In my work, I visit hospitals often. In the upcoming week, I will be spending a lot of time in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) with my niece who is having heart surgery. (More to come on that.) I find hospitals fascinating- as much for what they offer as for what they don’t. There are three places, in particular, that baffle me.
If I have said this once, I have said it one million times. Hospital parking lots are one of the most dangerous places on earth. Take an overcrowded space, fill it with distracted and often elderly drivers, who are probably running late. Drivers might be sick, might be awaiting critical test results or facing loss. Rare is the hospital visitor who is there for fun and frivolity.
My suggestion: mandatory valet parking that starts like a mile away from the hospital’s front door. A large, well marked professional should simply pull each driver aside and take the keys. “Yes sir, I know you’re an excellent driver. No insult intended. Wife is having a biopsy, you say? Step out of the car, Sir. I’ll take it from here.” Trust me on this one. You take your life in your hands weaving and wheeling through those parking garages populated drivers who have no business behind the wheel at that time.
On this topic, I’m passionate. Waiting rooms are bubbling cauldrons of stories about to boil over. Especially in the case of CHOA, or places like that, waiting rooms are full of parents and grandparents who never thought they’d be there. Even if their loved one is there for something as simple as a tonsillectomy, while they sit in that waiting room, knowing their bundle of joy is in the hands of another, minds race with the what ifs. Every year that I get my mammogram, my own mind races with “breast cancer affects 1 in 9 women... “ and then I start counting women in the waiting room and I’m like, “ 1...2...3...damnit, I’m changing my seat!” As if breast cancer plays this twisted version of Duck, Duck, Goose..
In my opinion, every accredited hospital should have a waiting room concierge that shares the rules with the “waiters”. An interaction something like, “Welcome to the waiting room. No need to smile or speak, we understand you are having one of the most anxious days of your life. Let me show you around. Here is the candy dish of Xanax. We understand you might need this. Back over there is the vomit trough. It is a little gross but better to get these things out before your loved one comes out of surgery. No, you won’t smell it. We pump smelling salts through the vents. That has really cut down on the face plants. Now, over here is where you choose your button - green if you are a talker, red if you’re not. Green folks sit over there. Feel free to share your story with the others about why you’re here, treatments you’ve tried, and how your faith saves you. Exchange emails. Red folks are not to be spoken to, so they sit over here. Most reds will tell you if they even have to part their lips to so much as smile at a stranger, they might head straight to vomit trough. Don’t misunderstand the Reds, they’re usually friendly people. They are just so filled up inside with their own fear, they can’t take on more…”
And so it would go in waiting rooms across the country and things would go much more smoothly.
Hospital elevators are typically silent places with enormous head bubbles drifting above each occupant. Visitors and professionals alike ride up and down without saying much more than, “what floor?” What floor? Let’s see, and again I take you back to the acute example of the children’s hospitals.. “What floor, indeed? Neurology? Hope not. Oncology? God no. ICU??? They should really blow those smelling salts in here too!” But we say nothing. We stand next to the speechless doctor whose head bubble might read, “I have to tell Jonah’s mom that we didn’t get all the cancer.” Or the trembling parent whose head bubble is questioning, “Does it always take this long to wake up after surgery?” Or maybe the housekeeper whose head bubble is a fervent prayer for the child whose room she just cleaned because she cannot get his anguished face out of her mind. And yet we wordlessly ride, rarely taking the opportunity to boldly make eye contact and share compassion.
Hope and Will
There is something else I want to add specifically about the experience at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. CHOA was created in 1998 when Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital and Egleston Hospital came together and it is now one of the largest pediatric healthcare systems in the country. The following year CHOA introduced their mascots, a colorful girl and boy, named Hope and Will.
Hope and Will. Hope. And. Will. A heartfelt slow clap to the branding team at CHOA for this brilliant concept. If you’ve ever been to CHOA, you will see Hope and Will everywhere and that is genius by design. Think back to the elevator with the menu of floors from hell. As a parent’s shaky hand goes to press the button, you know who’s there right on the back of the doors? Hope and Will. And when you’re in the waiting room, tapping your foot, thinking, “this shouldn’t be taking this long, something must be wrong”, you know what you will see everywhere you look? Hope and Will. Hope and Will populates Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and truth be told, just about every other hospital in the country. How do we get through these gut wrenching experiences? These times when we are crushed beneath the weight of our own fear and facing loss? Hope and Will, that’s how. As I travel the halls of CHOA next week to care for my niece and my sister and myself, I will be surrounded by Hope and Will. Her little red dress and his precious green face will remind me that you can weather all storms when you surround yourself with Hope and Will.
And friends, here is what I have learned since the last time I was at Children’s and each time I go to any hospital that isn’t Children’s: Hope and Will are there, too. They may not be painted on the wall, but they are certainly ever present. At low times in my life, whether it was related to health or not, I’ve looked for and always found Hope and Will. The undeniable partnership that can be seen in the sunrise, in the face of your child, in the hand of your parent. Hope for another day and the Will to get you through this one. Sometimes it’s all you’ve got, but usually, it’s all you need.