Welcome to Pediatric Cancerland: How it Feels for the First 24 Hours

By Suzanne Leigh

  • You half-expect someone in the hospital to tell you, “Sorry! We were looking at the wrong scan. You can go home now.” (And you will be so gracious in accepting that apology.)
  •  You are startled to see the other young patients. They look like they have cancer. Your child looks healthy. What is your child doing here?
  •  You are taken aback by a greeting from a social worker. (Why would you need a social worker?)
  • You are taken aback by a greeting from someone representing  the hospital’s “spiritual services.” (Surely you won’t be needing them!)
  • You discover there is no such thing as a nurse: there are RNs and LVNs, CNAs,  PCAs and NPs – all with different responsibilities and positions in the hospital’s pecking order.
  •  You discover there is no such thing as a doctor: there are residents and fellows and attendings. And then there is your child’s oncologist. Theirs is the opinion that will count the most. You don’t know it yet, but you will be seeing a lot of them on the road ahead.
  •  You don’t know the difference between a CT, MRI or PET scan, but you’re beginning to realize that a steep learning curve awaits you.
  •  Your vocabulary rapidly expands to include strange acronyms you’ve never had to use before, like “NPO, “UA,” “BPM” and “WBCs.”
  • Your oncologist gives you the name for your child’s probable diagnosis. You’ve never heard of it, but unless it’s a type of leukemia, it’s most likely to end in “oma.”
  •   You wonder when you’ll be able to Google this new disease – or if you even should.
  • You discover that even for patients in intensive care, parking isn’t free ($3: 50 per hour at our hospital).
  •   You are hearing a lot of references to God and prayers among the many messages from friends and family.
  • You are dismayed by the leaflets displayed in the hospital with applications for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and information about cancer treatments and disabilities.
  •  You wonder why your child’s nurse — whoops, your child’s RN –- is so darned cheerful.
  •  You learn that all medical staff casually enter your room without knocking and that includes the exact second when you’re navigating the tricky transition from pants to PJs.
  •  You settle down in bed beside your child for your first night in the hospital. You close your eyes and try to drift away (if only you could stop the incessant beeping of those monitors …)
  •  You wake up two hours later. No, it isn’t a dreadful dream.

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