Rare Mama Life… Being the Hospital Parent
I am a professional hospital parent. I don’t say that to brag or gloat, because no one wants that honor. It just became incredibly clear this time around, as so many of the nurses and doctors and PT/OTs commented on my full-size bottle of Cholula on the counter. I don’t mess around. I come prepared.
And it occurred to me that I probably had a whole bunch of stuff in my bag that I didn’t think to pack in my rookie days. In addition to my glorious bottle of Cholula, I packed my noise machine, 2 eye masks, 2 ipad/phone chargers, 2 Nintendo Switch chargers, an Amazon FireTV Stick, new toys for Hailee that I had ordered from Amazon, my own pillow, hair conditioning spray for Hailee (have you seen a child’s hair after a couple days in the hospital?), isotoners, slippers AND shoes, and Cokes… because there are NO sugary sodas at Childrens, which if you know me is fucking torture. They have Starbucks that sell all kinds of sugary shit but only zero-sugar soda. Anyway, I digress.
I know how to weave my way through the crazy maze of Seattle Children’s Hospital and it’s various zones, from Ocean to Mountain to River to Forest. We used to hang out in Ocean every week for Hailee’s infusion, often taking Mountain elevators back down to the car. River is where we’ve been for in-patient many times on the 5th floor. Forest is the sexy and new part and has so many empty nooks and crannies to have a quiet moment (not that I took that lol). If we were still doing infusion at the hospital, Hailee and I would be hanging out in Forest, where Infusion and Cancer & Blood Disorder Clinic moved.
I know the best places to park, where all the Starbucks are and that you should absolutely order ahead, and I can direct you to multiple options for bathrooms in many areas. I know the best places to hang out when your kid is in surgery, and what kinds of things to do to distract yourself. I know where the family resource center is, how amazing they are, and what state of mind you’re in when you walk in there. I know the best things to order from the menu for me (breakfast tacos) and my kiddo (chocolate chip pancakes all day, everyday), how long the wait could be for me to place an order (upwards of 20 minutes) and receive the food (45-1 hour), and that it’s best to anticipate their hunger an order at an off-time. I know that the salad bar is awesome and that I will have the lemon vinaigrette, that I will find no real honorable soda on the premises, and that there are Tapatio packets in the cafeteria condiment section (hence my bottle of Cholula).
I know how to push aside my own anxiety and fears and go into complete game mode for my daughter. I know I need to let myself be scared and sad and angry up until the day before surgery when suddenly I’m totally in the zone. It’s like another part of me takes over - side note, I’m really good at compartmentalizing as a survival method. I make my spreadsheet and pack all of our magical bags and know where we need to be and when, and when we should leave in order to give us enough time to park and get to check-in, and of course, where to go in the hospital to do all the things. I know what it’s like to walk back into the frenzy of the surgical unit, and how overwhelming it is to meet the team of 8 people involved in this surgery, not including the nurses… they come in a flurry of small back-to-back meetings: 2 from Ortho, 2 from Anesthesia, 1 from Regional Medicine, 2 from Otolaryngology, 1 from Orthotics. And I know how strange it is to feel your child go limp in your arms from pre-anesthesia meds, and to to let a stranger you just met take your baby away before you are ready.
I know what it is like to see your child passed out and hooked up to machines before they wake up after surgery, and the horror that follows once they wake up. I don’t panic anymore when it takes her a long time to come out of anesthesia because I’ve seen it happen so many times before. Instead I just hold her hand so that when she wakes up she knows I am there before she even has to open her eyes. I don’t get upset when she wakes up super pissed off at me yet wanting me at the same time. I don’t cry when I see her tears, feel her fear, or hear her confusion at the new device that has suddenly locked her into place because I know to expect it and I know that I have to be strong and assured. I know she will be upset about having an IV and a pic line, and totally annoyed at all the wires and tubes. I know her voice will sound strange, that the intubation will have hurt, and that she won’t want to drink a lot on her own because of it and how funny her mouth tastes.
I know to not expect sleep, but instead to be awoken at all hours by the beeping of machines and refrigerators out of whack, by the sounds of vital-checking, the residents on their 6am rounds, calls of “Mama,” and for assistance in coaxing Hailee to take her medicine. I know how overwhelming it is when your hospital room is full of practitioners from multiple departments telling you thing after thing that you need to remember and by the way did you remember to take notes or record a video of what they did? VIDEOS ARE HUGE. I know how confusing it can be when every nurse does things a little differently, and then learning that your best way of doing things will come from bits and pieces that each of those amazing nurses taught you.
I know how incredibly amazing and draining it is to be the one they want by their side through all of the hard parts, and how it will strengthen your bond each time in its own special way. It is a tremendous honor and a blessing to be her person, and it’s one of the most important jobs I have.
But you guys. Hospital parent life is no joke.