I mentioned a few weeks ago that my friend Christine invited me to participate in a marathon. Now, Christine is actually a runner, and a pretty avid one, at that; so I presumed she must have an inflated sense of the athletic ability of most humans, since I couldn't possibly think of when I had given her the impression that I enjoyed running like she does. I'm not ashamed to tell you that when I first opened her email I, quite literally, laughed right out loud. I am the opposite of athletic; in fact, I resent running to the bathroom. The thought of me doing a full-on marathon is comical, even under the best of circumstances.
But Christine is persistent, and after I replied to her email (which said, in essence, "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!"), she responded that this is the kind of marathon that I could totally get into. This is the MiracleMarathon, to benefit the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, an organization that raises funds for over 170 children's hospitals across North America. "You just have to walk one mile a day for 26 days," she said. "And then 1.2 miles on the 27th day. You know, for the kids."
"Just one mile a day?"
"One mile a day."
"I can do that."
"Dude, you can totally do that. Walking to your local coffee shop for a croissant totally counts."
So with that, I'm in: next month, from September 12th through October 16th, I'm going to be walking a mile a day to benefit the Texas Children's Hospital right here in Houston. And if you'd like to cheer me on, here are some fun ways to do it:
1) JOIN MY TEAM! As Christine said, a mile a day is really nothing -- you likely already do it walking to your bus stop, or for your cup of coffee, or even around your office every day. Why not help support the awesome Texas Children's Hospital while you do? And the best part is that you'll do this at your leisure, in whatever way makes sense for you. So if you'd like to join me, simply sign up to be on my team (you don't even have to be located in Houston). If you sign up as a MiracleMaker (as opposed to the free limited registration), I can even give you a discount code (enter MiracleKarenW when you register, for 10% off), and you'll get some cool swag, including a nifty little pedometer to help keep you on task. Together we'll raise money for an awesome hospital, more of which I'll tell you about, below. (Bonus: if you're on my team, whether as a limited registrant or a MiracleMaker, we'll keep up with each other with the hashtag #TCHMiracles -- in addition to the #MiracleMarathon hashtag -- share photographs of our walk days on Instagram, and I might even do a giveaway of some cool stuff. So sign up and stay tuned -- I'll send an email out with more awesomeness the day before we start!)
JUST CLICK HERE TO JOIN TEAM CHOOKOOLOONKS. You'll be so happy you did.
2) Don't join my team, but walk anyway! Maybe you love the idea of the #MiracleMarathon, but there's a hospital closer to home that you'd like to sponsor -- that's TOTALLY awesome as well. You can click here to check and see if there's a Children's Miracle Network hospital near you, and register to support that hospital. And just for doing that good deed, you can still use my discount code to register as a Miracle Maker-- enter MiracleKarenW for 10% off.
Thanks friends. (And for the record, I'm totally telling people I'm a marathoner when this is all over. Even if I do still break a sweat running to the bathroom.)
about Texas Children's Hospital
In preparation for doing the #MiracleMarathon, Texas Children's Hospital invited me to come take a tour of their facilities. For the record, I already loved Texas Children's: they've got an amazing reputation here in Houston, and when I was looking for a pediatrician for Alex, one of my personal requirements was that he or she be affiliated with this particular hospital. So to be honest, I was already an easy sell. But far be it for me to back away from a photo opportunity, so naturally, I immediately responded that I'd be thrilled to come visit. And a week ago, we made it happen.
My tour guide for the day was Jennifer, a smart, friendly woman who clearly believes wholeheartedly in the mission of the hospital. "Thanks for coming," she said, as she shook my hand firmly. "I have to warn you, though, I'm going to overwhelm you."
"I like being overwhelmed."
"Awesome. Let's get started."
Our first stop was the Texas Children's Pavilion for Women -- the birthing centre of the hospital. This section of the hospital was built in 2012, and is straight-up state-of-the-art. First of all, the birthing rooms are huge ...
