A Silver Lining to Kids Having to Frequently Be in The Hospital or Doctor’s Office?

The Medical Merry-Go-Round

“Ok, I’ll see you back here again in 9 months! She’s doing great!”

Those are some of the most refreshing words I’ve heard.

9 months!

We’ve been blessed with healthy kids, overall. Really, almost our whole family has been physically healthy if you look at the grand scheme of things.

Our oldest had some chronic ENT issues in his early years. Then there was literally a period of years that we had no doctor or hospital visits for illness or injury. Zero. None.

3 years ago, that began to change.

Thankfully, we have not faced a terminal illness. At that turning point 3 years ago, multiple family members began facing chronic or long-term health challenges. Then emergencies were thrown into the mix.

Clusters of doctor appointments led to recurring appointments with specialists. And more appointments for testing. Some of which required hospitalization. All of which led to medications, braces, and orthotics. Which led to medication side effects. And more follow-up appointments. And emergency room visits. And hospitalizations. And surgeries. And more appointments.

Every week it was something…

or a few somethings.

We found ourselves on a medical merry-go-round that sucked up huge portions of the rest of our lives like an industrial water pump in a $10 baby pool.

Sound familiar?

Those of you who face a terminal illness or lifelong condition, or care for someone who does:

I am in awe of your strength.

Our experiences were really, really hard. But although they were hard and they seemed long while walking through them, I can already look back and see that they were short.

I know I don’t have a clue how hard your experiences have been and will be. I don’t pretend to.

I share our experience to say I can sympathize a little.

Does being at the doctor’s office or hospital all. the. time. have a silver lining?

I also share because I think I’ve started to see silver linings in those stormy clouds.

Looking for silver linings is one of the ways I cope.

I noticed many things through our medical merry-go-round journey.

And I wonder,

have you noticed them too?

At her appointment the other day my three-year-old ran gleefully into the waiting room of her Pediatric Orthopedist. The Children’s Hospital here has volunteers in the waiting room ready to do a craft, play with toys, or read a book. We go early just so my daughter can play. It’s one of her favorite outings.

So Little Miss Extrovert bounds into a group of kids who are busily working on a craft and starts chatting them up.

She introduces herself, asks their names, asks what they’re making, asks if she can try too, shows them her picture, asks if they play Toy Story or Princesses or Super Heroes, asks if they like snacks, on and on…until we’re called back for her appointment.

My eyes are moist with joy as I watch her.

She doesn’t notice the other stuff anymore.

She’s just a kid. Being friendly. Totally unfazed.

Unexpected Benefits

The medical merry-go-round has all kinds of inconveniences, stresses, heartaches, physical pain, and difficulty.

I suggest that it also has some amazing opportunities.

I think children in particular can receive surprising benefits from being at doctor’s offices and hospitals on a regular basis.

Off the top of my head, here are 5 opportunities I see for kids on the medical merry-go-round:

1) The opportunity to learn to treat people like people. Naturally. Automatically.

Our medical journey has exposed us to prosthetics, wheelchairs, braces, casts, eye patches, bald heads, ports, IV’s, EEG monitoring, and all kinds of tubes, wires, and other stuff from which kids often recoil.

Children who are exposed to people with disabilities — either directly or indirectly — have more positive attitudes about those with special needs.”1

Michelle Diament, disabilityscoop.com

The exposure is the opportunity.

How the adults involved respond and what they say (how we respond and what we say, mamas!) is key to helping your child benefit from the exposure.

Here’s a great article that gives very practical tips on teaching your child about peers with special needs.

And medical surroundings may not only build disability awareness!

We happen to live in a diverse, multicultural area. So we share medical space with people who have a spectrum of skin tones, speak unfamiliar languages, and wear clothing we wouldn’t usually see. (Everything from hijabs to Catholic habits to turn-of-the-century dressses and bonnets.)

I don’t have the data to back it up, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that the same principle of exposure + adult responses apply to any other kind of people we encounter who are different that us, whether in appearance, ability, or culture.

“As a mom, one of my main goals is to make sure I raise a child who grows up to understand that the world is filled with a variety of unique people who are all deserving of respect and understanding.”2

Priscilla Blossom, Romper.com

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And this first opportunity doesn’t depend on the medical merry-go-round.

In or out of the doctor’s office, we can take action to intentionally teach our kids that people are people. Unique people worthy of love and respect because they’re created in the image of God.

There are lots of resources out there to help us teach our kids about disabilities as well as other issues.

One unexpected benefit of our medical merry-go-round was repeated exposure to a wide spectrum of abilities and people that served as an ideal training ground for our kids.

2) The opportunity to conquer fear of medical equipment and personnel.

One of our adult sons has only seen a doctor the bare minimum of times. Regular well check-ups faded out once he started school. He didn’t play sports, so he didn’t need sports physicals. He’s never broken a bone or needed stitches. (Which is impressive given the level of risk he’s always taken and the number of falls he’s had!) I don’t think he’s ever seen the inside of the Emergency Room. I’m pretty sure he’s never had blood drawn. It wasn’t until high school that he needed a little bit of testing done for a potential stomach issue.

