CAREgiving, defined

We will all be CAREgivers at some point in our lives, whether it be to a parent, a spouse, or a child.  When you are a parent of a chronically ill child, it is likely that your CAREgiving duties will overlap, because your child needs constant care, but other people in your life get sick as well.  It can feel overwhelming and isolating all at the same time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what being a caregiver means, and I’ve come up with a helpful acronym.  A CAREgiver Coordiantes, Advocates, Manages Resources and Educates:

Coordinate.  You coordinate your child’s care.  You arrange for doctors’ appointments, other therapists appointments, prescriptions, food and drink limitations or special considerations. You calibrate any medical devices that your child needs.  You coordinate the care that is necessary daily, weekly, monthly yearly:  finding the people and the products that will best serve your child.

Advocate.  You make sure your child has what they need to be successful in all areas of their life.  You talk to your school administrators, you request an IEP (Individual Education Plan), or a 504 (Individual Medical Plan).  If your child needs certain accommodations, you arrange for them, whether it is a nut-free table at the school lunchroom, or an extra ramp to enter a room more smoothly. Advocating also means making sure the janitor doesn’t wipe the peanut tables and the peanut-free tables with the same sponge.  In my case, advocating means asking the school nurse to write a letter home at the beginning of the school year to remind parents to keep their kids home if they are sick, because they can put my daughter in the hospital. It can also mean speaking out for other children who have the same medical condition, or one similar.  Additionally, it might mean joining a Family Advisory Council or advocacy group in your child’s specific illness, to make the world a better place in the future for your kid and those like your kid.  It’s a large umbrella.

Resource management.  I don’t need to tell you this.  Medical supplies are expensive, even if they’re covered by insurance.  My daughter wears two medical devices, neither of which are fully covered by insurance.  Also not covered are the tegaderm films that go underneath each device.  Occasionally the devices cause a skin infection, so we have to make sure the certain antibiotic topical ointment that works is always at home and always available.  Her anti-rejection meds are covered by insurance but her supplements (that the anti-rejection meds strip from the body) are not.  Quarterly visits with specialists are necessary, along with their co-pays and the occasional trip to the Emergency Room rounds out the payment.  What isn’t said are the things that aren’t bought or are pushed off because of the payments that fulfill medical need.  I’ve had the same snow boots for twenty years and I live in New England, so they get used.  Most of my clothes come from thrift shops.  Michael wears his shoes until literally there are holes in the bottom.  This is how you make money stretch.  And I consider us to be very lucky, we live a good life, with good food and a warm home.

Educate.  Parents of chronically ill kids are constantly educating. We are educating the other adults in our child’s life:  for birthday parties and sleepovers and soccer games. When the time is right, parents educate their children about their illness and (hopefully) help them slowly transition to self-care.  We often educate the public, bringing awareness to our child’s condition, or the condition of those like him or her.  We also educate ourselves, we are mini-experts on our child’s diagnosis and condition, we keep up on the newest technologies and research studies.

This is what we do both as parents and as caregivers, but it’s amplified when you are both parenting your child, and also are a CAREgiver to them.  Now, add onto the fact that other people get sick too, in the short and the long run. What happens when your spouse or your parent, or God forbid, another child gets an extended illness.  Now all of your specialized training gets stretched or even thrown out the window.  You may know all there is to know about your child’s disease, but you’re not a medical professional, you don’t know all the illnesses.  You need to learn a new language, a new set of doctors, a new protocol of medicine.

It’s a terrible burden, and it’s constantly shifting.  It reminds me of the picture of the world, that is being held up by elephants on the back of a turtle.  It’s heavy, unpredictable and unrelenting.

I hate to be gloomy about this because there are beautiful moments to being present in the difficult moments of your loved ones, but it takes practice to see the beautiful moments, the sunrises and the warm cups of coffee, the smiles and the small favors.  None of us knew what we were signing up for when we decided to become parents, there was no instruction manual or warning label.

I take the month of November as a month of gratitude, and write down one thing a day that I’m grateful for.  Some things are quite large and some are tiny. but it’s an actual daily vigilance, because let’s face it, some days really suck.  But even in the worst days there is something to be thankful for if you look hard enough.

Good luck, CAREgiver.  Try to find something beautiful in each day, something you’re grateful for.

 

 

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Happy Birthday Wendy’s Welcome!

