When Tarica broke her elbow in November, it felt unforgiveable. Why did God allow it to happen to her, of all people? Wasn’t she suffering enough?
My mom, a curious mix of optimism and fatalism, had another perspective. “Perhaps,” she said, “more exposure to doctors will help Tarica get over her fears.”
In this, Tarica needs all the help she can get. The hospital stay in March was a nightmare, although I attribute much of her behavior to side effects from the quarts of drugs being pumped into her seizing body.
But her behavior in the months following had not reassured me that her next hospital stay would be any better. She hated doctors, hated attention, hated, abhorred, despised needles.She drew into herself like a frightened turtle the minute we walked into a medical office, no matter how big her talk was in the van.
Could any good thing come out of a broken elbow? Not likely.
The morning of the first orthopedic visit, I dropped Micah off at my mom’s. My sister ran out to the van with a gift bag. “Here’s a birthday present for you, Tarica,” she said and handed it to her. In the bag was a Melissa & Doug chipmunk house with puffy, reusable stickers: Mama and Papa Chipmunk, three fat-cheeked offspring, and more furniture than we have in our own house.
At the doctor’s office, I helped Tarica out of the van and, at the last minute, grabbed the chipmunk house. That decision ranks in the top ten wisest impulses I’ve ever had. As soon as we settled into waiting room chairs, Tarica wanted me to open the package. She played with her chipmunks the rest of the visit and tolerated the doctor’s presence more calmly than usual, thanks to the distraction.
The doctor wanted to see Tarica again in a week. At her second visit, her cast needed to be replaced because the swelling had gone down, loosening the first cast. The nurses cut the cast off, with surprisingly little fuss from the patient, and then prepared to put on cast #2.
They slid a long sock over her arm, a thin layer of protection against her skin. Without prompting, Tarica reached over, picked up a scissors, and prepared to cut the sock off just beyond her fingers. The two nurses looked at each other, eyebrows raised. “You remember what comes next, don’t you, sweetie?”
They let her cut the sock.
When they were wrapping her arm in plaster, she again reached for the scissors to make a cut in the plaster around her thumb. Without prompting. She snipped the plaster, her eyes intent.
I stood with my mouth slightly open, brain churning. This discovery was important, and if not for her elbow, I might not have realized it before her hospital stay.
If she could somehow participate in events instead of feeling like a helpless victim, she relaxed and cooperated.
And the chipmunk house. If she was distracted, she was more likely to behave.
My mom was right. Even a broken bone had some good in it.
* * *
I need your help.
Tarica will be hospitalized for ten days next month. She is not sick. She is a healthy child (other than epilepsy) with a need for exercise and activity. Instead, she will be attached to wires and made to stay in sight of a camera at all times. And she doesn’t like doctors or nurses.
I don’t have to describe all the ways this scenario could go wrong. Your imagination will do it quite nicely.
I need suggestions for ways to keep her involved and distracted, not necessarily at the same time.
The suggestions should be
- easy to pack and transport
- suitable for a five-year-old
She enjoys numbers and hates coloring. Because of the drugs, her hands shake, so anything requiring fine motor skills wearies her. She loves stickers and dolls. She likes I Spy and Can You See What I See? books, but I think we’ve borrowed most of them from our library already. Do you know of any age-appropriate search-and-find books other than these?
She likes games, but many of them are too bulky to pack. Are there any travel-size games you can recommend?
The hospital has a children’s library on the same floor as the epilepsy center, so I’m not planning on taking storybooks. Unless you have a can’t-miss book to recommend?
Here are some ideas and suggestions I’m already considering:
- A hand mirror, so she can watch the wires being attached to her head
- A doctor set, so she can give the nurse the needle in turn
- A balloon pump and those skinny balloons to make animals, which I don’t know how to do, but I can learn
- Her beloved preschool books—if she doesn’t finish them all before February
I need enough variety to keep her from being bored, but not so much that we need a moving van to haul the luggage. The hospital has some resources we can use, but I’d like to be as prepared as possible. In addition, I’m hoping the collection of fun activities will give Tarica something to anticipate.
Can you help me?