... with every possibly gizmo that can possibly help deliver a baby safely. The birthing bed has parts of it that break away, so that if a mother is more comfortable delivering in a different position, she can do that. There's a private bathroom with a birthing tub, that even has jets of water in it for massage, if a labouring mom needs it. There are entire operating theatre lighting and computers that descend from the ceiling at the touch of a button, should it be necessary. There's a neonatal resuscitative station that is in the room, if that emergency arises. But I think this was my favourite thing in the room:
See how the phone has two receivers, above? Well, not only is that a normal phone, but somehow (magic, perhaps?), if Mom doesn't speak English, she can speak into one receiver, and the doctor can listen in the other receiver for the English translation of her words, and vice versa. In that way, doctor and mom can still communicate during the stress of childbirth, without worrying about a language barrier.
I will pause here to tell you that as I was listening to the description of all of this, I got a little emotional. During my trip to Ethiopia, one of the centres we visited was a rural birthing centre, and without going into detail, this room I was standing in at Texas Children's was a far cry from the bare metal table and dimly-lit room that I saw at the Ethiopian clinic back in 2012. The difference was breathtaking, and the disconnect prompted me to ask Jennifer if the hospital does anything for indigent patients here in Houston.
I love that all of this amazing technology isn't reserved for the wealthy. I started feeling really good about decision to participate in the #MiracleMarathon.
"Any chance I could see the nursery?"
"Sure," said the representative of the Women's Pavilion who was accompanying us. "But you won't see any babies."
"Oh! How come?"
"Because research has shown that babies do far better when they stay with their families as much as possible after birth -- nursing is easier, and the families begin to bond. We're very family-focused here at Texas Children's -- unless there's something wrong with the baby, the baby stays with mom and her family in her room, and the pediatric and obstetric nurse takes care of the family as a whole, before they go home."
The hallways, which were quiet, suddenly filled with the sound of a crying baby.
"Ha! There you go," said the representative, smiling. "A brand new one!"
"Wait, a baby was just born right then?!"
I turned away to hide my own tears.
Our next stop was the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, or the "cath lab," if you want to sound in-the-know. This was intense: gone are the days, apparently, when you had to crack a baby's chest open to do heart surgery. Nowadays, the preferred method is to use a small catheter, resembling a long straw, and advance it via a large artery or vein (usually one in the child's leg), up to her heart to perform the surgery. The cath lab is where this all goes down.
We walked down a long hallway, to a door with a sheet of paper taped to it, with the printed words, "QUIET PLEASE." I assumed behind the door was the operating theatre.
"I think something's going on today," said the cath lab representative who had met Jennifer and me. "Shall we take a look?"
He opened the door, and instead of an elevated room of chairs overlooking an operating table (like I'd seen in the movies), we walked into a room lined with computer screens. There were a few people sitting in front of the screens, peering at them intently. Behind the screens were large glass windows, and through them I could see a small patient lying on the table, surrounded by several people with surgical scrubs and masks. One of them was a tall man, standing over the patient with his arms crossed.
Suddenly, from my right, a small woman wearing Hawaiian-print scrubs caught my attention.
"How are you doing today?" she smiled.
"Fine thank you, how are you?" I whispered back.
"Good." She sat down in front of me, and started fiddling with the buttons on a panel in front of her.
"Okay," she said, "I'm going to take it 2mm ...."
We watched for several minutes in silence, until the cath lab rep motioned for us to leave. As we walked back out of the door, it finally dawned on me what we had witnessed.
"Hold up," I said, "that woman who said hi to me -- she was the surgeon, right?"
He grinned. "Right."
"And she was actually doing surgery on a heart while I was standing behind her?"
"Yes, exactly. You see that she could've gone around that panel of windows to get to the patient if something went wrong, but in general, she stays behind the computer screens and works there. A child's heart can be smaller than your thumb, so the screens enable her to do her work as precisely as possible. But also, did you notice the people in the actual operating room?"
"Well, some were students, but there was a tall man in there ..."
"Yes! Standing with his arms crossed?"
"Yes. He is the assisting surgeon. He stands there right by the patient's side, also in case something goes wrong."
"But if nothing goes wrong, he's just standing there, having an incredibly boring day?"
"Well, the surgery is usually about 4 to 5 hours, but yes. If all goes well, he has an incredibly boring day."
