The pediatric intensive care unit can feel like an alternate reality, one in which the challenges of treating severe illness push being a kid into the background. That's why it was lovely to read an essay (subscription required) in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that reflects on a moment of childhood fun within the confines of the PICU at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.
The essay, written by high-school freshman Julie Cornfield, describes how her father, pediatric pulmonologist David Cornfield, MD, enlisted her help in bringing joy to one of his young patients. Here is Julie's description of how she met that patient, whom she later describes as "vivacious, strong, unbelievably kind, and outgoing, despite, or maybe because of, [her] sickness:"
Soon we found ourselves in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where critically ill children are treated for all sorts of sicknesses, and where my dad spends most of his time. As I trailed behind my father down a long hall, we passed quizzical-looking nurses and young doctors. Everywhere I looked, there was a child with a life-threatening issue, and the air was thick with anxiety. After having me sanitize my hands,my Dad led me into a door at the very end of the hall.
That was when I caught my first glance of Adrianna, a frail 8-year-old girl with severe arthritis that had led to lung issues. My father introduced me to Addie and her mother, and then we unveiled our fluffy guest. Adrianna’s eyes grew to the size of saucers and she squeaked with joy. Her face lit up and it looked like, for a second, she forgot her pain.
The rest of the essay, including the moving story of a balloon the young patient gave to Julie's dad, is well worth a read.
Photo by Pedro Moura Pinheiro