A Night in the Hospital Used To Be a Nightmare for Children

26 Oct


My actual Candy Striper Hat from the early 1970s.  I had to wear it at the hospital.

My actual Candy Striper Hat from the early 1970s. I had to wear it at the hospital.

When I was a sophomore at North Bergen High School I volunteered as a Candy Striper at North Hudson Hospital on Park Avenue, in Weehawken, New Jersey. For about a year I went once or twice a week after school or on the weekend to work mainly in the children’s wing, doing whatever the nursing staff requested. I also made origami animals for the children in the wards.

In those days there were strict visiting hours. Parents could not spend the day, much less the night with their children. And children were often lonely and scared. Since I was allowed there at times other than visiting hours, I could visit with the children. Making the origami figures cheered them up. I always gave my creations to the children when I was done. I worked enough hours to earn my 100-hour pin and more.

My volunteering came about because of my sister and my own experience in the hospital. When I was six, I had tonsillitis. For months I had tests and blood tests. They told my parents I had leukemia, which then was a death sentence. It turned out that I only had tonsillitis. What a relief! But I needed my tonsils out!

I remember my Dad taking me to the hospital in the morning and promising to be with me all the way. But after the nurses took me on the gurney to the elevator, my Dad was left behind when the elevator doors closed. I remember screaming for him all the way to the operating room.

I was traumatized. So was my Dad. He told me years later that he would hear the sound of my screaming in his dreams.

Because of this horrible experience, when my own daughter needed surgery when she was six, I looked for options.   Things had changed over the years, but most important I am married to a pediatrician.   We knew the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. My husband was allowed to scrub in and go with our daughter into the operating room. Once she was under the anesthesia he had to leave. But at least she was not alone, like I was so many years before.

It was not only this event that made me want to be a Candy Striper. I was hospitalized several times as a child for bronchitis, which I found out later in my life, was asthma. Those few days alone in the hospital without my parents, except for short visits were horrible. Scared and alone, I would often cry.

But the worst was my sister. When she was in elementary school she had an emergency appendectomy.   The surgery went fine, but they put her in a room with other children and she developed all sorts of diseases: strep throat, a staph infection and more. She was in the hospital for over two weeks.

It was a horrible time for my family. I remember my parents crying and worrying. They were only allowed in the hospital for a short period two or three times a day. Traveling back and forth was difficult. My parents were both working. My brother and I were not allowed to see her, as children were not allowed in the hospital.   I remember going there one time and sitting in the car in the parking lot. My Mom went upstairs and my sister waved to us from the window, we got out of the car and waved back.

My sister finally came home. But she was home from school for another two weeks. We were a totally stressed out family by this point. Everyone was on edge and scared. That two-week period is nothing compared to what other families faced. Not being able to be there made it so much worse!

Life is so much better now that parents able to visit their sick child in the hospital whenever they like, even to spend the night with them. Not that anyone should get sick. But at least if they are sick, parents are allowed all the access they need and want. Children’s hospitals do all they can to make hospitalizations as easy as possible. Bright colors and decorations make the hospital look cheerful. The scary old look of hospitals is eliminated as much as possible in today’s children’s hospitals.

Another change is the limited time spent in the hospital. When I had my tonsils out in 1961, I spent two nights in the hospital. When my daughter had her surgery she was sent home that evening, partly because my husband would be home in case of an emergency. But even if she stayed, it would have been for less than 24 hours. (I will admit that I spent the night on the floor of our daughter’s bedroom.)

Part of the reason for the limited hospital stay is exactly what happened to my sister. Patients in the hospital have infectious and contagious diseases. It is best not to be around them. Now children have private rooms with space for the parents to stay. Then my sister was in a room with at least one other child at all times. There was no room for parents. And the other occupant could spread disease.

So with this history, as soon as I was of the right age, I volunteered at the North Hudson Hospital to help children. I had a great time for about a year. Then something happened. All I knew is that I was in the office of the head of volunteering and my Dad came to get me.   I honestly did not remember what happened, except that I was sick to my stomach.

I never went back to the hospital after that. And I decided I never wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. (I still think it is strange that I married a doctor.) But I kept my Candy Striper hat because I was proud of what I had done.

Years later, I was telling my daughter about being a Candy Striper and how I loved being with the children. She asked why I stopped. I told her I really did not know. My Dad happened to be with us during this conversation. He said, “You don’t remember? You went into the wrong room. A man had, who had been in a car accident, died, and you passed out.”

No wonder why I have always hated the sight of blood and disliked going to the hospital. It all made sense. But I am glad I volunteered for the time I did.

Luckily for me, my children never had to spend the night at a hospital. But over the years, many of my friends’ children have had surgeries or have had to spend a night. I am so glad their experiences are so much better than they were in the 1960s! I am so glad that parents and family can visit and give the children the love and support that they need. I am glad that it no longer is a nightmare for children who are sick to spend the night in the hospital.

9 Responses to “A Night in the Hospital Used To Be a Nightmare for Children”

  1. Samuel Tauber October 27, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Hi my name is Samuel Tauber I am the manager in kauneonga park bungalows and will like to talk to you if u can please call me or give me a number were I can reach you about kauneonga park and about north Bergen/union city Jewish community’s my number is 3475399537
    Thanks in advance
    Samuel Tauber

  2. Susan October 27, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    OMG, the memories of being in the hospital when I was a child. I was scared and alone. I used to cry myself to sleep. I was in North Hudson Hospital (now Palisades General) when I was 5 and 7 years old with a kidney problem. My parents had strict visiting hours and my brother or sister could not visit. Only so many people in the room at the same time. Great story, thanks for sharing.

    • zicharon October 27, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Sorry you had such a difficult time. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Rachel Hettel Pearlstein October 27, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    I really enjoy you blog. It brings back so many memories. I never had to endure a stay in the hospital when I was a child (I had my tonsils out in the Dr.s office) but my dad was really sick and we were not allowed to see him. He eventually passed away and I still get upset that we were not allowed to visit. He passed away I 1958.

    • zicharon October 27, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      So sorry Rachel. That was horrible. So much better now with hospice and open visiting!!

  4. Samuel Tauber October 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Yes khaldc86@gmail.com

  5. Jack November 2, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    I was in North Hudson Hospital in 1957 when I pulled the metal button off my PJ’s & stuck it way up my nose. I think I was there for just one night, but I was terrified. I think the hospital is now either apts. but I still get anxious, when I pass by. Great blog!

    • zicharon November 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

      Thank you. I think it is apartments/condos as well. I am glad they saved the building. But I am happy that children have a much better experience in hospitals today.

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