I took a long breath. "Unbelievable. So in these surgeries, how long does it take for the kids to heal?"
"Well, if this was the standard type of catheterization surgery, the patient will go home tonight."
He laughed. "Yeah. I mean, she'll be on medication to help manage the pain for a day or so, but in a couple of days, assuming all goes well, she'll be running around like nothing happened."
I turned and looked at Jennifer. "Dude, this is witchcraft. A doctor did heart surgery and wasn't even in the room with the patient."
"It's very exciting," the rep continued. "I mean, Texas Children's does a lot of global health work -- our physicians' reach expands beyond our borders every day with active programs in almost 18 countries. With this particular surgery, the possibilities are exciting -- being able to do this surgery here in Houston, while a medical team is at the side of a child, say, somewhere in Africa ... the possibilities are really endless."
He spoke a bit longer, but eventually, it was time for Jennifer and I to go. I shook his hand and thanked him. And as I followed Jennifer onto the elevator for our next destination, I couldn't stop muttering.
"I want you to be sure to see our Child Life program," Jennifer was saying. "Do you know what that is?"
"I have no idea."
"It's cool, you'll see."
The elevator opened onto a brightly coloured floor with a huge sitting room, filled with families. We made our way through the crowd to a tiny little operating room, where some cloth dolls were waiting for, ostensibly some sort of doll procedure.
Also in the room was Erika, a Child Life Professional. She introduced herself warmly. "So, has Jennifer explained what we do?"
"No, not at all," I said. "She was waiting for you."
"Well, what I do is I help the children who are coming in here for procedures to get comfortable with what's going to happen. Basically, my job is to help them feel safe -- because let's face it, hospitals are really scary places -- and give them back a bit of power in their healing and treatment. So I explain what all the equipment is -- what the lights look like, why the beds move, what the masks are for -- and let them play with it, so that when they go through the real deal, it's not as scary."
She proceeded to show me how she works: illustrating that the large light over the bed "is sort of like the light at your dentist! You've seen that before, right? It's just a big fancy one!" She talked about the bed ("you have a bed at home, right? Well, this is a special bed -- because when you go to sleep for the doctor, it's such a deep sleep, your mom and dad could jump on the bed, and you wouldn't wake up until it was time -- so this bed moves while you're sleeping, so that the doctor can see you better!). She told me that all of the kids who come in, even when they're coming in for something as intense as brain surgery, are most afraid of getting a shot, "but we don't do shots! Your doctor will put you to sleep by letting you breathe in this mask, want to try this one, to see what the mask feels like?" And the anaesthesia can even be scented -- bubble gum, grape, even coconut -- so that as the children drift off, they're smelling their favourite smells. (For the record, the bubble gum was a bit horrifyingly cloying, even though it's apparently a favourite among the kids. I liked the coconut scent. It smelled like a beach vacation.)
Erika was really good at what she does, and she's incredibly passionate about it. She is one of about 30 child life specialists in the hospital, and they're on call for about 20 hours a day, to help kids get comfortable with their procedures, or even comfort them if they're scared before or afterwards.
"Can I ask, what's your background? Are you nurses, or teachers, or ...?"
"Well, most of us were psychology majors or sociology majors in university," she answered, "but there's a certification program and a code of ethics that you have to complete to become an actual child life specialist. Most people have never heard of us, but we're a growing profession. And once I learned about it, I knew it was definitely what I wanted to do. I love my job."
My tour continued, through the incredible cancer center (Texas Children's Hospital treats more children with cancer than any other organization in the United States), and even stopped by Purple Songs Can Fly, where a resident singer/songwriter, Anita Kruse (shown above) positively affects the lives of children who are fighting cancer heal by guiding them in writing, recording and sharing their original songs, all at the on-site recording studio. Amazing.
Jennifer was right: I was overwhelmed. At the end of my tour, I was stunned to realize that three hours had passed. I thanked Jennifer profusely. "Man, don't take this the wrong way, but I hope I never need you. That said, I'm thrilled you're here, if I do."
She laughed. "We absolutely are," she said. "I love what we do here. I'm so glad you enjoyed what you saw today."
I absolutely did. And I'm more determined than ever to hit the trail.