It’s been one year since Wendy’s Welcome to the ED has been released.  The video, which was written by Wendy and myself and animated by Payette Architecture Firm, is an introduction to the Emergency Department for pediatric patients.  Wendy is the animated narrator for the nine minute film.  Here are some of the reviews we have received in the last year from the Child Life Specialist who works in the Emergency Department and has collected comments:

11year old – “It let me know about things that were going to happen and that I would have to talk to a lot of people.  My favorite part was learning about the special light in the room.”

Numerous children– Upon entering the exam room “Where is the rainbow light?”

10 year old Chronic patient- “It is cool that a kid, like me, made this!”  I could see his little wheels start turning, wondering what he could create to help other kids too. 

10 year old-  “I know what you do (talking to child life) because I watched the video.” 

15 year old-  “The most helpful part was telling me about all the people I will meet and that I might have to wait a long time”.

4 year old- “ I know I need to change into these (pointing to hospital pajamas). I saw it on TV.”

Paige Fox, R.N., CPEN   “It’s really great to be able to offer our patients a video that teaches them about the emergency department from the voice of a child.  Wendy explaining her own unique experience seems to help kids understand what to expect and make their stay with us go more smoothly.” 

Ari Cohen, MD, FAAP  Chief, Pediatric Emergency Medicine- “It is a perfect example of what can be achieved when good people come together and listen to the ideas of a child.”

Dr. Cohen recently mentioned to me that “Everybody that has seen the video is impressed (meaning ED leadership)and it is being used as an example of what is needed to help the adult patients manage their expectation for their ED visit.” 

The video never would have been possible without the support of the Family Advistory Council at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.  Sandy Clancy, the co-chair of the FAC, helped to keep the project going by setting up committees and getting upper administration to view it and sign off on it.  It was her work in the hospital and Payette’s work outside the hospital that kept the project moving forward, and we are forever thankful to them both.

Wendy’s Welcome has been viewed over two thousand times this year on the Massachusetts General Hospital Website.  Wendy has been interviewed by local news stations and magazines about the video and other hospitals have contacted us for ideas on how they can create their own welcome videos for their pediatric patients.

It’s changing medicine and it’s changing how providers can manage expectations for their patients.  It’s also opening doors for more patient and family participation on the systemic level of health care.  Cooperation between patients and their families with their doctors leads to favorable outcomes across the spectrum.

It has also won three awards.  The Patient’s View Institute honored Wendy last year with the Partners in Care Award and also honored Payette with the Patient Champion Award. In addition, the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care honored Sandy and me with a Partnership Award for cooperation between patients/families and hospital staff.

What a year!  We are so grateful that Wendy’s Welcome is making such a positive impact on healthcare!

 

 

Taking a Transplant to School!

Dear School Nurse:

My child has a transplanted organ.  Here is what I would like you to know.

My child can get sick faster and harder than most other kids.  As you know, schools can be a giant petri dish of germs, and the best way to discourage their spread is by careful hand washing.  Please make time to discuss with the class where my daughter is about what careful hand washing looks like.  Please have the teacher commit to taking time before lunch to have each child clean their hands, either with soap and water, or with a quick spurt of hand sanitizer as they walk out the door.  Discouraging the sharing of food would be good too.

Then, please write a letter home to parents, asking them to err on the side of caution when sending their sick kids to school.  Most parents, when they know that sending their borderline contagious kid might send my child to the hospital, will be  more likely to think twice about doing so.  If you mention that you’d be happy to talk to them on the phone to help them decide, they may or may not take you up on it.  I know it’s some extra work for you, but it will probably keep the school healthier as a whole.

Offer to go into the class to talk about organ transplantation.  Ask my child how much she wants her classmates to know.  Some kids want to share everything, some kids are afraid.  But it’s been my experience that the sooner you talk about it, the faster it becomes normalized.  My child might not be able to do some sports, like contact sports that involve getting hit in the abdomen, and it’s good to have these discussions in the beginning, so my child can say, “It’s because of my kidney,” if other kids ask.

Because my child is likely to get sick and hospitalized, please help me to set up a 504 as quickly as possible, so that if she is out for more than 5 days in a row, she can get tutoring services, and if she misses a lot of school, I don’t want her to be left back a grade.

