Lessons Learned in a Children's Hospital


Over brunch my friend Lisa tells me that she was one of the architects on several buildings for the local children’s hospital. One of the lessons she learned after talking to parents of the patients was the need for family bathrooms: If an older boy/patient wears a diaper, how does the mom change his diaper in a regular bathroom? Does she take a teenage boy into the ladies’ room? Does she go into the mens’ room? What if it’s a father bringing his daughter for an appointment?

Lisa, the only female architect on the project, designed two family bathrooms on each floor of the buildings. The family bathrooms were eliminated by the head of the project for cost reasons—the other architects didn’t understand the necessity.

Lisa fought for the parents. The compromise was one family bathroom on every other floor.

Several of my male friends are stay-at-home dads. They understand the need for family bathrooms. A little perspective changes us immeasurably.

My nephew was a patient at that very same children’s hospital 18 years ago. Here are a few lessons I learned while he was there:

A baptism in a hospital emergency room moments before your 21-day-old nephew has brain surgery is much more nerve-wracking than a church baptism, but the love you feel for him is steadfastly the same.

That steadfast love will be the only thing holding you upright when your tiny nephew is carried down one hallway to surgery in the children’s hospital and his mother–your little sister no matter how old you both are–is wheeled the other way by EMTs because the children’s hospital personnel is unable to treat her after complications from childbirth cause her to collapse.

Your sister’s husband will not know whether he should stay near your nephew’s surgery or go with your sister. Tell him to stay with your nephew. The doctors need a parent close by to make decisions.

The universe will send you an angel in the guise of a nurse’s aide carrying an armload of linens while you’re feeling helpless. This angel will gently place her hand on your arm and softly say, “Honey, it’s gonna be alright.” Go ahead and rest your forehead on her shoulder for a moment. She won’t pull away.

You are emotionally strong enough to look after your sister. You are not quite physically strong enough to push her wheelchair back to your nephew’s ICU room later and you may have to park her behind a post outside the cafeteria while you catch your breath.

You won’t realize until later that on the other side of that post is a table where a couple is eating french fries and your sister is now at the table with them.

The absurdity of parking your sister at a table with strangers, after the emotional trauma of the past few hours, will reduce you both to hysterical laughter followed by hysterical crying. Let it happen. When it’s over you’ll have your second wind and be able to push her the rest of the way.

Your tiny nephew will grow into a strapping teenager that winces whenever you and your sister start telling stories about those emotional early days.

This young man will try to escape when the stories begin because he knows that at some point you and your sister will start crying and insist on hugging him. Let him go. The poor kid has been through enough.

If you watch closely as he escapes you’ll see his scowl turn briefly into a smile. It’s almost as though he enjoys the attention and the love.

<blink!> Smile’s gone. Maybe you imagined it?