse at a computer station, I’ll say loudly, “Why are you looking at porn?” They are never looking at porn. They aren’t even browsing eBay or checking Facebook. They are always, always, always immersed in the never-ending purgatory of onscreen paperwork known as patient charts.
4. A little dose of perspective never hurts. Sometimes, even if you’re only there for a short stay, hospital life can get you down. When I start to feel sorry for myself, I always encounter someone who helps me get over it stat. (That’s hospital jargon for, “As soon as you finish those charts.”) Last week it was the cheerful mom in the parents’ room who told me she and her son had been on the ward for eight months. Nothing makes you suck it up faster than someone who has it worse but is bitching less. And finally, I was reminded that:
5. People who work in hospitals are much stronger than I am. During our time on the pediatric floor, I have witnessed doctors, nurses and nurse assistants get hit, kicked, spit on and yelled at.
And that’s just by the parents.
Understandably, not everyone is at their best when their child is ill, and the staff bears the brunt of this anguish with admirable calm. What I find more astounding than their composure is how they continue to open themselves up emotionally on the job.
Occasionally on the children’s ward, you will hear the crying of a mother whose child has just passed away. There are no words for the agony and sorrow expressed in those cries. It doesn’t surprise me that nurses and doctors also weep during these times, although it’s touching to know that they care.
What is more incredible is how the next day they will celebrate with a family who has just received good news. They don’t let the difficulties of their job shut them off from joy any more than they do from pain.
It takes a remarkably strong person to do that day in and day out, and the hospital halls are crawling with them.
And not one of them is looking at porn on the job. I swear.
Amanda Parry, 38, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. She started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam and draw some attention to autism and pediatric cancer charities. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.