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How My Hospitalization Gave Me a Second Family

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I have two families. One that I was born into and the other I have been lucky enough to become apart of over the last couple of years. Let me tell you a little about my “other” family.

My other family is made up of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, play therapists, music therapists, hospital porters, cleaners, catering staff and fellow patients. You see, almost three years ago I started to develop spinal problems which, long story short, have caused me to need two major spinal surgeries – along with numerous minor surgeries and procedures, all of which left me needing to learn to walk again three times.

Due to all of this, I’ve racked up a fair amount of inpatient days, somewhere around the 190 to 200 day mark. Both hospitals I attend are quite close to each other, but the only difficulty is, these hospitals are four and a half hours from my hometown. My main hospital is a children’s hospital in Dublin’s city center. It is one of the national children’s hospitals here in Ireland, caring for some of the sickest children in the country. It is an extremely busy hospital seeing on average 145,000 patients a year, but in saying that – it is actually quite a small hospital with less than 100 beds. So there is a real homely feel about the hospital, and if you are a long-term patient, the hospital staff start to become like your family.

Two years ago I spent four months there, and my “normal day” wasn’t like a normal day for most people my age. Most mornings at around 6:30 a.m. my team of spinal surgeons would come by my ward during their rounds. Like any teenager, I do not appreciate being woken at 6:30 any day of the week. I don’t even get up that early for school! Once I heard them coming in to the ward, I pulled my blanket up over my face and tucked it in under my head in the hope that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off me. I had hope that they’d just let me sleep. Unfortunately, though, there was usually at least four surgeons trying to wake me and pull my blanket off, and only one of me trying to ignore them. They usually won this battle.

After our morning battle and they checked in on my wounds and all the medically fascinating stuff they’re interested in, they’d finally leave and I’d go back to sleep until around 8:30. At 8:30 the nurses would come in and wake me and would usually check in on me every few minutes after that to make sure I hadn’t gone back asleep, which happened to happen quite a lot. Once I was a bit less zombie-like and looked awake, the catering lady would come in and ask me would I want some breakfast. She’d make me a mug of hot chocolate in my Minnie Mouse mug and would give me some toast and fruit with that.

At around 10 a.m. every weekday I would be brought up to the school room to do some school work. Let me tell you right now, hospital teachers are amazing! I mean these teachers basically covered my entire math and course work for my Irish state exams with me. Thanks to the school in the hospital, I received an “A” in my English and math exams.

After an hour or two learning some algebra, my physical therapist would appear at the school door ready to take me to my session – which I had renamed, “torture time.” I had two physical therapists, a male and a female – both of which I loved, but I couldn’t admit that to them. Once I’d done the really painful stuff and hard work, we’d always end the session with a game – my personal favorite being “hit as many physical therapists as you can with a bean bag.” Once I’d successfully bean bagged a few physical therapists, it was back to the ward with me for lunch.

Most afternoons I would go to see my psychologist and psychology nurse and catch up with them. Without them, I would not be the positive person I am today. They were there to help me cope with all the changes that were happening in my life and they gave me coping mechanisms to help me deal with my chronic pain. We had and still have an amazing relationship. I felt like I could tell them everything, and I did. Whether it was who I’d almost knocked over in my wheelchair while free wheeling down the ramp in the main hospital, or whether I felt like nothing was ever going to get better. I love seeing them even now when I go to outpatients. I always came out with a huge smile on my face and I often laughed until my stomach was sore! They are like that cousin that you would trust your life with, whom you share everything with.

My music therapist was like a psychologist as well, and I used to see her twice a week. I told everyone it was the only therapy I liked. I wrote a song with her, which I performed for all my teams. It was my way of telling them exactly how I felt.

I’d have occupational therapy every second afternoon where we concentrated on giving me as much independence as possible. I loved my occupational therapist as she was young and was into makeup, so some of my exercises were lifting my arms high enough into the air to put mascara on. We’d usually play some games on the Wii, my personal favorite being “Just Dance on Broadway.” She helped me relearn how to do everyday tasks and helped me make adjustments to my new normal.

Once I’d finished all my therapies, for the first few weeks I wasn’t well enough to leave the hospital, so only made it to the hospital canteen. But, once my surgeon signed off on me getting a few hours leave in the afternoon, my mam and I used to head down to O’Connell’s Street in Dublin’s city center, which was a few minute walk from the hospital. This usually resulted in regular shopping sprees! At least once a week I’d arrive back to the hospital with a bag of clothes from Primark. The nurses would get all excited to see all my new buys and my consultant surgeon was fascinated with how much clothes and make up a teenage girl buys.

I became one of the featured patients in my hospitals national fundraising campaigns, which meant I got to meet a whole load of celebrities. (See hospitals aren’t all bad, there’s some good points!) I met everyone from Irish rugby players, boybands and I also met the All-Ireland winning Gaelic football team manager. The fundraising team members were some of the most enthusiastic and amazing people I’ve ever met. They made my stay so much easier and enjoyable by organizing trips out for me and having different celebrities visiting the hospital. Thanks to them, I’ve organized some major fundraisers for my hospital since being discharged as a thank you for everything they have done for me!

The nurses on the ward were like mothers to me. To this day I still call up to the ward to catch up with them, when I have outpatient appointments. I know the doctors are the ones that fix the problem, but it’s the nurses that get you better. They are there with you every moment of the day. They’re the shoulder you cry on when you are screaming in pain, but they are also the ones who made me laugh everyday and made my life as normal as it can be living in a hospital. Thanks to them I am determined to become a pediatric nurse when I go to university. I want to make the difference in other patient’s lives, and I would feel like I am giving back to all the nurses who made me into the person I am today.

One person, though, who is like an extended member of our family is Jack, the head porter in the hospital. Jack is the man that makes my hospital the special place it is. He helped our family through the hardest days of our life and always managed to put a smile on our face. Jack seemed to work everyday and he would call up to see me most days and always put a smile on my face with his inspirational and motivational speeches. He makes long-term patients feel special by having us involved on big days at the hospital, like the Christmas light turn on – where he had reserved me a special spot beside the switch so that I could see properly. He then brought me in to meet the rugby players who were there as guests on the day. Jack made our stay special, and even now if I’m not well we’ll send him a message to let him know, because we always keep him up to date on what is happening with me. Jack truly is one in a million!

That’s my second family! I am an extremely lucky person as these people are always there for me, and I genuinely love them all. This will always be something I will thank my 80 year old spine for. I will thank it for the family I have been lucky to become apart of. I will always have a special place in my heart for my “hospital family.” I have met hundreds of patients, some of which have become good friends of mine who understand what it is like to not to be like the average teenager. If you have been lucky enough to also have gained a “hospital family,” you will understand the special bonds that are made for life. For this bond I am forever grateful.

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Originally published: December 20, 2017
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