This is a lot to ask in the beginning of the school year, and I know that you have a lot to do.  But if you help to do these things early, it will make the school year go much smoother.  I like to think of us as a team to keep my  daughter as healthy as possible.  We sort of have “joint custody” over her body–I have her on nights and weekends, and you have her days.  Please take care of her.  I worry about her all the time, and I want to be able to trust you.

And please, please, please, call me if you have any questions or problems.  I want to hear from you.  I want to work this out together.

Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to me.

Sincerely,

Darcy Daniels

You Are Here! With Wendy!

The Cartoon has been completed and sent to the hospital!

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should read the #projectW blog post first.)

After over two and a half years, through multiple drafts, multiple meetings, and multiple mediums, we have a finished product that will (hopefully) benefit young children and their parents.

Picture this.  Your kid gets hurt, to the point where you need to go to the emergency room.  Your child is in pain, and is scared, and is nervous.  Do you know what is going to happen?  Probably not, because not many people spend a lot of time in the Emergency Department.  So you as a parent are also stressed and wondering what is going to happen.  Most stress in the hospital happens in the waiting room of the ER.  So how can that be alleviated?

Wendy and I wrote this little story with that in mind, giving an introduction to the Emergency Room and to the hospital in case the child gets admitted.  It runs about nine minutes long, enough time to get settled and have your questions answered.  It also gives you some suggestions on how you can prepare yourself for when you meet the doctors.  You can write out what hurts, when it started, what you’re worried about, how you feel, and it will get the conversation going more quickly.

So it’s designed to alleviate stress and foster communication.  Imagine if all hospitals worked on ways to incorporate these things into their care scheme.  We had whole teams on this project, both in the hospital and at Payette, an architectural firm that specializes in hospitals.  In the hospital, the Family Advisory Council brought together a group of experts to comb through the script.  There were doctors, nurses, social workers, and child life specialists, who all added their advice and counsel.  Then at Payette, there was another whole team of creative people who put it together.  There were animators and musicians, people who were good at the storyboarding and composition.  There were people who spent Saturdays recording Wendy’s voice and teaching her some elocution so she could enunciate well.  They made sure they included Penny in one of the pictures (that’s Penny getting the thermometer over her forehead!) and they included Wendy’s stuffed animal Teddy who has been through all of the hospitalizations with her.

And get this, all of these people did this out of the goodness of their hearts.  Nobody was paid for a moment of any of this, through months of preparation, meetings, and work.

They did it because they thought it was important.

Think about it another way.  Every time you go on an airplane, you get instructions on what is going to happen during the flight, including what might happen in an emergency.  Do you get the same instructions when you go into the Emergency Room?  Why not? Wouldn’t you feel better, as an adult, if you did get some instruction or information while you were waiting to be seen?

Now imagine how much scarier it must be for a kid to be hurt and worried.

Here is my hope.  My hope is that this post and video go wild, that it helps thousands of sick and scared kids, that it inspires other hospitals to do the same thing.  I hope it encourages collaborative efforts because they are important, not because someone is going to get all the money or all the credit associated with it.  My hope is that there are fewer sick and scared kids, but when they arrive to Emergency Departments around the country that they will be given an introduction on what they can expect so they won’t feel so lonely and vulnerable.

Please watch this video.  Please think how many people put their hearts into this production.  Please share it widely.

https://vimeo.com/186454486

Thanks to everyone for your support through these efforts, including your kind words and suggestions.  Thanks for not letting me give up on it.

I asked Wendy what she thought about the whole thing, the more than two years, the different iterations, the meetings, the pictures, the recordings, and she just said, “I think it’s pretty cool and I think it’s going to help a lot of kids.”

She said it better than me, and in fewer words.

Being A Kid Without Explanations

This is the week we begin to pack for sleepaway camp.

Let me tell you, when we first started doing this whole sleepaway camp thing, I was terrified.  First of all, I had never been to sleepaway camp.  My family and I lived at the Jersey Shore, and both of my parents were teachers with the summers off.  So neither of them ever felt the need to send me away, nor did they have the money to do so.

After Wendy had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I did a lot of reading about how to be a supportive parent, and one of the suggestions was to send your child away to a diabetes camp.   As luck would have it, the one camp the book mentioned was in New England, called the Barton Center for Diabetic Girls.  We decided to give it a try.

