the children's hospital

I recently spent a night at the UNC Children's Hospital. Everyone is fine and the little patient was discharged after less than 24 hours because she was recovering so well. But not all of the kids I saw there were fortunate enough to need only one night in the hospital.

There were kids there, and their families, who clearly had been there for a while. A week, maybe more. There were older kids. There were infants.

One little girl had hand-drawn signs on her door letting the staff know when she was awake, asleep, etc. You don't even know what kinds of signs you would need to make unless you've spent at least a full day there, experiencing the routines and the unexpected awakenings and the odd schedule of tests and checks and pricks and visits. And on the window of her room, the most recently passed holiday-themed mural included her name. She had likely been there at least a week. Who knows how much longer.

Late into the evening, I saw a caregiver pushing a toddler around in one of those low strollers that looks like a racecar. This tot looked to be about my son's age, maybe a couple of months younger. She seemed unsettled, like she wasn't sure what was going on around her. I figured she was probably new. Maybe it was her first night, or maybe her second. I would be bewildered for days to know I was sick enough to be admitted, too. The image of the child my own son's age, wide-eyed and uncomfortable, is one I don't think I'll ever forget.

During one of my treks out of the room -- to the linen closet, the snack room, the elevators -- I noticed a lady walking the halls pulling a radio flyer wagon and an IV bag. In the wagon was a baby who wasn't even old enough to sit up on his own yet. I didn't think about it at the time; it was only later that it occurred to me that this floor had a couple of wagons.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: this floor needs wagons, so that parents and caregivers can pull their sick babies around. The linen closet is stocked with tiny, absolutely tiny hospital gowns. The rooms' exterior windows overlook a "memory garden" full of oversized sculptures of flowers, animals, and bugs that move.

We'd anticipated our stay to be brief, and it was. There are some kids -- some infants -- who have spent a lot of time here, though. Long enough that their caregivers didn't even have to think about how to load an infant into a wagon and haul him around without losing track of the IV. Long enough that they don't have to look at the menu anymore to know what they want for dinner. Long enough for the staff to paint a personalized mural on their window. How grateful I am for my son's health. So very, very grateful.

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