A "Hallmark Christmas in Shriner's Hospital"

How do kids with disabilities perceive their long term care in a hospital? A nurse posted a letter they received from a patient and sheds light on how nurses can impact a life. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

A "Hallmark Christmas in Shriner's Hospital"

In 1972 I was injured in a series of events that lead to my eventual hospitalization in Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children in Philadelphia. In the Fall of 1973 after my family was left nearly bankrupt from my catastrophic hospital bills, I found a sponsor and was admitted into Shriners. Back then, it wasn't a time of "political correctness", and the use of the words "Crippled Children" were plainly spelled out on the signs near the road on Roosevelt Boulevard in North East Philly. Times were hard on my family; I had a brother in the Navy during Vietnam, one brother in High School and a teenage sister who kept running away addicted to drugs and alcohol. I only saw my parents twice a week for a brief hour or two on Wednesdays and Saturdays as the visiting hours then were restricted and not open like they are today. So the people, staff, nurses and kids at Shriner's became my family for nearly eight years of my childhood life.

I spent many holidays in Shriners; 4 Christmas's, 5 Easters, 6 Birthdays and every other holiday, but Christmas's were the most memorable. The kids were more like brothers (we were separated from the girls by long hallways and from older/younger children by wards), the aids were like older sisters and the Nurses like surrogate mothers. One Winter/Christmas of over 30 years ago stands out the most:

It was about 1975 and I was into my third year of osteomyelitis and septic arthritis of the hip and on my second hip replacement that had failed. I lived in a ward of 13 boys ranging from the ages of 8-14. Some were bed-bound in a cast, others mobile in wheel-chairs and a few ambulatory. As Christmas approached the parties became more frequent. The different area "Temples" or "Lodges" would send clowns or Eastern star ladies with cookies and gifts. On Saturdays and Sundays, we would have events in the large "classroom" with the girls together. There was a lot of activity around Christmas too a usually very boring hospital (especially when you are institutionalized for up to 13 months at a time) with quest, clowns, athletes and parties. People did their best to make the kids feel special at a horrible time in their life. But nothing took place of the fun that kids have on their own creation, and that "nature provides"... SNOW!

Late one night, just before that Christmas, it snowed about 10-15". We had a back porch area with an emergency panic exit that we had loosened the nuts on so at any time we could get outside without the staff knowing, or the alarm going off! Around midnight it stopped snowing and the nurses and aides had settled down at the station (those times haven't changed much). Those of us kids who were mobile got out our basins and bedpans (still stainless steel at that time) and snuck out onto the porch and got outside into the snow. We filled up the basins and bedpans. We got enough for the kids who were bed-bound and distributed them around the ward. Then we had a huge snowball fight inside the ward! One kid, Matt ran out of snow and went out for more. Our sheets were soaked, the floors were wet. About 20 minutes passed when I realized that Matt hadn't returned. I went looking for him. I found him locked outside behind a door on the patio (the door locked behind him) standing in his pajamas nearly frozen! Matt's nickel leg braces fogged up as he came back in from the cold air and got back to his bed chilled to the bone.

Sometimes kids take back their childhood experiences from the structure of institutions and find fun in the mundane, out of the creativity within their own minds, not from adults wearing tall fez hats and animal balloons (although that was so much appreciated). I think sometimes society places a "guilt trip" and a "pity party" on suffering and forgets to look at the beauty and creativity of a child's mind and the simple things that spark joy in a child... like a snowball fight at midnight in bed!

May God bless all of the Shriner's, Mason's and Order of the Eastern Star members who contributed to making Shriner's what is still is today... a TOTALLY FREE HOSPITAL. May God Bless all the Nurses, aides, Doctors, Prosthetic makers, X-ray tech's (and as much as I hated them) physical therapist that care for these kids. And most especially may the mercy and peace of God (whichever God that may be or if there is one) be upon those kids who suffer from disability or illness this Holiday season and every day!

I love you all and thank you for the great times, the pain and the triumphs in my life that helped me overcome my disability and of those friends that I shared that time with so long ago. You are the heroes in life.


Registered Nurse in CCL, circulate, med., record. scrub all PCI's, diagnostics devices and EP's Specialties include ICU, ER (ED), CCU, PCU, CVICU, CCL

57 Posts

Share this post

Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. I found this while searching for info on Shriners, I am about to graduate from nursing program and really want to pursue a career at Shriners.