The Barton Center is a unique place.  It is named after Clara Barton, because her birthplace is on the site of the camp.  You may remember that she was the founder of the American Red Cross.  It’s a camp exclusively for diabetic girls, ages 6-16.  Wendy naturally wanted to go as soon as she was old enough at 6 years old.  At the time, she had been a diabetic for roughly three years and had her kidney transplant about a year prior.

As you can imagine, I was super nervous.  We had never had the opportunity to be away from Wendy since her illness because there were a lot of medications to be taken, as well as monitor her insulin needs.  One of the features of the camp, though, is that there is a doctor on site and a nurse in every cabin, to administer medication both by mouth and with injections.  Knowing that Wendy was going to have that kind of monitoring made me feel a little better.

She was going to go away for the “short program”, which was only five nights.  It’s meant to ease girls into camp without too much worry about homesickness.  Five nights felt like an eternity to me.  What in the world was I going to do with myself?

Packing for camp is its own sub-special category.  Finding clothes for five days that you don’t care what condition they return in, ripped or stained, or better yet, lost.  Sandals, shower shoes, sneakers, a caddy for toiletries, sunblock and bug spray to round out the list.  Oh, and a flashlight, and extra batteries.  All of these things dutifully labelled so that the chances are better that you might get them back.  Ha.

We drove Wendy the four hours from our house in Vermont to camp.  She was excited and nervous.  I was nervous.  We got to camp and had to wait in line to see the nurse.  I had all of Wendy’s medications, i had filled out all of her paperwork, I had signed all the releases.  We had a cold pack for the liquids, a ziploc bag for the pills.  It took twenty minutes to go through everything, and while I did, Michael took Wendy to her bunk to make her bed and place her Teddy.

The time had come, time for us to leave.  Leave my little girl that had gone through so much, that I woke up every morning at 2 am to check her blood sugar, that I had spent every day fixing her meals, counting her carbs, giving her the right medications before and after her meals.  I was handing her off to smiling teenagers and a nurse.  I thought I might just die on the way home.  Wendy was very brave, she said her goodbyes, and went in the cabin, but before we got a few steps, she ran out and gave another hug and another kiss just to be sure.  She had tears in her eyes.  i had tears in my eyes.  Michael did too.

Then we left.

Ok, now it’s time to tell you the first thing we did when we got home.  Michael and I ate ice cream sundaes for dinner.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream, m-n-ms, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry.  Something we could never do with a diabetic daughter.  We also went away for a night to the North Shore of Massachusetts.  We walked around Salem, famous for its witch trials, and popped into book shops and candy shops and read when we wanted to, ate when we wanted to, relaxed with no schedule of medicines or insulin.  We re-set, we relaxed, we re-energized.  Five days later, we were ready to get her.

I was so excited to go get Wendy from Campj I didn’t sleep the night before.  I had missed her, and I was ready to see her.  When we arrived, she was weeping, WEEPING, huge tears coming down her face, and I thought, “Oh My God, what have we done?”  We had made a mistake, she was too young, we should have waited.

Nope.

She was weeping because she didn’t want to leave.

Finally she had found a place where she didn’t have to explain blood sugars and insulin, or be different.  Everyone was like her.  Everyone checked at the same time, everyone got insulin at the same time, everyone knew the deal.  Wendy was one of many, even if she was the youngest one.  And they laugh, and sing, and make crafts, and play silly games, and go horseback riding, and have “hands free dinner” and are just kids without explanations. She had never been so happy since her illness began.  She begged us to let us stay longer, but it wasn’t possible that year.  The next year she went for two weeks, and has continued to do so for the many years after.

If I were to ask her where her favorite place on earth is, she would say camp.

So this week, I again lay out the dozen pairs of underwear, the dozen pairs of socks, the toiletries, the sandals, the sneakers, the flashlight with batteries, the bug spray.  Teddy still goes too.  And I miss her, I MISS HER.  Every day of those two weeks.  But I know that it’s good for her, it’s good for both of us, to have this experience.

(And Michael and I still have hot fudge sundaes for dinner on the first night she’s away.)

What If I Don’t Know the Answer?

For a number of years now,  I have had  the honor of speaking to the brand new residents at our hospital.  These are often young doctors who likely graduated from Medical School, top of their class, in May.  I speak to them sometime in the third week of June, giving them enough time to pack all their worldly goods and travel to their placement between graduation and new residency.  They begin seeing patients sometime around July 1st.

