Tag Archives: Childrens Hospital

And Then It Happens

We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.

I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.

We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.

And then it happens.

A faint noise outside in the hall.

A honk?

I see Mark lift his head.

Wait. No. Not a honk.

A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.

And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.

That sound is more than familiar to us.

Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.

He slowly looks back to me and smiles.

“Buddington?”

“Buddington.”

We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.

“What do we do in this situation?”

Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”

Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”

This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.

That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.

But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”

But we don’t.

Ofcourse we don’t.

Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.

Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.

But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.

I know mine are.

And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.

The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.

The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.

Mark and I can’t stop smiling.

Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.

But we don’t say a word.

This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.

A minute goes by and we sit and watch.

I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.

So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.

And so we sit.

Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.

Smiling our stupid grins.

And then it happens.

The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.

“Mark Wilkie”

And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.

The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.

Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.

It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.

You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.

We don’t remember the IWK without him.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.

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The One We Never Expected

We met him the first day we came down to 6. When we were initially admitted it was to the 7th Floor – only because the sixth floor was too full and had no room for us. Floor six was oncology/nephrology. You never want to be in the IWK. But you most certainly never want to have to press the elevator button for 6. 

But down to 6 we went. And smack. Everything was all too real. The IVs, the wheelchairs, the sheer number of staff and, of course, all the little bald heads.

And then HE came through the door. 

Well – he didn’t so much come through the door as he ran into it. Pretty much face first. And then once more with feeling.

I couldn’t quite get a handle on him at first. Who WAS this guy? He resembled a clown I guess, but not in the way you first think of them. He had no mask on, nor any big clown feet. No horns or balloons. He wore a baseball cap sideways, an oversized plaid blazer and his nose just had the smallest red circle on it. His eyebrows were blue. Not fake pasted-on eyebrows, they were real eyebrows, they were just painted blue. 

He was not loud or boisterous like you traditionally think clowns to be. But instead he was actually calm in many ways. He had a soft way of speaking, but in the goofiest tone. He always asked if he could come in and if we would like to play. He was possibly both the most respectful and yet foolish person I had yet to meet. Ever. He was such a juxtaposition. Who was he? A volunteer I assumed. I would later learn that he wasn’t of course.  

His puns were never ending, and as an adult absolutely ridiculous, but I constantly found myself laughing out loud despite myself. I never really understood why. Because let me tell you – these puns and jokes were lame with a capital L to a thirty three year old woman. But laugh I did. Again and again.  

But my laughter didn’t matter. What mattered was what Mark and Megan were doing when he was around.

  
And so he quickly grew on me.

On the surface I guess it was because he made my children laugh. Laugh out loud every day. But of course laughter was just the tip of the iceberg. Laughter wasn’t why he became the most important person in our lives for five years.

No. Not really.

He became that because of all the things that I didn’t see at first, all the things I didn’t know were important, but of course became important all too quickly. All the things that become – frankly – everything.

Consistency 

Things are sometimes different in a Children’s Hospital than what you first think. We were not followed by one doctor, but instead an entire team of doctors. We never saw only one nurse, but sometimes a dozen all in one week. Nurses, doctors, lab techs, all of these people came and went – different ones different days or weeks. But Buddington remained. There weren’t two or three or six or ten of him. There was just one Buddington. And when you are young, having consistency in people is pretty important.

Levity, not just Laughter

Many adverse events happen all around you when you are literally living in a hospital. Adverse events to you and to so many around you. Pain, relapse, secondary disease, illness, death. Levity – the kind that twinkles in your childrens eyes and that causes them to laugh out loud – well that is a gift.

No Expectations 

Every single staff person that steps through your hospital room door wants something from you or your son. Each one is incredible and each one we built amazing relationships with, but still, each one needed something from us. A procedure, a poke, a transfusion, a report on bowel movement! Except him. He just wanted to play. And only when we wanted to.

Positive Anticipation 

In a hospital setting, especially when you are in patient for six weeks at a time, you are so very aware of how short life is … but on the other side of the very same coin, ironically, also how long a day is. Buddington gave us something to look forward to in a day that is 24 hours long in a tiny little room that isn’t home.

Those are just some of the reasons Buddington became so important to us.

In my “head” I have always tried to respect the boundaries that come with a patient/family/staff relationship. It is not always easy – and is an entire book in and of itself – but it is important for staff, and healthy for families, and I understand why.

So in my “head” and in my conversation with others I talk about the Therapeutic Clown Program. Because that is exactly what it is. There is best practice and evidence that supports its implementation in children’s hospitals, and to refer to it as anything less than that undermines what Buddington is all about. A trained child-life professional who has specific knowledge, qualifications and skill sets. A health authority employee who researches and stays up to date on everything from pain management to chronic disease. The gratitude for the Clown Therapy Program and the support it receives from the IWK is immeasurable.

But in my “heart” he is just Buddington. He was, he is, in a word, perfect. And it was he – not peers or docs or nurses or patient navigators or psychologists or other parents – who became the most important person to us over the past ten years. The gratitude I have for this man is endless.  

He was … the one we never expected.

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