By Louise Kinross
I used to pass them on my way in, taking a quick smoke. I’d see them around the building wearing track pants and jeans, wet hair air-drying. Sometimes there was exhaustion and desperation in their eyes. Other times elation: their child had lived through a catastrophic accident or illness or a miracle had occurred – a tiny movement in a limb, a word.
I got to know some of these parents and I marvelled at their endurance as they camped out at the hospital over weeks, months, sometimes a year or more.
On Friday my son Ben was transferred to Bloorview as an inpatient while he recovers from hip and knee surgery. His situation is small potatoes compared to what many families are coping with.
Yet I was surprised at how vulnerable I felt now that I was one of those parents that I'd watched for so many years. I felt like a fish out of water in the lounge where the families eat meals and store and prepare food. Another mom smiled and showed me where to get things – the straw dispenser, the juices, which side of the fridge families store food on. It was our first day and this mom said she’d been living here with her son for 10 weeks. Ten weeks!
Colleagues who would now be my son’s therapists or nurses came to visit. A woman compassionately cleaned my son’s wound. I’d seen her in the halls before but I’d never known what she did. Another nurse freshened him up with a sponge bath; he's in a body cast that causes him to sweat profusely. When the night nurse arrived I recognized her name from a former client’s recent tribute, so I knew he was in good hands. Yesterday we were able to drop in on the end of a weekend arts program. The child life specialist brought Ben a bag of gifts and recreation therapists came by to see if he wanted to hang out with others.
Ben's still exhausted and taking naps. He hasn't eaten anything since his surgery. He won't touch a McDonald’s french fry or his favourite old-fashioned Starbucks donut, or any of the numerous foods we’ve brought to entice him. I bribed him to eat half a cherry tomato by telling him I'd buy him a new Star Wars character.
We had a scare last night when his wound began oozing a lot and the nurses didn't have all the information from SickKids about the type of dressing used.
I e-mailed our stellar surgeon (it was Saturday night and he was away at a conference) and he messaged me right back, reassuring me that the oozing was to be expected and that the nurses could pack it with any kind of gauze. I told him he deserved a gold star.
Days can move slowly when your child is hospitalized, especially on the weekend. Our room looks out onto the main doors and parking lot. It’s reassuring to see people come and go and watch the everyday goings-on in the surrounding neighbourhood. I'm grateful for the massive windows that flood the place with light and connect us to the outdoors.
Today Ben and I went for a walk in Spiral Garden, the ravine at the back of the hospital that’s transformed into a magical artist-run camp every summer. There were art projects – strings with shells and sticks and beads – draped in the trees. We hit a row of hanging pipes that make music and I picked a dandelion for Ben. We came upon some materials blowing on a chair in the breeze and Ben picked a sparkly turquoise piece with stars (see above).
It was great to feel the sun on our skin and sit in the cool shade.
Tonight I found myself padding down the third floor hall to the lounge in my socks and track pants. Slowly, I'm getting used to this place.