A large proportion of these doctors do not have children of their own.  So they are experts on the anatomy and physiology of a child, but not necessarily experts on how to talk to them, or how to talk to their parents.

I get to speak to them on their first full day.   It says a lot about the administration of Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, that on the first day of the new residency, these new doctors speak to parents.  It sets the tone that the hospital is committed to family centered care.  It means that they are serious about good communication between doctors, patients and parents.

Every year, a few of the parents from the Family Advisory Council go together to this rather informal discussion.  We all introduce ourselves by way of our child’s illness.  We are what is known as “frequent fliers” in the hospital world, or kids  who are often in the hospital.

On this day, the first day of residency, we talk about bedside rounding.  As its name implies, bedside rounding occurs around the child’s hospital bed.  Everyone comes in and has the discussion together:  doctors, the child’s nurse, a pharmacist and the family.  The lead resident gives an introduction about the child and and her illness, and then discusses what they have done and what they need to do before discharge can happen. They will often discuss specific lab and test results.  Then they make a plan for the day, ask if there are any questions, and then move on to the next kid.

But it is a very different experience when doctors are talking among themselves and when they are talking to families.  Families haven’t gone to medical school, they don’t know the lingo.  They don’t know that afebrile means that the child doesn’t have a temperature.  They don’t know that emesis is vomiting. They don’t know what the thousands of maddening acronyms mean.  So the residents, who have spent all of this time learning all of these official terms, need to rethink the way that they report when the family is there.

The new doctors also have to deal with the fact that the parents, normally the ones who are in charge of every action and detail of their child’s life, are feeling helpless and scared.  That the child in the bed is also feeling that way, along with being in pain or discomfort.  The terms of the situation make matters worse.  No one is at their party best, so to speak.  Parents deal with this in different ways. Some parents don’t want to know anything technical, they just want the doctors to fix it as soon as possible so they can leave. Some parents want to know everything, down to every acronym and decimal point, so they can figure out what is going on.   Sometimes parents are hostile or sharp with the doctors as a defense mechanism.  Sometimes they burst into tears.  You never know what you’re going to get.

The temptation is to race through the bedside rounding, to cut corners, or to not answer all of the questions that the families have.  After all, these doctors are in charge of multiple children, multiple illnesses, hundreds of balls in the air on any given day.

We, the parents, are there to say that bedside rounding is important, even when it’s uncomfortable, sometimes especially when it’s uncomfortable.  We are a team, all of us, and we all need to be on the same page.

A team relies on trust.

Which brings me to my favorite question, that is asked every year:

“What if I don’t know the answer?”

These new doctors are used to knowing all the answers.  They are used to being the smartest person in any given room. They have encyclopedic memories.  They have been tested and they have been victorious.  But what happens if, for some reason, they are caught off guard and don’t know what the answer is to a question that a parent or a patient asks?

They are afraid that they will look like a fraud.

But who in the world knows all the answers anyway?  That’s not why they are there.  They are there to find the answers. They might not know them all.  And if a team is built upon the mutual trust of the participants, it is up to the doctor to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out and get back to you.”  And the key is to follow through and do that.  They will win the respect of the family if they make that combination of confession and commitment to the truth.

It’s important to say one more thing, and we as parents say this every year too.  When we are all together in the hospital room, we are modelling behavior for our children. We are showing our chronically ill children, who will one day grow up and have to speak to doctors all on their own, how to be empowered to do so.  We are showing them that trust in medicine is important, that integrity is important, that bonds form when everyone is present in the discussion.

It is important to parents of chronically ill children to address the issue, try to fix it, with honesty and integrity, and to model this behavior for our children.  If you think about it, that’s the way life should go, but especially within the confines of a vulnerable situation like a hospital room.  Everyone needs to feel heard, everyone needs to feel respected, and great things can happen.

 

 

 

 

#projectW

This is a story of determination and luck.  And maybe some magic.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a lot of medical problems and saw the inside of a hospital for  many, many days.

She got sick, then a little better, then a LOT sicker, then better, better, a little better, and then better still.  But she still went into the hospital from time to time, by way of the Emergency Department.  It’s just the way life was for this little girl, and it wasn’t fair, but it just was.  It was nobody’s fault.  She made the most of it, by making routines of walking her mommy to the door every night with her father, through the halls of the hospital, to the farthest building that was still connected, and then going to see the fish in the PICU, and coming back and reading Harry Potter until they fell asleep.

