My daughter and I were in the car when rapper Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" came on.
In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can't do,
Now you're in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you...
"It's Salamander's song!" I gasped, remembering the young man who hung out with us in the teen lounge when Ben was an inpatient. My younger son confused his name, so he became Salamander to us.
Salamander would sit at the computer, swaying endlessly to "Let's hear it for New York;" Ben would click away at a Playstation controller, being Indiana Jones; and my daughter would message friends on Facebook.
"I miss the hospital," my daughter said, with a puzzled expression, and part of me was shocked and part of me felt the same emotional pull in my chest.
Here are some of the things I will never forget about our staff and what they do:
The receptionists. They're frontline ambassadors for the hospital, like a mini-cheering squad for your child. When it's the weekend and you're bringing your child back after a visit home and the last place you want to be is a hospital -- they greet you like family.
Compassionate, skilled, hands-on nurses, who mentor exceptional, eager nursing students. They take the time to know my son, even though it's hard for him to communicate.
Handmade heating packs: wrap three damp facecloths in a blue pad, secure with orange hospital tape and heat for a minute in the microwave. They were soft, moulded to the body and carried a bit of nursing magic. Flannel blankets, fresh sheets, comfy towels.
Medicine 'care packages' when you first go on LOA. A nurse would disappear into a room behind the nursing station and reappear with multiple medicines apportioned out in tiny bags, each labelled.
Spotless inpatient floors and rooms. The cleaners never stop. Some call my son by name.
Take-charge physios who are able to be tough when parents would quake, pushing a child's rehab forward. An occupational therapist who fits Ben for a reclining chair and other equipment.
Child-life specialists who gave my son a sense of control when he was in a body cast, powerless: calendar countdowns; a Wii game; skeleton gloves to add to his collection ("I knew they'd come in handy at some point," she said).
A team of nurses and child-life specialists who calm my son in a specially-designed room when the orthotist cuts off his body cast so that oozing surgical wounds and bed sores can be treated. His favourite Star Wars movie plays on a big screen, flickering strings of fibre-optic lights are draped over his chest and, to my surprise, he's deeply relaxed. The body cast, cut in two, is raced up to the orthotics workshop where staff repad the inside and sew on multiple velcro straps so that the two pieces can be refastened as one.
A pharmacist who brings handouts on a medicine's side-effects to the patient's room. A doctor who comes to my office to consult on an issue.
Recreation staff who stop by each day to tell us what fun activities are on: a movie, a starry space-simulation in the Snoezelen room.
Artists who bring clay to the bedside so my son can grow his family of ghosts. Raised, accessible gardening for kids in wheelchairs on the terrace. A therapeutic-clown duo who act out a famous Star Wars scene -- on the fly, in the hallway -- for Ben. Closed captioning on the television so that my son, who has hearing loss, can comfortably watch his favourite shows.
Putting on bathing suits in your hospital room and taking the elevator down and being transported into a small heated pool where the lights are dimmed, a kaleidoscope of butterflies turns on the wall, a jet pummels your back and a gentle spray rises from the water like mist. You breathe.
The lifeguard who uses sign language. The music therapist who calls to say she'll be working with my son.
Everything under one roof. Ben even got in a trip to the dentist on the 2nd floor.
These are just some of the things for which I'm profoundly grateful.
Ben can walk a few steps now. He's weak and limps. But he does it. They've got him walking on a treadmill on bi-weekly visits to the rehab gym. He can climb stairs holding a hand. Two months ago, I couldn't imagine him ever walking again. Holland Bloorview is a hospital 'where dreams are made of.' They may not be the dreams of those who flock to Jay-Z's NYC, but they are dreams, nonetheless.