The room

Hospital rooms are often painted an institutional shade of gray or green, and somehow, most windows seem to look out over a power plant. Covering the walls with big, bright posters (Disney characters, sports figures, rock groups) can liven up the room immensely.

The first thing we put up in Meagan's room was a huge poster of The Little Engine That Could saying, "I think I can, I think I can."

Cards can be displayed on the walls, hanging from strings like a mobile, or taped around the windowsills. Put up pictures of the child engaged in her favorite activity, and add photos of friends, too. Most hospitals don't allow flowers on oncology floors since they can grow a fungus that can make children sick, but its fun to have bouquets of balloons bobbing in the corners. Younger children derive great comfort from having a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or quilt on their bed. If it doesn't bother your child, make the room smell good with potpourri or aromatherapy oils.

I went and bought a travel bag on wheels. It is so much easier than trying to carry several handle bags when Zach is admitted. It has several pockets to carry stuff. I love it and wished I had done it two years ago when we started this!

I take these things to the hospital: flavored creamer for my coffee (a little treat for me); a book for us to read together so I don't go crazy from Cartoon Network (we are reading the Narnia series, and I snuggle up with Zach in his bed while we read); his favorite pillow from home; little airplanes and parachuters to drop from the third floor at night when the lobby is empty (if he's feeling well enough); my thermometer so I can check his temp anytime I want to; lots of Legos; phone numbers of friends; canned ravioli; toaster strudels; story tapes (Adventures in Odyssey); and music CDs with earphones.

To personalize the visit of each member of the medical staff, some parents bring a guestbook to sign. Others put up a visitor sign-in poster, which must be signed before examinations begin or vital signs are taken. Another variation of the sign-in poster is to have each staff member outline her hand and write within the print. If your budget allows, an instant camera can help identify the many staff members involved in your childs care and can provide a fun activity for your child.

In my position as a parent consultant, I suggest that a journal (suggested titles are Book of Hope, Book of Sharing, My Cancer Experience, Friends Indeed) be kept in the child's room for any visitor, family member, or medical caregiver to write in at any time. Leaving a message if the child is sleeping or out of the room for procedures can be a nice surprise. Later, a surviving child and her family, or the family of a child who has died, have a memory book of those who have touched their lives.

Bringing music will help block out some of the hospital noise as well as help everyone relax. A small cassette player, Walkman with earphones, or CD boom box is portable and useful.

My daughter's preschool teacher sent a care package. She made a felt board with dozens of cutout characters and designs that provided hours of quiet entertainment. She also included games, drawings from each classmate, coloring books, markers, get well cards, and a child's tape player with earphones. Because we had run out of our house with just the clothes on our backs, all of these toys were very, very welcome.

Although many hospitals provide brightly colored smocks for the patients, most children and teens prefer to wear their own clothing if at all possible. This can pose a laundry problem, so check to see if the floor has washers available for families to use.

As soon as possible after admission, ask for a "floor tour." Find out if a microwave and refrigerator are available, learn what the approved parent sleeping arrangements are, and ask about showers and bathtubs for both patients and parents. Obtain a hospital handbook if one is available. These booklets often include information on billing, parking, discounts, and other helpful items.

Either my husband or I stayed with Delaney the entire time she was in the hospital (with AML, that is not a small number of nights). To improve the comfort of the fold-out chair that the hospital provides for the sleep-in parent, we used a self-inflating camping mat. When it is rolled out, it self inflates with a one-way valve. The straps can be used to secure it to the vinyl chair. It makes the chair much more comfortable and allows your muscles to relax. When it is not in use, it can be rolled up with straps and set in the corner.

Many children's hospitals have in-room or portable VCRs available. Sign up for a convenient time and bring in or rent a favorite funny video. Ask if the floor has a sign-out video library and review the list for your childs favorite movies or cartoons. Bring in age-appropriate games, puzzles, and books. Humor helps, so joke books and things that make kids laugh (i.e. silly string) are great items to pack.

A friend brought in a bag from the local dime store. He included a water pistol (good for unwelcome visitors or unfriendly interns), play dough, Slinky, checkers, dominos, bubbles, a book of corny jokes, and puzzles.

Confident Kids

Confident Kids

Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.

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