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Children and Hospital Visits

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Updated May 31, 2012

When a parent has a blood or marrow cancer, they may feel overwhelmed by their own diagnosis, let alone their concerns about how they will help their children adjust through the ordeal.

If you are requiring hospitalization for treatment of your leukemia or lymphoma, or for complications from it, you may be wondering if you should allow your child to visit you in the hospital. Allowing your child to visit you in the hospital takes away some of the mystery and uncertainty about what is going on with you, and may help them to adjust to your diagnosis.

In short, if your child asks to come and see you in the hospital and your cancer center approves of it, the child should be allowed. However, in order to be helpful, the child should be prepared for what they are going to see and experience once they get there.

The Timing of the Visit

Many parents worry that looking or being sick in front of the child will be too frightening an experience for them. The truth of the matter is, the reality of the situation is almost always less scary than what the child imagined it might be.

If you have just undergone a test or procedure, but are sure you will feel recovered in a day or two, you may choose to delay the visit until you are ready to be more interactive.

However, if there is the potential for rapid deterioration in your condition, the child should be able to visit as soon as possible.

Preparing for the Visit

Here are a few tips to help prepare your child for a hospital visit:

  • Give the child a description of the hospital room and what they can expect you to look like when they see you. Are you attached to an intravenous? What kind of clothes are you wearing? You may even consider sending them a picture of your room

  • Have their caregiver bring along quiet activities for your child to work on while they are there

  • Only have the child stay as long as they are comfortable staying

  • Talk to them in advance about feelings or emotions they may experience while they are at the hospital

  • Explain the rules and guidelines the child should follow while they are there

After the Visit

After their visit to the hospital, children should be given an opportunity to debrief about their experience. You may be able to communicate with them over the telephone later on in the day, or the dialogue may have to be initiated by their caregiver. The ability to discuss what they felt and saw is very important- How did it feel? Were they surprised by anything there? Did they have any negative feelings? Positive feelings? Most importantly, it is necessary to get a sense of how they feel about future visits.

Summing it Up

Demystifying the hospital experience can be very helpful in helping your child adjust to your cancer diagnosis. Preparing them for the sights and feelings of the cancer center will make the experience less frightening. Open communication with the child about the visit will not only reveal their thoughts and feelings about the leukemia or lymphoma diagnosis, it will also help provide you with an opportunity to answer any questions or concerns.

Sources

Raunch, P. Durant, S. “Helping children cope with a parent’s cancer” in Stern, T., Sekeres, M. (2004) Facing Cancer. McGraw-Hill: New York. (pp. 125- 136)

Eyre, H., Lange, D., Morris, L. (2002). Informed decisions 2nd ed. American Cancer Society: Atlanta, GA.

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