New Rooms Afford Privacy in Stressful Times

By Alice Reid
Friday, November 30, 2007

They call them "frequent fliers" at Children's Hospital: families with children so sick they've spent weeks, even months, at the medical center. They've come for complicated treatments: chemo for cancer, heart surgery, kidney transplants. The list goes on.

In most cases, parents have hovered at their children's bedsides night and day.

Imagine having a youngster so sick you're not sure he'll survive. Think about holding a frantic 3-year-old as yet another needle approaches. Frequent-flier parents have done it all, usually in cramped double rooms with another very sick child and his very stressed parents close by.

That is all changing as Children's Hospital moves to a mostly private-room layout, beginning with three floors in its new East Tower, which opened recently.

On hand for the debut and a first look at the place were nearly two dozen frequent-flier families. Yes, the colors were boffo, the views stunning. But parents really raved about the space and the seclusion afforded by the wing's 129 private rooms. No more wondering if a wailing child will wake her roommate. No more hiding tears of frustration from another parent six feet away who may be going through something even worse.

Suzanne and John Merrill of Columbia remember when their daughter Amanda, 5, shared a room with another toddler as she fought a dangerous bone cancer in her leg two years ago.

"There you were with a meltdown going on," Suzanne remembered while Amanda sat happily coloring nearby, wearing pink socks and party shoes on both feet, including the one on her new "robot leg."

"Then you'd get her to sleep and they'd come in to take her blood pressure, which she didn't like," Suzanne continued. "You kind of felt sorry for the other people in the room."

Added John: "You were on top of one another."

Jack McGowan, a Capitol Police officer, has had three sons treated at Children's for cystic fibrosis, a serious, often fatal, hereditary lung disease.

"I think the new private rooms are going to make everybody calm down a bit," he said.

"You get some devastating news here. The doctor will come in and draw the curtains and say something like, 'The tests came back. They're not as good as we'd hoped . . . .' The other family is there, listening. They can't help it," he said.

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