Whenever Jaycee is in the hospital, we have always brought Elijah, who we call Bubby, in for visits. We have several reasons for doing this: we want him to know why we aren't home with him, hospitals are part of Jaycee's life so he needs to get use to them, and we miss him & want to see him.
My husband and I have tried to set some ground rules in order to bring 5 year old Elijah to visit his sister without scaring him. He doesn't visit if Jaycee is in any danger of something going wrong that day.I don't want him there on a day she is being intubated seeing me cry and getting worked up. He comes after the storm. That being said, if he visits and seems uncomfortable, he gets to leave the room. We do not force him to look at her or touch her if he does not want to. We try not to have him at the hospital too much. It is boring on a good day and there's not much to do here if you are well. But we are blessed that this hospital has a playroom/daycare for siblings open a few hours a day, so he has somewhere fun to go. And as he has gotten older, we give him opportunities to ask questions about things on Jaycee or about her.
So as I sit here in the intensive care unit for 16th day, I am reflecting on Elijah's visits this time. This hospital stay, like so many others, began with us leaving at midnight while he slept in his bed. We woke up poor grandpa to come stay with him so he wouldn't be jarred awake with bad news. Shortly after admission, Jaycee ended up in ICU because she needed to be on a bipap machine constantly due to the rhinovirus and pneumonia attacking her lungs. When that wasn't doing the job, Jaycee was intubated for over a week. Now, she is still recovering but doing much better.
Elijah had his first visit on this admission when Jaycee was stable on the ventilator. His grandparents brought him over for a short visit. He greeted me with hugs and small talk. Then I showed him his sissy. Bubby was prompted to ask any question he wanted.
The monitor, as always, caught his eye. He asked me what all the numbers meant, which I explained one by one. Then he asked me what a few of the IV lines were. Since he didn't mention her breathing tube, I told her how that was helping Jaycee breathe. Then he said he had 1 more question. "What's those scissors for on her bed?"
The nurse said, "We call those gizmos. Want to see one?"
Elijah happily takes the prize and starts hooking and unhooking them to objects. That was that.
Later, he asked to sit in bed with Jaycee and watch tv with her, which is what they do at home. I put him at the feet of her bed and positioned a pillow between him and her so he had a visual boundary on where he couldn't cross. It was great to see my kids in close proximity once again.
But it was the elevator ride that sparked the most interesting conversation. He read the list of floors, what was on each, and asked what some of them meant. Then, he asked, "What does the PICU mean?"
"It's the pediatric intensive care unit. That's where the kids that are really, really sick are."
Immediately he said, "But that is where Jaycee is. I didn't know she was really, really sick. You never told me!"
"Sorry. I just thought you knew that because Jaycee had a bunch of tubes and wires in her. But anytime Jaycee is in the ICU, she is really sick!"
His voice sounding concerned then asks, "Why does she get so sick? I never have to go to the children's hospital."
That's the million dollar question. I do my best to reassure him by telling him all the things I try to tell myself when I am scared about Jaycee. I also remind him that Jaycee was born with sick lungs (asthma, obstructive sleep apnea) so colds are much harder on her than any of us.
When the questions stop and we are back standing by Jaycee's bed, he talks to his sister. In a soft voice he tells Jaycee he has missed her and that he wants her to feel better. He holds her hand and encourages her the only way a bubby can. And even though this is a very sweet moment, I hope we never, ever relive this again.