This guy’s anxiety about medical experiences is ridiculous.

He gets queasy when he sees an IV in someone else’s arm. Everything in the medical realm is unfamiliar. This element of the unknown and unfamiliar absolutely drives him up the wall sometimes.

On the flip side, our other adult son rode the medical merry-go-round from age 4 months through about age 7, and our other two children have been on it for the last 3 years.

Yes, those three had plenty of fear in the beginning. (I still cringe when I think about that adult son’s fearful breakdowns as a little child! He was convinced that nurses were some kind of ultra villian.)

Now, though, the settings are familiar. The tools are familiar. Many questions have been answered. They’re comfortable enough to ask questions when they come up. They know that doctors are there to try to help.

The older ones also know that doctors aren’t perfect, and they know how to do things like advocate for themselves and ask for a second opinion.

And when they visit loved ones in the hospital, they’re unfazed.

All my kids are now eager to sympathize, encourage, and help.

They have an appreciation for doctors, nurses, and support staff.

Things they would have a hard time learning outside of the medical setting.

3) The opportunity to build a broader understanding of reality, and cultivate thankfulness.

Like #1, this opportunity is also found outside the perpetual doctor’s visits.

When we interact with people who suffer, and especially when we actively seek to help and encourage them, we develop a broader perspective of the world. This clearer understanding of reality can curb our children’s sense of entitlement and nurture their gratitude.

My three-year-old can see children who require more orthotics or other physical support than she does. She can be thankful that she no longer has to wear restrictive braces, and that even with her braces she could run around much more freely than many of her counterparts at the orthopedist.

My son has now met many other teenagers who suffer(ed) as bad or worse than he did. He used to believe that his childhood was terrible and oppressive, but now he has heard story after story after story of real oppression and abuse. He used to perceive that all the other teenagers in the world were as confident as they try to project walking down the school hallway. Now he knows that far more are hiding deep struggles – physical, medical, emotional, other, or all of the above. This completely changed his perspective on life.

For every patient who undergoes emergency surgery and lives, like I did, how many more don’t make it?

How many patients in the Emergency Department (or the specialist’s office, treatment center, radiology center, epilepsy monitoring unit, hospital room, etc…) are there for something much more severe? What are their stories?

How many are getting the care and services they need? The follow-up they need? How many will be financially crippled under the incoming pile of bills?

The medical merry-go-round hold a wealth of opportunities to discuss the less fortunate with our children. Not only does this give us the opportunity to show them a broader picture of reality and cultivate gratitude for their blessings, it also gives us –

4) The opportunity to build empathy and compassion.

When your kids learn to see and treat people like people (#1) and are exposed to the reality of the less fortunate (#3) parents have a perfect opportunity to instill some deep empathy and compassion.

Imagining ourselves in others’ shoes, discovering what can be helpful, and purposefully pursuing ways to be helpful is so easy to incorporate into our medical journeys. I know of multiple close-knit communities built among families who frequent the same offices and wards.

Non-profits and support groups are birthed from empathy and compassion – often from someone who once walked right where the beneficiaries now walk.

The rest of life is full of opportunities to build empathy and compassion in children. The medical merry-go-round just happens to be one of the big ones.

5) The opportunity to see lots of stepping off points for deeper learning.

I’m a home educator. I love interest-driven education. I can’t help but to get a little nerdy about this!

The medical merry-go-round is an amazing opportunity for learning about specific aspects of the human body and practice of medicine. We can answer our kids’ questions and build on them with library books, online videos, articles, and more.

My three-year-old probably wouldn’t care less about otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, IV’s, x-rays, or ultrasounds if it weren’t for so much time spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals. Now her vocabulary includes those terms and many, many more. She knows the basic differences between a surgeon, pediatrician, orthopedist, and nurse. She knows about body systems and has some real-life framework to hook new information on. She listens attentively to non-fiction kids books on those topics – books that really aren’t that engaging or well-written. The information means something to her.

Some kids might be so sick of the experiences that they want to avoid the topics. I don’t suggest pushing that kind of learning unless the child is actually interested.

But for the child that becomes fascinated with the surroundings and how and why everything works, why not jump on that opportunity and let them learn all about it while the interest is there?

What about you?

Can you relate?

Have you ever been on the medical merry-go-round?

What silver linings or opportunities did I miss?

I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below!

If you’re wondering how you can support a friend who is living on the medical merry-go-round, check out this post.

1Diament, Michelle. “Kids’ Attitudes About Disabilities Improve With Exposure.” Disability Scoop, 22 Nov. 2013, https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/08/30/kids-attitudes-disabilities/18615/.

2Blossom, Priscilla. “How To Teach A Child About Disabilities, According To Moms & Kids With Disabilities.” Romper, 16 Aug. 2018, https://www.romper.com/p/how-to-teach-a-child-about-disabilities-according-to-moms-kids-with-disabilities-9920750.

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