The smallsmall was admitted to hospital this year on Christmas Day. Sound dramatic, right? Well, it was a bit – breathing is kind of important and he wasn’t being terribly good at it, so in we went and ended up staying for four days.
Shittest Christmas ever, you might be thinking. But actually it wasn’t so bad. The nurses and doctors were immense (and of course were WORKING on Christmas Day – where were you, Mr Cu- I mean, Hunt?…) and even when I fell asleep leaning on the side of the bed the boy was on, they just brought me chocolates and left me face down in a puddle of saliva as they went about their very important business.
Like most British people I moan about the weather and my inabiliity to get a GP appointment but on the whole we know that when the chips are down, the NHS always stumps up.
My mum’s cancer (x2), the instrumental birth of my first child, the midwifery care for my second, the weeks my preemie nephew recently spent in NICU, and now this little episode of festive drama – every time the NHS has proven themselves to be a little bit of ace in a world full of too much rubbish and Donald Trump.
Having said that, when your kid gets admitted to hospital, the resources are quite rightly pointed in their direction. There is little sleep and no food for the anxious parents (unless you count guiltily hoovering up the cold remains of your kid’s shepherd’s pie while hiding behind a blue curtain).
So, while I was sitting around in hospital I gave some thought to what would make the stay easier for me and anyone else who finds themselves in this position:
Food. Most children’s wards have kitchens which parents are able to use. One of the most helpful things friends/ family can do is bring/ send in food that can be easily warmed in a microwave.
Just a note of caution – I do mean actual food, not the snacky kind of junk food that we all imagine someone stuck in a hospital will be craving. The chances are that after the first 24 hours, the parent in question will have already consumed Christmas-like quantities of crisps and chocolate and will be feeling a little sick.
Proper food is the one here, folks. And if you have no time to cook (fair enough) then grab a decent ready meal, some soup perhaps, or a sandwich of superior quality to the average hospital canteen’s.
Slippers, socks, (new) pyjamas. An unexpected hospital stay means no time to pack, no time to think what you need, and there is definitely no time to consider the fact that it might not feel ok to be forced out of your comfort-home while wearing your comfort clothes.
You can’t even fall back on being ill and therefore not caring, because you’re not.
I’m putting on my PJs at home generally means I’ll be donning the tshirts too tatty to wear in public, coupled with a pair of pants.
Clearly this was not going to cut it on a hospital ward.
When it comes to socks, there was also something embarrassing about taking off my shoes to uncover an unwelcome toe or heel waggling at everyone. People generally were kind enough to pretend not to see it, but we all knew.
I’d change my clothes quicker than a self-conscious teenager in PE, in case the next footsteps swept the blue curtain aside. I worried that the sight to greet three doctors and two nurses “on their rounds” would be me, precariously balanced on one foot, arse in air, midway through changing my pants.
I’d guiltily wolfed down the small’s leftover banana behind a blue curtain as I waited for the Mr to appear with breakfast (see the first item in this list). It was 10am already, and I had considered eating my own arm.
And I’d been holding in my farts way longer than can possibly be healthy.
Having holes in my socks was just an indignity too far.
I really would have welcomed some new ones, a fancy pair of PJs so I could pretend I was in control (I’m totally taking this all in my stride – look my pyjama bottoms match my top) along with a pair of slippers because the Mr kept forgetting mine – no judgement, just a worried dad trying to hold together the other pieces of our life.
An opportunity to nap. It’s likely that the parent has had little sleep. The combination of observations, medications, the noises of other children, and snoring of their parents, make sleep on a paediatric hospital ward impossible.
Ear plugs are frowned upon. Should your kid’s various machines starting bleeping and dinging in an alarming way (which apparently is different to the routine bleeps and dings that wake you up all night, or the ones that happen when your kid pulls off the oxometer. Again), I’m imagining the doctors and nurses rushing to your child’s aid would prefer not to have to rouse you from you slumber.
Should you be paying a parent a visit therefore, bring a cup of tea, then sit in a chair while they collapse face down on the bed and doze for an hour or two.
This will be the kind of sleep they will wake from not knowing their name or where they are, but the knowledge that their child is supervised and cannot launch him/herself from the bed will be enough to allow them to give in.
Hand cream. Wash your hands on your way into the ward, on your way out, after nappy changes, after going to the loo, before eating, after eating, and after every time your kid spits their meds all over you. And each time you wash your hands, wash them again, because the thought of being responsible for infecting already sick children with anything harmful is too much to bear. The hand washing is BRUTAL.
Soon the skin on your hands starts to resemble the heels of your feet (which are hopefully now swathed in brand new socks).
Hand cream will be very welcome.
Bring your best chat. Once you’ve dispensed with the questions about how the small person is, ask how they are. They’ll no doubt tell you they are fine but let them know it’s ok not to be. Be ready in case they cry. And just let them for a few minutes.
Then pull out your phone and do some full-scale bashing of whatever you know floats your mate’s boat. Whether it be football results, the news, politics, celebrity gossip or you’ll never guess what so-and-so-in-the-village has done now, just bring it.
Your mate will relish the opportunity to think and talk about something other than medication, test results, or whether that bleeping is one of the important ones or not. They’ll feel rejuvenated by talking about something normal for once so research it beforehand if necessary, just do your best not to turn up with your head in the shed – that’s going to help no-one.
There are about a hundred other ways that you can be useful to parents whose children are in hospital – this is just a start. If you’re really not sure, then why not ask?
And finally, to any parent reading this whose child is in hospital regularly, or who’s stay lasts longer than four days: you are a fecking hero.