CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: Deck the hospital halls

Staff on Surrey Memorial Hospital's children's ward work to make Christmas magical

Christine Elder

At Surrey Memorial Hospital on Christmas Eve, several of Santa’s little helpers will be busy tracking down the perfect present for their little one.

Their little patient, that is.

You see, Santa visits the hospital so no child misses Christmas. And the staff in the children’s ward help him pull it off.

From infants to 16-year-olds, the unit serves children with a whole range of needs from infections to burns to mental health issues.

“Because we are the regional centre, we get children with all kinds of illnesses,” explained Christine Elder, a child life specialist.

The ward has 18 inpatient beds, but also has an active outpatient area for kids who come in for things like day surgeries, IV therapy, and to the pediatric clinics such as the oncology centre and HEAL, the suspected child abuse screening clinic.

“It’s not just inpatients that are affected by our special guests,” said Elder. “It’s anywhere a child encounters the hospital, too, including the emergency room.”

One of those special visitors was Santa himself, who gave his reindeer a rest and flew in to the hospital on a helicopter on Dec. 17. He made the rounds, visiting children and babies in their beds, making sure they knew he hadn’t forgotten them this holiday.

That’s just one of many events and activities at the hospital to help make things a bit brighter this time of year for the little ones who find themselves there.

A magician and Ronald McDonald are just two of the many other guests the ward has had this December.

And the staff deck the halls. Trees, lights, decorations, crafts, movies, presents. The scene is set just as if the children were at home.

Elder explains why.

“Because so many negative things happen in the hospital in terms of pain, separation from families, needle pokes, those kinds of things, we’re trying to offset that with some positive experiences so the child has had fun.”

Children should, “be able to focus on being a child, rather than on being sick,” she adds.

“It’s a highlight. ‘Remember when?’ Yes, we have to go back to the hospital for a test, but last time, there were bubbles there, or Santa came,” said Elder. “It does help – for all of us – to balance the negative things we have to get through.”

Nurse Sarah Sproston said the unit is a particularly busy place at this time of year. ‘Tis the season for respiratory issues, as well as burns from fireplaces and hot drinks.

Sproston often encourages her patients to participate in Christmas traditions, she said.

“Why don’t you write your letter to Santa? Or decorate something for your room at home? Or if you’re going to be here, why don’t we decorate your room?” said Sproston.

But it can be hard.

“Some kids feel it, for sure,” said nurse Kyla Kenney. “I just had one that was down to be here so close to Christmas. But Santa coming, that helps.”

So on Christmas Eve, they all do their part to help Santa pull it off, picking through presents to find the perfect ones for their little patients.

Elves, of sorts.

Four days before Christmas this year, five-year-old Juan was on the ward after eating a chocolate Hedgehog.

“He had an allergic reaction. A minute after he ate the chocolate he threw up,” explained mom Carmina Aurora. “After that, it seemed like there was a lump in his throat, and bumps on his lips.”

This was Juan’s sixth trip to the hospital for allergies. Several types of nuts, eggs and wheat set them off.

“We’re hoping that we can go home for Christmas,” said Aurora. “We do the traditional Filipino Christmas Eve, Noche Buena, in the middle of the night at midnight.”

Asked if he hopes to be home for Christmas, Juan whispers, “Yes,” looking down at his lap.

What is Juan most looking forward to this year?

“Opening the presents,” he said without hesitation, a smile briefly lighting up his face.

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