As the parent of a child with complex medical needs, I’ve spent a lot of time in children’s hospitals. In fact, I’m writing this from my daughter’s bedside in the hospital. We’ve been here for a week. 

When Miss Z goes into the hospital, I go with her. We are a two-for-one deal. Hospitals are frightening places at the best of times, let alone when you are a 4-year old girl with a visual impairment and a limited understanding of what is happening. 

No one likes children’s hospitals. They’re not happy places, no matter how many enthusiastic volunteers, visiting therapy dogs, colourful murals or bedside balloons there may be. It is the stuff of parents’ nightmares – no matter if your child is there with a broken wrist or a life-threatening condition. No one – apart maybe from the people who work there – actually want to be there. But, I have to admit to often feeling a huge sense of relief and calm when Miss Z is admitted to hospital. I relax. I let go of that breath I’ve been holding. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m happy – after all, we are there because Miss Z is unwell – but I find it a comforting place to be. I know, I know. I read that last sentence and even I think I’m crazy.

Maybe I’m suffering from a sort of Stockholm syndrome – where hostages grow attached to their kidnappers. Forced into hospital (generally by bacteria, viruses or seizures instead of kidnappers), I develop an attachment to the very place and people who are ‘imprisoning’ Miss Z, and by default me. Strange, maybe, but true.

As a working mother, my life is constant triage. I’ve got a work deadline, Vegemite has a school event and Miss Z is unwell – what do I do first? Ballet class, hospital appointment, conference call – how do I do them all at the same time?  Added into the triage mix is a never-ending ‘to do’ list of all the little (and not so little) activities of life: grocery shopping, health insurance claims, dog training, taxes, post office, prescription refills, hair appointments, emails, filing, ordering more formula or medical supplies for Miss Z, tidying, and so on…  But when Miss Z and I are in hospital, all that other stuff is put on hold.

I can pause all those other activities. My focus is entirely on Miss Z and getting her well. Yes, that does sometimes involve a constant stream of text messages to make sure Vegemite is picked up from school and that work tasks are postponed or reassigned. But at the end of the day, the responsibility is no longer on my shoulders and (as much as I hate to admit it) the world carries on without me. That is the source of relief, the feeling of comfort, and the reason for my Stockholm syndrome.  

It feels so good to put all my attention and energy towards just getting my little girl healthy again. I have time to think about what the doctors have said – and even better, to follow up with them when, an hour later, a new question springs into my mind. When Miss Z cries, I can cuddle her – not sit in my office and try not to listen to her carer calming her. I can sit by her bedside and watch her sleep to reassure myself she isn’t getting worse, rather than trying to keep an eye on her while making dinner. I don’t have to second-guess myself regarding Miss Z’s health when we’re in the hospital either. Miss Z has grumpy days, where she does little besides fuss and cry and sleep. She also has days when she is unwell, where she does the exact same thing. There have been nights when she has screamed inconsolably for hours for no apparent reason, when she’s gasped and wheezed for breath, when she hasn’t been able to keep medicine or formula down – then come morning she is perfectly happy and well. 

I may know Miss Z better than anyone, but I spend a lot of time trying to decide if I should a) ignore it; b) give Panadol; c) take her to the GP; or d) go to the Emergency Department. I am a mother, not a medical professional, so it can be hugely comforting to be able to call a nurse at the press of a button and ask for advice on the spot. 

I’m not saying a trip to the hospital is on par with a yoga retreat – far from it. I would do just about anything if it meant that Miss Z never had to darken the door of our children’s hospital again.

But, whether it is Stockholm syndrome or just a funny kind of respite, being here is not always such a bad thing.  

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