It turns out that since these kids can't be home for the holiday, the hospital brings the holiday to them.
This was apparent on the morning of one Halloween when I looked up from assessing my patient. The sounds from my stethoscope had blocked out the footsteps of an approaching entourage of Disney characters, all dressed with impeccable detail, from head to toe.Snow White smiled at my startled look, and then held out a plastic
pumpkin full of Halloween-themed stickers, stamps, bracelets, pens, and keychains -- appropriate treats for the patient I was caring for. He had complicated gastrointestinal
issues, and his only option to "eat" was intravenously.
Meanwhile, my other patient waited impatiently for me to help him transform into a wrestler. The 7 year-old boy had a tracheal tube in place. It was
connected to an array of tubing leading to a ventilator that helped his chronically sick lungs breathe. In order to put on the mask and costume, I arranged
everything so that he was only disconnected from the ventilator for a minimal amount of time. During that moment of disconnect, I watched his vital signs
to make sure there were no drastic changes. I left a small gap between his head piece and his body suit for the tracheal tube to maintain its place.
Technical difficulties wouldn't stop Ray Mysterio from rearing his ugly head that day.
Another year, I took care of a child who was dressed as a flame. Red and orange spikes of fabric covered his entire body, including the port on his chest
and his bare head. Every time I walked into his room, I didn't leave without sticking the thermometer under his arm and then gasping at his imaginary
million-degree fever. Tylenol wouldn't be able to defeat this, I told him. He was burning up so badly that even antibiotics wouldn't overcome it. He nodded
in solemn agreement as I fanned myself. I even pretended to fumble with the thermostat in a desperate attempt to cool him down. He got a kick out of it
all, and enjoyed every dramatic gesture.
It surprised me that these kids never mentioned anything about candy. They had spent so much of their lives in the hospital that they accepted dietary restrictions.
Instead, they just relished the opportunity to be someone else, as all children do. But for chronic pediatric patients, it's more than just a game of
make-believe. As I watched minnie-Ray Mysterio clenching his fists to all who walked by, his costume drowned out the presence of the ventilator that loomed
behind him. And the little ball of fire -- you could never tell he suffered from cancer because, on Halloween, hats and wigs aren't just for people who have
There are children I work with who know that they are not "normal" kids. They feel like they stick out and look a little strange. What better day to ease
those insecurities than one that commemorates sticking out? Usually, we help these kids cope with what makes them different. But on Halloween, they are
simply surrounded by things that are even more different. Patients in liver failure often have discolored skin because of imbalanced enzymes. But nothing
compares to the ghastly green Shrek lurching around the hospital. A paraplegic patient once dressed as a bumblebee. No one heeded the fact that she couldn't
walk when she looked like she was supposed to fly. Recently, there was a picture circulating the internet of a wheelchair-bound child dressed as an ice
cream truck. It exemplifies what Halloween can be for sick kids: a chance to be something that distracts from what's already distracting about them.