Friday, April 23, 2010

A Tribute to CHEO

I've been putting off writing this post for some time now.

A week, to be exact.

I'm not sure what's made it seem so difficult, but I just couldn't gather the energy to put together my thoughts and get them all out.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I spent much of last week at CHEO (the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario) with a very sick Thing 1. It was an experience that truly touched me, and left its mark on me. Often certain events and circumstances in our lives affect us in ways that we are not expecting - surprising us and taking us aback in an unprecedented manner - and we are left at the event's conclusion searching for answers to a plethora of questions.

On Easter weekend Thing 1 seemed a little "under the weather". He had no clear or strong symptoms, but he was extremely lethargic (so entirely unlike him, if you know him at all), run down, and not eating. Here and there he had a low grade fever, but in general I felt like the situation was not dire. His general malaise stuck with him for the next ten days, until finally we noticed a slight bit of redness near his left eye. Over the course of roughly 48 hours, the eye area became more red, swollen, and eventually painful to touch. He complained of light sensitivity. I marched him in to our family doctor immediately.

He was incredibly miserable by the time we arrived at our doctor's office. As a matter of fact, I carried him from the van up to her fifth floor office. When he failed to read his eye test perfectly in the infected eye, our doctor directed us straight to CHEO. She handed us a letter that would supposedly gain us quick entrance and short wait time.

Time is relative at a children's hospital.

Although we were immediately classified as "priority" at the Emergency Room, that didn't seem to solidify our one-way ticket to meet with one of the white-coated docs. After many hours, we did see a first year medical student, who suggested Thing 1 looked "fine" and felt that we would be okay to go home. His supervisor (thankfully an actual medical doctor) diagnosed him with orbital cellulitis. X-ray results showed that he did have sinusitis and an assortment of infected tissue around his eye. The poor kid's white blood cell counts were through the roof, and thus he was admitted immediately and given intravenous antibiotics and fluids (he was slightly dehydrated).

We were in the hospital for four days, and he was released a week ago today. He reacted well to the antibiotics, and the swelling started to improve within 24 hours. Extensive tests with ophthalmology showed no damage to his eye, the eye tissue, or any problems with his vision or optical mobility. We saw flocks of wonderful, dedicated, and talented young doctors who treated both my son and I with compassion, respect, and patience. And the nurses? Really deserve their own post. The nurses at CHEO are special, fantastic, and unique people. They took superb care of us - and I mean both Thing 1 and I.

I was unaware preceding this visit that parents are allowed to stay with their sick children 24/7. It was possible for me to never leave his side. A large chair beside each bed folds down into a cot for sleeping, meals are delivered to the rooms for parents at a fraction of the cost you would pay for decent food anywhere else, and there are showers and other amenities to make moms and dads alike comfortable. The nurses carefully explained every detail of what there were doing to both he and I - they were gentle, caring, patient, loving - and provided answers to every single one of our questions.

There are volunteers and staff on hand to entertain the children and provide activities for them. After chatting with Thing 1 for several minutes, a staff member returned with a box full of markers, stickers, glue, and paper, play-doh and cutting tools, books, and a Scooby-Doo movie and DVD player. These workers are clearly bringing their A game to work for every single shift. The thanks I'd like to extend to them is broad.

So Thing 1 got better. He was released. We came home. We are thankful. We are blessed. And so the story supposedly ends.

Except it doesn't.

One common theme from every conversation I have had with parents who have stayed at CHEO with a sick child is how difficult it is to recover from the "other" sick children.

The teeny tiny sick babies. Full of tubes, on intravenous, attached to machines to keep them alive. The children injured from car accidents or other horrifying events, in pain, disfigured, burned. The cancer patients. Children who have spent much of their short little lives inside the confining walls of this special little haven for small people. Some who will never leave.

I expected last weekend to be joyous. We celebrated Thing 1's return home from CHEO with a special dinner of his choosing. Things 2 and 3 were flabbergasted with excitement at seeing their older brother again. Yet for days I found it difficult to focus. I forced myself to smile on the outside and not show my healthy, vibrant children the darkness and pain I felt on the inside.

A week later I am still recovering. The best I can come up with is to find some way to give back to CHEO. Maybe I will make a donation. Perhaps I will volunteer my own time. I'd like to make some crafts and send them in. In the meantime, I'm overflowing with love for my children, and am thankful for their health and well-being.

I refuse to take it for granted.

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