It's that fabulous wonderful time of year. Holidays, family gatherings, present giving, and eating galore. Nothing like the month of December to remind people of their blessings and inspire a desire to give back.
Working in a Children's Hospital means a time full of activities, visitors, and high census of patients. We are quite fortunate that even with several other larger children's hospitals in the area, we usually have an overflow of groups that wish to brings gifts to our patients at the hospital. However, we run in to a lot of the same problems, so I thought i'd give a little visiting 101 for any of you who are thinking of spending some time at your local pediatric wing, so you can avoid looking like an idiot... and keep from incurring the wrath and scorn of your local CCLS.
1. We get very full, very quickly. While we are certainly very very grateful that you are inspired to give during this time of year, please remember that everybody else and their families are thinking the same thing. Seriously, we get calls in August and September to start booking slots. So if you are very determined to come, call early and have flexibility in your availability. If we are not able to accommodate you for a full visit, please consider just making a flat donation of toys for our playroom, that is something the kids can use year round.
2. We only book one or two people a day. Having visitors is actually very stressful for us- having a full visit means at least 30-45 minutes ahead of time getting report from nurses and assessing our census, another hour or two of touring groups, and then clean up afterwards. Its a large time commitment so we can only really take a few people at a time-- so please don't be angry if we can't just 'squeeze' you in. Update: If we tell you no, PLEASE do not just show up and expect to guilt us into taking you around. *true story*
3. We love when people call with specific ideas of what they would like to bring/do, but please always run the ideas by us first (and don't take it personally if we veto an idea). The problem often is that outsiders have a great idea of what they want to do, which may or not translate to practicality. For instance, we love that you are a champion bagpipe player, but playing in the hospital... not such a great idea. Flutes? Yes. Bagpipes? No.
4. Along that line, flexibility is key. Look, to be frank, we can tell the difference between people who are giving out of the goodness of their hearts and those who have an agenda. People who are giving because they want to do something for other people are usually willing to alter their plans to fit what meets our needs best. We are ALWAYS grateful to recieve gifts for our patients, but not every idea is feasible. Please defer to us--- when we tell you it is NOT possible to only identify those kids with certain illnesses and give them gifts... we mean it.
5. We don't discriminate. EVERY patient is offered christmas/hannuakah/kwanzaa/halloween/easter/thanksgiving/etc activities regardless of ethnicity and religion. We love everyone.
6. The 'little bald kids' are very rarely the sick ones. Everyone coming into the hospital wants to see the cancer kids, but honestly- most of the time that is a very low percentage of the our population, and often those kids are relatively healthy. Pediatric cancer, as a whole, has an average cure rate of 80%; many of our other, full hair-headed kids, face more dire odds. The teen age girl with long brown hair is just as appreciative of your gift as the bald headed five year old. And guess what? They are all scared and all don't want to be at the hospital.
7. Always ask before you take pictures. Most places have very specific rules about photo consents. Even if a parent says it's ok, we can not legally allow you to take pictures of their child without proper documentation, and it's a hassle. Pictures of your group? Sure. Posing in the playroom to show off the toys you donated? Great! But unless you have a full marketing package (aka... you are a professional sports team, or hospital sponsored event), taking pictures of patients is just not appropriate.
8. Along those lines... remember these are kids just like yours. This isn't a trip to the zoo to see the rare animals; these are real human beings who are scared, tired, and sick. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes? Treat them with the same dignity and respect you would want.
9. Using a hospital visit as a way to 'teach your kid a lesson' is so inappropriate (see tip 8). We completely understand you want your kids to appreciate their blessings and to realize there are others less fortunate. My hospital wing is not the time or place to do that. It is offensive to subjugate the families and make an example out of them. Send your bratty kid to the humane society, or send them to boot camp. Do NOT call me and complain that I can't open a spot in two days because you want your child to realize they have it so much better than others. Seriously. #endrant
9a. please have proper child care for your little kids. Most hospital have an age limit for visitors--- its' for your kids safety. It is frankly just not smart to bring a four year old to the hospital and expose them to all kinds of yuckiness. Hire a babysitter, or leave them with a non-rider.... for those theme park enthusiasts out there.
10. If you have to change your date/cancel please let us know ASAP. We are holding a spot for you that could be filled by the many other people we have to turn away.
11. Please remember the hospital is open 365 days a year. If you can't fit in the holiday visit because of our schedule, we would be more than happy to have you in the other 11 months. In fact, here's a secret, the families will love you more and the kids will be even more excited to have a random present in May than in December when they are expecting it.
*** All hospitals vary in their rules and policies. Always check with your specific point person rather than taking these things at their literal value.
*** We are SOOO appreciative of our visitors, and don't get me wrong, most people who come are amazing. We could not do our programming without their generosity. However... these are just some ideas to avoid being the 5% of people who call and make us want to pull our hair out.