She learned how to flush her IV lines and when unsuspecting people would come in, she would squirt them with the flushes she kept in her bed.  Then she would laugh maniacally.

She and her parents would set up Christmas Lights at night, and then take them down during the day so they didn’t get yelled at.

She would ride on her IV pole when no one was looking.

She would have her toenails painted by her favorite nurse.

Sometimes she would sneak downstairs with her mom and get a hair cut, or go to the chapel, or go to the gift shop to get a prize.

That’s when she was feeling well, which wasn’t all the time, but she and her parents made the best of the times that they had when she was feeling better and in the hospital.

All together, she spent over two hundred days as an inpatient at Massachusetts General Hospital.

She didn’t really know it, but she was becoming AN EXPERT at being a hospital patient.  And she knew a lot more than other kids about it.

********

Her name is Wendy, and she’s my daughter.  While this was happening, she was between the ages of 3 and 5.  Now she’s twelve.

A few years ago a neighbor called us.  You see, both of her kids were in the hospital.  One was an expected surgery and one was an emergency appendectomy.  The mom called us a few times to ask questions about what to bring, what to do, what to expect.  Wendy and I answered her questions together.  We realized together that we knew a lot of things that average people don’t about hospitals and how to handle them.  We decided to write a story about our experiences.

The story was designed to help kids who were waiting in the Emergency Room, and were probably in pain, and likely nervous or scared.  If those kids asked their parents what to expect, a lot of the times, their parents didn’t know how to answer and were worried themselves.  Wendy and I thought that together we could help both the kids and their parents.  Once we were finished, we wondered what in the world should we do with it now?

We decided to give it to the hospital, and find a way to get it published.  We thought it would make a great coloring book.  Well, like many things in a hospital, it had to have a committee, so everyone could look at it.  So with the help of the chair of the Family Advisory Council, a committee was formed, with doctors and nurses, and social workers, and child life specialists, and a few other people.

They said they loved it….but could we change it?

So we did.  We made it more technical, explaining more and more things.  But we hated it because it didn’t feel like Wendy’s story anymore.

The committee hated it too.  So we started all over again, and this time made it more personal.  That felt better.  We had a good working draft and it was approved.  Yay!

Then….tragedy struck.  The Emergency Department decided that when it went through renovations that it was going to go paperless.  So no book.

What do we do now?.  Then I thought maybe we could get it animated.  But money was a problem, I didn’t have any to put toward a project, and so I looked into an internship at the hospital for a student of computer animation.  We made a job description, we found a mentor at the hospital, we filled out all the paperwork.

We got an intern!  Yay!

But, then tragedy struck again.  It was too much for the intern to handle, too big of a project.  He didn’t tell us until the internship was over that he basically had nothing to show for his time.

And I thought, this is it, this is the end, after two years.  How in the world am I going to tell Wendy?  I had run out of options, and I did something I rarely ever do.  I felt self-pity.  I was so unbelievably sad.  I wrote about it on facebook, saying just that.  I had run out of ideas and I was going to have to give up, something I hated.

LOTS of people responded with ideas.  Lots of people gave names of people who could help.  One friend asked for the transcript, so I sent it to him.  Then Stu said, “Would you mind coming in tomorrow to talk to my team about it?”

And I said Yes, thinking that I was going to have to pitch the story to this group of people in an architecture firm, so I planned what I was going to say and I went to the meeting.

That’s when something magical happened.

The had already decided!  They were going to animate it!

Yay!  Again!

And so we have been working on this project with them for almost six months.  Wendy has given her voice to the story, and she will be the narrator outside of the scenes. The Architecture firm, Payette, has been to the hospital to take pictures of the rooms. They have drawn a cartoon Wendy.  They have recorded her voice.  It should be mostly ready in a few weeks.  And I just can’t help but marvel at it, at all the kids it’s going to help.   It’s right now being called #projectW.   The idea now is going to look like this:

A child and his/her parent come to the emergency room.  They go through triage, and are sent to the pediatric portion of the ED, a separate place.  While they are waiting for treatment, they will be given an Ipad with the story that they can watch, which will be about 10 minutes long.  Wendy will tell them lots of what they can expect.  It will be her person who will reduce their anxiety.  It will be the pictures that Payette has drawn that will show them the way.

