War Buddies

My parents were fish out of water. They had got me to Johns Hopkins Hospital just in time, I had survived my first heart surgery that same night, and now I was recovering. I’ve heard of people going home within a week of a surgical procedure, but in 1967 the recovery process took a lot longer. I was a patient at Hopkins for three weeks.

My dad’s jaw hit the floor when the Admitting Nurse asked him “Do you intend to stay with the child?”

Say what? You mean people just drop their sick children off?”

“Unfortunately, it happens,” the nurse said.

“Not where I come from,” Daddy snapped back.

I can’t understand how a parent could just leave their child at the hospital and pick them up later, like dropping off a car that needed repair. As much as I hate to say it, this still happens – I saw a note about a similar incident on Facebook a few weeks ago. What are these people thinking? Are these people thinking? (To be completely honest, before my Cardiologist moved to Atlanta I would usually wind up in a large hospital 70 miles from home. My parents would go to work, get off early, and arrive at the hospital in the late afternoon. They may not be physically present, but I could get in touch with them, they would be there within an hour if needed, and I certainly didn’t feel “dropped off” or abandoned.)

1967 was their first trip to one of the larger, world-class hospitals. Hopkins had a post office, a movie theater, stores, and a group of restaurants with one large common seating area. Readers are probably rolling their eyes and thinking “Big deal, they had a Food Court!” But this was from 1967, my parents were from a rural area, and it was a big deal.

The Intensive Care Unit was a large U-shaped room with the nurse’s desk in the center of the U. You could sit at the nurse’s desk and see every patient, and the ICU Waiting Room was at the top of the U. In those days you could visit an ICU patient for 10 minutes every two hours. (In some locals this is still true, though in most places the rules are more relaxed now, provided that there aren’t too many people visiting at one time and the visitors don’t make a nuisance of themselves.)

Another couple that were there with a child in the ICU was of the Amish Faith. The Amish are a religious group known to favor plain, simple dress, and some groups do not embrace technology for personal use. (For example, dairy operations could be electrically operated, especially if the milk was sold for public consumption. But there would be no electrical service to the house.) When you think about the Amish you probably think about horse and buggy transportation, and my parents wondered how they had gotten to the hospital. When they finally knew the couple well enough to ask, they learned that the child had been transferred by ambulance and an English friend had driven the the parents. They thought that the driver was an actual citizen of Great Britain until they learned that the Amish generally refer to anyone not of their faith as “English.”

The relationship began when my parents and the Amish couple both agreed that it was a very…. unusual person who would drop their child off at the hospital and pick them up later. Friendships like these are born in the stress of a waiting room, in the tension of a common crisis. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they probably couldn’t even conceive of the lifestyle of an Amish family. If our new friends learned that Dad lived 25 miles from his parents and normally didn’t see them but three or four times a month, they would think that was quite unusual. But they were fighting a common enemy – a child’s illness – and having that one thing in common can erase a lot of cultural differences.

It has happened to my family many times since, and I have seen it myself. These days with blogs and instant communication, you don’t even have to be in the waiting room. “These people you call `friends’ are just words on a computer screen,” some people might say. That’s not true, I start to explain, but then I stop. It sounds as if they have never been here, and if you haven’t been in that position, I can’t explain it to you.

Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. The other couple was missing one day when my folks arrived in the waiting room. After a few hours my mom asked one of the nurses about the Amish couple that had been here. The privacy laws we have now didn’t exist in 1967, so if you wanted to know something, usually you just had to ask.

Long pause – hospital families learn to hate those long pauses.

“It didn’t end well,” she said.


4 Responses to “War Buddies”

  1. Jill Haskins Says:

    There is a baby that was born at 28 weeks in the pod just outside our room window. The poor baby has not had a single visitor in the past 4 days that we have been here….it makes me so sad….

    the baby in the room next to us screams constantly and mom has not shown up once since we’ve been here. Sometimes, when Joshua is sleeping, I want to go over and hold that baby and rock him. I may even muster up enough nerve and ask the nurse if I can. I just feel so bad that all he does is scream and no one is there for him.

    The nurse told me yesterday that I look like crap. She said I look tired and worn down adn that I need to go home and rest. She told me that she appreciates the 15+ hours a day I have spent at the NICU with Joshua, and that they don’t see that very often. To me it was never an option.

    I don’t judge parents who have to go back to work, or have other little ones at home to take care of, but the parents who choose to take this time as “vacation time” from their baby make me sick. I can’t imagine not wanting to be at the hospital as much as possible making sure your little one is ok.

    And speaking of Amish….there was an amish family at the PICU when we first arrived there. They brought their 12 day old baby in after watching his health slowly deteriorate for almost 2 weeks. It turned out that the baby had HLHS and died the day of Joshua’s surgery. My heart broke for that family- if they had come in sooner, the baby could have probably been saved, but it was too late.

    and finally, I sent you an email! ha!

  2. Jen L. Says:

    The first surgery OHS we went through, one of the strangest things for me was how the world closed in on us and the universe became the hospital. My husband caught a few hours of sleep at the Ronald McDonald house, but I never left.

    We had gotten close with the other set of parents there as long as us, in the room next to J’s, talking in the cafeteria and bringing each other coffee. As I watched the news, I realized that the little girl in the next room was the same one the news had been reporting on that had fallen into a spa and drowned while Mom was napping and Dad was out front.

    About a week after we met them, 20 people came in to the ICU and spilled out in front of their room – it was a prayer vigil from their Church, and they were turning off the machines because the three year old girl was brain dead and there was no hope. I just sat at 10pm at night and listened, frozen. It was horrible. I never saw them after that.

    Later, when we were out of ICU, I remember passing children’s rooms, young children, children my child’s age, and being stunned that so many of them were alone, and so consistently alone. From the time he went in to the time that he left a week later, I was there, too – and I couldn’t conceive that other parents couldn’t do it.

    Of course, some of them have to, and I understand that intellectually. But on the other hand, I couldn’t conceive of it emotionally.

  3. Shannon Carter Says:

    Both times Derrick has been in the hospital for surgeries we have been neighbors with a little one with no parents in sight. After D was born he was in the PCICU for about ten days. Of those 10 days, his little neighbor had a visitor ONCE, for about an hour, and that was right before he went to surgery. (We were there pretty much constantly, so I know we didn’t miss them.) He had some pretty serious bedside procedures going on several times and still, no one came. The nurses practically made us leave to get rest…I cant IMAGINE leaving my child in the hospital like that! It’s so heart breaking.

    And what’s really killer…it seems that it’s the parents who are there with their little ones as much as possible who are the ones who have it “not end well.” So unfair, and very, very sad!

  4. Rhonda Says:

    It breaks my heart. I know several moms and dads that would give anything for just one more day, even one more minute with their child! I too have seen this happen. When Zeb was at MUSC the first time, his neighbor was a little girl and she was so tiny and had open heart surgery at 5 days old and we never once saw anyone with her. The nurses had made her a name tag and some pretty pictures, but no one came to her side. It broke my heart but of course with the new laws, we were not allowed to go near her. I wanted so badly to just touch her and show her love. I can’t imagine!


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