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My daughter, Chloe, is the star of a brand new book, and she couldn't be prouder or more excited about it. The book is all about one of her recent adventures, and there are pictures of her on every page. It's called, "Chloe Goes to the Hospital."
Chloe is 4 years old and has a spinal cord disorder that's in the spina bifida family. She walks with a gait trainer, has spent her share of time in doctor's offices, and even had surgery twice as an infant. But spending a lot of time in doctor's offices and hospitals throughout her life hasn't made Chloe a more laid-back patient; just the opposite. She knows all too well the pain that those folks in white coats and scrubs can inflict on an unsuspecting preschooler.
Chloe had spinal cord surgery on December 31, and we were eager to find ways to make the entire experience easier for her. So when her pre-op nurse told us that some families made photo albums documenting their child's hospital stays, we decided to take the idea one step further.
Chloe is a Curious George devotee, and a classic title in the book series is "Curious George Goes to the Hospital." Using George's misadventures as our guide, we documented Chloe's entire hospital stay in photos, from arriving at the hospital the morning of her surgery in her PJs, to the Jell-O she got to eat post-op, to the nurse taking her stuffed kitty's blood pressure, to riding around the lobby of the hospital in a go-cart. The book is fun and light hearted, with a narrative that mimics the tone of a lot of Chloe's favorite books and pictures that are fun and sometimes funny.
Was her hospital experience fun or funny? Definitely not. It was one of the worst six days and nights I've ever had. It was terrible watching her as she couldn't keep food down, spiked fevers, and fought intense pain. But thanks to the medication she took, Chloe doesn't remember much of that pain, and having a picture book puts the surgery in a much better place for her. Instead of coming from a place of fear, remembering her surgery is an exercise in remembering how brave she was, how weird it was to be in the hospital, and how many loved ones came to visit. As an added bonus, people who visited Chloe in the hospital - including her neurosurgeon - have signed the back pages of the book for her. And when she finally went back to school she couldn't wait to bring the book into her class for show and tell.
Here are some things that helped Chloe deal with her hospital stay:
Being honest: We told Chloe exactly what would happen and why (without overloading her with too much technical information) and answered all of her questions. When we didn't know the answer to something, we wrote it down to remember to ask the surgeon.
Playing doctor: Chloe often pretended to be a neurosurgeon and one of her dolls was the scared patient, which seemed to allow Chloe to process much of what she was preparing for. A favorite game of hers was to reassure a scared patient who was about to have surgery. (She also got a real stethoscope for Christmas, which the anesthesiologist used to listen to her heartbeat before surgery!)
Her favorites: Chloe snuggled her best stuffed kitty, watched her favorite TV show, Curious George, and listened to her favorite books to pass those long hours in the hospital bed. Those home comforts were hugely helpful in making an unfamiliar place seem less scary.
Making her memory book: We created Chloe's hardcover photo book online for less than $25, and Chloe had fun choosing which pictures she wanted (and didn't want) included in the book.
What ways have you helped your own kids deal with doctor visits, surgery, or hospital stays?
About Alex Pecci
Alex is a freelance lifestyle writer and sometimes-blogger at http://burningdownmykitchen.blogspot.com/. She loves spending time with her husband and four-year-old daughter, who are always willing to sample her kitchen successes (homemade taco seasoning) and failures (homemade mozzarella). She also loves to write, travel, cook, eat, and laugh loudly with friends.