I just can’t wait the few more weeks until this is finished!!!!  Those of you who know me have been bored probably to tears hearing me talk about it, worry about it, work on it, or explain the many iterations.  I am sorry if that has happened.  But I promise that when it’s over, it will totally be worth it.  I just cannot wait!

Wendy is totally taking it in stride, like she becomes a cartoon character every day.  That’s just the way she is.

Like I said, determination, luck, and magic.

Photo:  the first working cartoon drafts of Wendy’s character.

 

 

Pattern of Acceptance

Once you get a diagnosis, how do you get to the point where you’ve accepted what’s happening to you, your child, your family, your life?

You may have heard of the Kubler-Ross model of grief.  At first it was applied to death and dying, but it has been spread out to many different kinds of grief.  You probably read about it in your psychology college textbook, because it’s not new.  I ran across it when Wendy was in the hospital and I realized that I was mourning our old life, the life before Wendy got sick, so I did some searching and rediscovered the Kubler-Ross model.  I am by no means a psychologist, but this helped me to get some perspective on our situation with a new diagnosis and a child that was never going to be the same again.  It’s a scary time, and your feelings and emotions run the whole gamut.  Sometimes I still check in to see where I am on the continuum.

But now, I like to think of it more as a pattern of acceptance than stages of grief.

Denial:  The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.  I remember thinking not that the doctors were wrong in everything they were telling me in the “Room of Doom” in the PICU, but I remember thinking that they must be exaggerating.  They weren’t.  I hoped that once we got home Wendy would improve.  She didn’t.  I remember the night I realized that she wasn’t going to get better.  She just wasn’t.

Anger:   This is often accompanied by guilt.   “Why me? Why her?  What did we do to deserve this?”  I remember walking up and down the streets of Beacon Hill being jealous of families that were enjoying the summer.  There was a woman who was yelling at her child by the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues because he had gotten his hands dirty from his ice cream cone and it was all I could do to tell her to get over it, enjoy this moment, because your kid could be in the hospital right now.  Thankfully I kept my mouth shut.

Bargaining:  This is a hard one.  It involves the hope that we can somehow avoid this outcome.   I could understand why people go to the ends of the earth to find a miracle cure for their child.   People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.  Sometimes it works.  My father said if Wendy survived that he would quit smoking.  You get the idea.  It’s trying to find what you can do to change the situation.

Depression:  This stage can last a long, long time, and some people argue that in part of this stage, Anger comes back.  Everything feels hopeless and you feel rudderless.  All of your expectations and plans have to either be put on hold or moderated. You wonder how it can all be so hard, and why it’s so unfair, especially for your child.  You might want to find a counselor to talk through your feelings.  It’s really hard for a long time, and then at some point you realize it’s not quite as hard, and you slowly move toward the next stage.

Acceptance:  “We’ve got this”.  This is the idea of doing the best you can with what you’ve got.  Gratitude sets in and you might find yourself being happy and being surprised at the happiness. You realize that life is moving on and you’re moving on with it.

I think, though, that for parents of chronically ill kids, that there can often be another stage:

Empowerment:  This is the stage where both you and your child take the hand you’ve been dealt and play it.  When you join advocacy groups, when you allow you child to re-join sports or after school activities or when you begin to travel again.  When you do the things you love even with the obstacle, even when it’s not exactly the same. You may be a mentor to other parents of chronically ill kids, or you may write or speak to groups.  Or you might not.  Just doing the best you can is enough, and it’s inspiring to others.

Other members of your family will find acceptance at different rates.  For us, one family member stayed longer in anger, one stayed longer in bargaining.  It’s totally an individual journey, and it’s important to realize that we don’t all come to the same understanding at the same time.  It takes a really long time to be ok with your life not being what you expected, and a new normal grows and takes hold, along with real, genuine happiness and gratitude.

The other thing that I want to say is that in this continuum, you might be knocked backward into other stages or have to start all over again with a new diagnosis.  We’ve been dealing with some new symptoms for Wendy and I’ve lately been keenly aware that we might be starting this cycle all over again, but that’s OK, we’ve done it before and we will do it again.  But that won’t mean it’s not difficult, or heart breaking, or painful or nerve-wracking, it just is.

