6.15.2013

Quilts Matter

I work on the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing sick kiddos - precious ones with bald heads and tubes coming from their chests and noses, tethered to poles with pumps pushing toxic meds through their little bodies. It's a punch in the gut when you see them trying to carve out a childhood among the monotonous day-to-day routines of being a patient.

But remarkably, they still laugh and ride Big Wheels in the hallways and paint pictures and act silly. Just today one of our little guys got to walk outside for the first time in months. And it was like a party in the hallways seeing him off to the elevator so he could go "see the sky". Sigh.

A tidy stack of quilts on the linen cart.

I'm a quilter, so every time I see a quilt making a statement or holding a place of honor in someone's life or space, I notice it. On our unit, as many other units do, we get a linen cart everyday that's filled with sheets, blankets, gowns, bed pads and scrubs. It also carries a neatly folded, tidy little stack of handmade quilts.
Most of them are made with hideous Christmas and cheesy novelty prints, but some are sweet and simple and cute. They're not very big - just enough to cover a toddler - but big enough to snuggle for even the twentysomethings that frequent our unit. The quilts are donated to the hospital through the hospital's sewing room (yes - we have our own sewing room!) and are made by volunteers.

I gotta share this story with you because it's the perfect illustration for why quilts matter.

Awhile back, we had a patient named Hannah*. She was a fiesty, blond haired and blue eyed four year old little firecracker. She had a complicated family situation - she was born to a teen mom and was being raised by her grandparents. Hannah was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that literally makes the body attack itself, causing damage to large organs and the nervous system.

As Hannah's disease progressed and the longer she stayed in the BMT, she became increasingly more anxious about the everyday routines of being a patient. Vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, weight and oxygen saturation levels) and daily rounds of the medical team became a time of panic for her, a time that she became non-compliant and combative. Getting her vital signs was nearly impossible and physicians and nurses couldn't get an adequate assessment of her. Over the course of about 4 months, it got to the point where she would scream if anyone even knocked on the door.

One of the Patient Care Assistants, Tracey, was one of the only caregivers that could even get in the room with out Hannah having a meltdown. Tracey had managed to find out how to approach Hannah and even befriended her a little. One of the responsibilities of the PCAs is to change the patient's linens everyday, which includes bringing them a clean quilt from the cart. Everyday, Tracey would bring Hannah a quilt and Hannah would give her opinion of the quilt, telling Tracey it was either ugly or pretty. When Hannah became very ill and was in a lot of pain, Tracey changed her strategy to picking out the prettiest quilt in the pile for her, making sure Hannah knew that she got first pick on the entire unit. Hannah thought this was the best thing ever and it very quickly became their daily routine. Tracey started negotiating pretty quilts for good behavior when Hannah needed to get her vitals taken and get examined by the medical team. It was the only tactic that worked. A team of behavioral therapists couldn't get Hannah to comply like a pretty quilt and a clever PCA could.

Hannah's conditioned worsened and she was eventually transferred to the PICU. Problem - the PICU didn't have quilts on their linen cart and Tracey wasn't there to bring Hannah her daily dose of quilty goodness. So Tracey, everyday, would nab a quilt from the BMT cart and take it over to the PICU and lay it in Hannah's bed. And even when Tracey wasn't there to do it, someone else would take a quilt over there for her.

A quilt waiting for a new patient on the BMT.

Hannah passed away in the spring. She was a very sick little girl who suffered a long and painful death. Even though I have strong faith in God's plan for everyone, I sometimes question these outcomes. I question why that little girl was turned inside out and had to suffer. I just don't get it.

But what I do know is that a quilt, made with love and delivered daily with hands that care, was a bright spot in the life of a sick little girl. A quilt made a garbage dump of a situation not as stinky. A quilt got a frightened child to feel safe and warm and calm. A quilt mattered to her.

And that's only one of the quilt stories on our unit. 



*Not her real name.

15 comments:

  1. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I had a son, as in infant, was a patient at Childrens and I know first hand what a wonderful hospital it is. Does the hospital take quilt donations from quilters? I have some fun kid prints and no small children to gift them to. Also I wonder if my guild -Ohio Valley Quilters Guild - would be able to give the hospital some quilts. We do a project called "Kids Komforts" all year round. Take care -

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    1. Carol - they do take donations. You can drop them off in the "F" location in the front of the building. It's where volunteer services are located and the sewing room is tucked in the building, too. They take anything, but prefer that the bindings be machine stitched as the quilts get laundered daily. I'm in the process of planning a sewing day for our guild and I'll be sure to post the details here too when I get the details worked out. XOXO

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  2. This is a great story. It is one of the reasons I quilt daily! I'm also trying to get everyone I know to make quilts because there just isn't enough time in the day to get them all done.

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  3. Ohhhhh. I suppose God's plan is so much bigger than all of us, and so hard for us to comprehend. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Painfully beautiful. Thank you for sharing. -- michele

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    1. Calicodaisy, you've said it perfectly. Just what I was thinking also...

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  5. Very touching!! Thanks for sharing this story.

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  6. My kids can tell you that a quilt equals love. Great story!

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  7. This is such a sweet story, though very, very sad. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. How sad and touching. I wonder if the patients can feel the care and love in the quilts when they are coverd with them.

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  9. Awesome story, thanks. And thanks to Tracey too.

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  10. Thank you for sharing...I know two young boys that have spent time in the BMT unit at Cinci Children's. Max and Preston. They are both home and doing well thanks to the expert care from the doctors and staff. I am a fellow quilter, and after reading your story, I will be working on some quilts to donate. Can you let me know what sizes are best, and if there are any other parameters other than machine stitched binding?

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  11. Thank you for sharing this sweet story, Andie. I love making quilts for situtions like this and especially for sad, lonely and hurting children. I bet you are awesome at your job, my sweet. In this world there are many heartaches and I expect that you see a good share of them.

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