I am always amazed at the instant connection hospital parents have with each other. It is a connection that goes beyond culture, language, and class. One of the volunteer jobs that I have at my local hospital is peer mentoring. This job entails the volunteers (hospital parents) to go and orient new parents to the hospital and basically check in with them and make sure they aren’t having nervous breakdowns and such. As experienced nervous breakdownees, we are generally pretty good people to have these conversations with and parents usually like talking to us because we “get it”.
One day I went into a patient’s room and saw a mother sitting there while her son was sleeping. “Hi” I said quietly. “How’s it going”. I introduced myself and then went into my blah, blah, blah routine about who I am and why I am there. It was obvious when I walked into the room that we were from two different cultures, and to be honest I wasn’t even sure she spoke English. She was pretty cold to put it mildly. I forget what she said, but I know it wasn’t ‘how lovely to meet you!” She was not interested in talking to me. I stood in the doorway thinking…hmmm….should I continue here or should I get a latte? Then I thought….I’m pretty sure Frosty here isn’t braiding hair with the nurses at night and giggling over Breaking Bad, so I decided to stay.
I looked around the room and noticed a back brace in the corner. I still wasn’t getting the impression that she spoke English (well), so I pointed at the brace and at her son and asked ‘scoliosis’ while charading out crooked spine and fused neck (which is a lot trickier than you might think without making it look like someone just died). She nodded, and I pointed to myself and then gestured baby and my unique scoliosis sign again. She raised her eyebrows, so I repeated the gesture, then I added a “my baby is as big as my thigh now” gesture. (As I am typing this, I realize how ridiculous this sounds – kind of like the whole tatonka thing from Dances with Wolves – but I promise you it flowed pretty well at the time). Anyways, I ended up spending about an hour an a half with her that day talking broken English and charades. I’m pretty sure if we had a few more days we would have been giggling and braiding each others hair as well. When I left, we hugged like old friends.
I find that connection here as well. We all feel closely connected. We “get it” when we see another parent sleepless after a long night. We “get it” when we see the exhausted fear in a parent’s face following their child’s surgery. We “get it” when we see a parent ready to lose their mind over a child who has whined for hours on end. Often this “getting it” doesn’t require words. There was a family across from me a few weeks ago. We smiled when we passed in the hall, but they didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak their language. After about 5 days, I was watching the dad who seemed to deflate and crumple. He had gone from looking like a business man to a homeless man. Finally one day I charaded to him ‘you look so tired’. He nodded. I gestured him to follow me. I went to a door and pointed to the sign that said parent sleep room and pointed to him and pretended to sleep. He smiled and nodded. He said 5 days – 10 hours sleep. I wagged my finger and pointed again. These wordless gestures are common here. He laughed and said yes, yes!
There were times when Ben was hurting post-surgery and someone would pass me in the hall and put their hand on their heart in a way that said “I’m so sorry – I know how hard it is to see your child hurting”. Other times, I will come into my room groggy after not sleeping well and find that someone put a Tim Horton’s coffee in my room. Parents here get so much support from our friends and families back home, but we find the simplest ways to help and support each other here as well.
Anyways, the point of all this is – don’t ever play charades with me because I will obviously whoop your ass. Ok…I’m just kidding (even though it really is true)…the real point is that sometimes it’s nice to not tell your story and just know that someone gets it. I don’t think this connection is unique to just hospital parents, it could be cancer patients, children whose parents have Alzheimer’s, or immigrants coming from the same place. It is nice to find your connection.
There has been no change in our plan yet, but there is ONE MAJOR CHANGE IN BEN”S LIFE!!! He is currently experiencing his first loose tooth ever. We spent most of the afternoon going to different floors to let them know. There are great debates going on now on how much the tooth fairy gives to kids in hospitals. I have to admit that I hate seeing wiggly teeth, but I am encouraging Ben to wiggle the heck out of it because if he doesn’t get it out by Monday, the anesthetist will be taking it out for him (he doesn’t know that). So, wiggle away Ben!
I am attaching a Global News video link that they filmed here on Friday with some of our neighbors.
**** Update ****Literally two minutes after I typed that, Ben noticed that his tooth was missing while he was eating. WHAT?!?!! It’s been an emotional day to say the least. He’s dictated a note to the tooth fairy, so we’ll see if we can get granted some leeway here!