Finally….when Kubler-Ross was interviewed years later, she said that she regretted putting the stages of grief into concrete categories, because while these are common stages, they aren’t definitive.  Where is room for confusion?  For frustration?  For complications?  For disillusionment?  These things that you feel, they are normal to feel.  Being aware about them, being in touch with your feelings and being able to both experience them and express them, will hopefully help you to heal.  Be gentle with others who are on this path with you.

Empathy goes a long way in the healing process.

Picture:  A winding road in Tuscany, leading to Montalcino.

 

New Faces At Grand Rounds

One day while Wendy was in the hospital in late 2007, an endocrine fellow came in to ask us if we had any pictures of her that we would be willing to share.  The fellow was presenting Wendy’s medical case at Grand Rounds and she wanted to add a few pictures to  the slide show.

At the time, we didn’t know what Grand Rounds was.  Grand Rounds is an opportunity for doctors to present challenging or unusual medical conditions to their colleagues, along with what the course of treatment was, and allows a venue for the presenter to be challenged by his or her  peers.  It is a way to educate doctors both whom are going to the presentation and for the presenters themselves.  It was a novel approach to have pictures of Wendy in the slide show, because for the most part Wendy is just supposed to be a “case” to be discussed, not attached to a face.

I remember thinking that like other parents, someday I wanted Wendy to be famous, but I never thought it would be like that.

A few months later, I was approached to speak at Grand Rounds myself.  The Family Advisory Council at MGHfC spoke at one Grand Rounds a year surrounding the topic of family centered care, the idea that it is not just a child that the hospital is treating, but the family of the child as well. This Grand Rounds was designed to ask parents and patients if they had anything they felt was important to share with doctors of their children.  Michael helped me prepare as to what I was going to say, and I have to say I was nervous, but it was a really positive experience. The doctors asked good questions and it was all together well received.  The Family Advisory Council has sponsored Grand Rounds around conversations and communications between providers and parents, as well as asking doctors to speak as to how they have changed their medical practice as the result of having a sick child.  These are unique opportunities for doctors and parents to arrive at the same goal:  understanding each other in the quest to give the best possible care to children.  It has been an incredibly successful  endeavor.

Now, a new approach: having the pediatric patients speak directly to the doctors at Grand Rounds. This was the first time that an entire panel of speakers was all pediatric patients, at least at Massachusetts General Hospital, but I suspect that this is new territory for a lot of children’s hospitals across the country.

Wendy spoke yesterday with three other patients about their experiences.  All four patients were teenagers, (well, Wendy was twelve and the youngest), and they were all what we would call “frequent flyers” in the medical world:  they were patients who had been there a lot.  One teen had cancer of the jaw, one teen broke a vertebrae while playing football, and two teens had undergone kidney transplants.

The themes were rather universal and centered around anxiety and communication.  The teens asked to be listened to fully, have procedures explained to them, be addressed by their names and really be a full partner at the table.  Isn’t that what we all want in medical care?  What’s funny is that doctors know this, and I would be willing to wager that they think they are doing a good job at communication, especially those who work in pediatrics.  Yet the gap in communication remains.

Here’s why I think yesterday was most beneficial.  One:  people connect to stories, and these kids had stories to tell.  They are survivors in the medical world.  They have grit. And they are vulnerable enough, willing enough, courageous enough to tell their stories, to tell what could be improved upon, to their doctors.  Doctors don’t often get the opportunity outside of inpatient setting or the clinic to hear how they can improve.  Two:  a lot of these teens really made an impact on their doctors just by returning. They had been so sick and had such a positive outlook nonetheless, and they were succeeding in the world, not just as patients, but as people.  They were inspiring.  I don’t think that doctors often get to see their success stories years later, when patients leave they don’t come back, much like students and their teachers.  Both medicine and education have a long term return that you don’t often get to see:  the success of the child due to the efforts of the doctor/teacher.  After grand rounds, so many doctors came up to me to tell me how wonderful Wendy looked and how grateful they were to see her.

Pediatrics is a tough field, but one of the things that a doctor said yesterday is that it also garners hope, which is a powerful motivator. Those teens yesterday might not know how incredible they are, they just know that they have an extra burden of medical issues.  It’s the adults in the room who are affected by their tenacity in the face of adversity. Not just their tenacity, but their optimism and sense of self.  They are not patients, they are people.  They are success stories.  They have a voice.

This is the new face of medicine, partnerships in success through communication.  Yesterday was just one of the steps in the process.

A very welcome step.