(As told by her mother Anne Murphy)
Kate with Molly Penny a day after her initial surgery.
We were celebrating my daughter Kate’s 6th birthday on September 25, when the thought crossed my mind that we might not have seen this day if it hadn’t been for the amazing doctors and nurses at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
Kate with Molly Penny a day after her initial surgery.
A year ago May, Kate – four years old at the time – had a horrible accident. It was a lazy Sunday evening, and my girls were playing outside on our play structure. Suddenly, I heard screams. My elder daughter, Sarah, came running towards our front door. I panicked. I knew by her reaction that something was terribly wrong.
Sarah tried to explain what had happened, but all I could make out was that Kate had been walking balance beam between the spires of a wrought iron fence when she slipped. I was relieved when I saw Kate standing. She hadn’t broken her neck or received a head injury. But, when I saw blood running down her legs, I realized that her injury was significant. She had impaled herself through her rectum. My heart was racing and my arms and legs were jello as I picked Kate up and called for my husband, Mike. We both shifted into high gear. We needed to get to the hospital…and fast!
In the emergency department at CHEO, we skipped to the head of the line and the nurses whisked Kate away to be assessed. They suggested that I take a quick moment to myself as not to upset Kate. I was trying to stay calm, but they could see I was in distress. The whole ride to the hospital I had feared that Kate could bleed to death. I didn’t know if she had punctured an organ.
A minute later Kate was wheeled into the trauma unit where a doctor determined that the bleeding was not life threatening, but that she would need emergency surgery to fully assess the extent of her injury. At that time, we were informed that if there was a significant tear, Kate would require a colostomy. WOW! This was a real blow. Mike went as white as a ghost.
We both went into shock. We couldn’t believe how fast we went from a playground accident to a potential colostomy. We had so many questions.
This was when I met my first superhero at CHEO. A young woman came over and introduced herself as a child life specialist and said that she was there to help Kate through the immediate stress of her situation by providing therapeutic and diversional play. She spoke to Kate in a soothing voice, brought her a little stuffed animal to which she later gave a splint and IV in preparation for Kate’s slightly bigger version, and set up a movie for her to watch with the hope of distracting her from the pain and shock. She then turned to ask us if we were okay. Her support was beyond words.
Kate starting to swell and get sick
This remarkable woman stayed with us until the wee hours of the morning not leaving our side even when her shift was over. She provided information, answered questions, listened to our concerns, and shared success stories of parents who had been in similar situations. She was our rock, and I don’t even remember her name.
The second superhero we met that night was Dr. Bass, masked and all in green from head to toe. When he wheeled my baby off to surgery, I had no idea just how essential this man’s actions would be to Kate’s future.
That night, Kate did indeed end up with a colostomy. She had completely severed her sphincter muscle, and it needed time to repair. We feared that it could be permanent and imagined what this could mean for Kate, but tried to not get too ahead of ourselves. After surgery and a few extra hours in the intensive care unit due to blood pressure issues, Kate was wheeled to our room.
The first day or two she seemed to be recovering well from the surgery. Her pain was managed through a spinal, and she was eating and happy. She even wanted visits from Molly Penny – the hospital clown. By Wednesday morning, she stopped eating and started vomiting. On Thursday, her belly was swollen and hot, and she just lay there limp and expressionless.
Mike and I were very concerned. Dr. Bass came to see her regularly and performed various tests to determine why Kate wasn’t well. On Friday, convinced that it was the pain medication slowing her bowel down, Kate’s doctor gave orders to take her off the medications and left for a scheduled day off.
That night Kate’s belly grew another centimetre. She was now at the end of the measuring tape and looked about seven months pregnant. Something was not right. To my surprise, Kate’s doctor woke me at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning. He was so concerned that he had not been able to sleep and checked her electronic file in the middle of the night.
Big sister Sarah with Kate, who was feeling much better after her reversal surgery.
He told me that something was wrong and he wanted to take her for an X-ray. I’ve never seen doctors and nurses move so fast. Fifteen minutes later, Kate was in her second emergency surgery in a week to repair a blockage. I hate to think of what could have happened had our doctor, our superhero, not acted in time.
The care he continued to provide even once we were home from the hospital was remarkable. We could call any time of day or night, and he would talk to us. He explained everything in detail when we asked and he was always there to take our hand or give us a pat on the back. What an amazing man.
Throughout our initial nine-day stay and our week-long stay when we returned for Kate’s colostomy reversal surgery, every nurse cared for Kate and our entire family in such a loving way. They always took that extra step – leaving drawings for Kate when they finished their shifts, giving her stuffed animals to encourage her to take her medication, and listening to her every complaint and our every concern. They were there, not only to administer medication, but also hugs. These women worked tirelessly, and each one of them is a hero in my eyes.
If I had to list every superhero we met at CHEO, there would be too many to count. They are part of an institution that continues to be a pillar of hope, courage and strength in our community and throughout eastern Ontario. What a magical place.