When I recently toured our new Children’s Hospital, I’d been aware that great attention was paid to the design for at least a couple of reasons. One was to facilitate the best patient care. Another was to create a place where children would feel secure and comfortable. That well-being, of course, reinforces the care, which is among the very best in the country.
As a young person, I had been to Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital several times. I had my tonsils out and had two eye operations, but it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 5 that Children’s became my home away from home.
I was in kindergarten, waking my parents in the middle of each night, saying “My leg hurts.” The doctors couldn’t find anything, and one told my mother I was just trying to get attention. She didn’t believe it, and we saw more doctors. It turned out that the pain, just above my left knee, was being transferred down from the top of my femur where a tumor the size of my fist was growing.
The sudden operation would mean I’d spend a week in the hospital, including Christmas. When you’re 5 years old, lying in the dark in an institutional room is a big deal.
My small bedroom shared a curtained, floor-to-ceiling glass wall with that of a boy lying next to me. We couldn’t see each other or talk, but for my first three nights, we became close friends simply by knocking on the glass. One would knock and the other would answer. The important thing was that someone was there. One day I knocked and got no response.
My other friends were the nurses and doctors. All the nurses but one were friendly. And though they were serious, the doctors were friendly, too. How reassuring it was when they knew my name. I still remember when the surgeon behind the mask said, “Hi Doug, it’s Dr. Carrothers.”
When they wheeled me into the operating room, I remember telling them, “Don’t operate yet—I’m still awake.” And then, of course, came that cold and bitter ether.
My tumor turned out to be benign, and the operation was a success. I was left with a long scar, which I showed my friends, and I walked with a brace for a while. But that was it. At a cocktail party 15 years later, I introduced myself to Dr. Carrothers and thanked him.
Obviously, there are stories far more dramatic than mine on a daily basis at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Matters of life and death. Worried families and frightened children.
They’ve long received outstanding care, and now they’ll come to one of the best facilities in the nation. The technology is state-of-the-art, and the atmosphere is colorful and kid-friendly. Parents can spend the night with their children, so despite what they face, the children will be in a friendly, happy place that matches the efforts of those who work there.
Our new Children’s Hospital is a marvel. It is also a great testament to the kind of community we have and the leadership and largesse that make Pittsburgh different from other cities.
Douglas Heuck is the publisher and editor of Pittsburgh Quarterly.Summer 2009subscribe