This is a story of determination and luck. And maybe some magic.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a lot of medical problems and saw the inside of a hospital for many, many days.
She got sick, then a little better, then a LOT sicker, then better, better, a little better, and then better still. But she still went into the hospital from time to time, by way of the Emergency Department. It’s just the way life was for this little girl, and it wasn’t fair, but it just was. It was nobody’s fault. She made the most of it, by making routines of walking her mommy to the door every night with her father, through the halls of the hospital, to the farthest building that was still connected, and then going to see the fish in the PICU, and coming back and reading Harry Potter until they fell asleep.
She learned how to flush her IV lines and when unsuspecting people would come in, she would squirt them with the flushes she kept in her bed. Then she would laugh maniacally.
She and her parents would set up Christmas Lights at night, and then take them down during the day so they didn’t get yelled at.
She would ride on her IV pole when no one was looking.
She would have her toenails painted by her favorite nurse.
Sometimes she would sneak downstairs with her mom and get a hair cut, or go to the chapel, or go to the gift shop to get a prize.
That’s when she was feeling well, which wasn’t all the time, but she and her parents made the best of the times that they had when she was feeling better and in the hospital.
All together, she spent over two hundred days as an inpatient at Massachusetts General Hospital.
She didn’t really know it, but she was becoming AN EXPERT at being a hospital patient. And she knew a lot more than other kids about it.
Her name is Wendy, and she’s my daughter. While this was happening, she was between the ages of 3 and 5. Now she’s twelve.
A few years ago a neighbor called us. You see, both of her kids were in the hospital. One was an expected surgery and one was an emergency appendectomy. The mom called us a few times to ask questions about what to bring, what to do, what to expect. Wendy and I answered her questions together. We realized together that we knew a lot of things that average people don’t about hospitals and how to handle them. We decided to write a story about our experiences.
The story was designed to help kids who were waiting in the Emergency Room, and were probably in pain, and likely nervous or scared. If those kids asked their parents what to expect, a lot of the times, their parents didn’t know how to answer and were worried themselves. Wendy and I thought that together we could help both the kids and their parents. Once we were finished, we wondered what in the world should we do with it now?
We decided to give it to the hospital, and find a way to get it published. We thought it would make a great coloring book. Well, like many things in a hospital, it had to have a committee, so everyone could look at it. So with the help of the chair of the Family Advisory Council, a committee was formed, with doctors and nurses, and social workers, and child life specialists, and a few other people.
They said they loved it….but could we change it?
So we did. We made it more technical, explaining more and more things. But we hated it because it didn’t feel like Wendy’s story anymore.
The committee hated it too. So we started all over again, and this time made it more personal. That felt better. We had a good working draft and it was approved. Yay!
Then….tragedy struck. The Emergency Department decided that when it went through renovations that it was going to go paperless. So no book.
What do we do now?. Then I thought maybe we could get it animated. But money was a problem, I didn’t have any to put toward a project, and so I looked into an internship at the hospital for a student of computer animation. We made a job description, we found a mentor at the hospital, we filled out all the paperwork.
We got an intern! Yay!
But, then tragedy struck again. It was too much for the intern to handle, too big of a project. He didn’t tell us until the internship was over that he basically had nothing to show for his time.
And I thought, this is it, this is the end, after two years. How in the world am I going to tell Wendy? I had run out of options, and I did something I rarely ever do. I felt self-pity. I was so unbelievably sad. I wrote about it on facebook, saying just that. I had run out of ideas and I was going to have to give up, something I hated.
LOTS of people responded with ideas. Lots of people gave names of people who could help. One friend asked for the transcript, so I sent it to him. Then Stu said, “Would you mind coming in tomorrow to talk to my team about it?”
And I said Yes, thinking that I was going to have to pitch the story to this group of people in an architecture firm, so I planned what I was going to say and I went to the meeting.
That’s when something magical happened.
The had already decided! They were going to animate it!
And so we have been working on this project with them for almost six months. Wendy has given her voice to the story, and she will be the narrator outside of the scenes. The Architecture firm, Payette, has been to the hospital to take pictures of the rooms. They have drawn a cartoon Wendy. They have recorded her voice. It should be mostly ready in a few weeks. And I just can’t help but marvel at it, at all the kids it’s going to help. It’s right now being called #projectW. The idea now is going to look like this:
A child and his/her parent come to the emergency room. They go through triage, and are sent to the pediatric portion of the ED, a separate place. While they are waiting for treatment, they will be given an Ipad with the story that they can watch, which will be about 10 minutes long. Wendy will tell them lots of what they can expect. It will be her person who will reduce their anxiety. It will be the pictures that Payette has drawn that will show them the way.
I just can’t wait the few more weeks until this is finished!!!! Those of you who know me have been bored probably to tears hearing me talk about it, worry about it, work on it, or explain the many iterations. I am sorry if that has happened. But I promise that when it’s over, it will totally be worth it. I just cannot wait!
Wendy is totally taking it in stride, like she becomes a cartoon character every day. That’s just the way she is.
Like I said, determination, luck, and magic.
Photo: the first working cartoon drafts of Wendy’s character.