Growing up in a hospital — holiday edition

Full disclosure.

My brain is on semi holiday mode. In a way, it sounds strange for me to say that considering the year that it’s been. Physically, 2020 wasn’t busy for me, but it was hectic for me mentally and emotionally. I couldn’t do most of the typical things that I do, but my anxiety and mental health weren’t always in top shape due to Covid.

Since the holidays are here, I wanted to talk about a topic that many have asked me about over the years.

What was Christmas like when you were living at CHEO?

For those of you that are new here, I lived at the Children’s Hospital Of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa from 1975 till 1994. My upbringing was very different than most kids, and that was especially true during the holiday season.

For the first six years, I was in ICU. I don’t remember much off the top of my head. I know that my family often visited, so I’m sure that they visited me on Christmas Day. At least most of my family did.

As I got healthier and moved out of ICU, I visited my parent’s house. For me to go, a nurse from CHEO had to accompany me. It certainly wasn’t an ideal situation. To me, it never really felt natural, but at least I was able to spend Christmas Day with my family. There were many kids at CHEO that weren’t able to do that.

A typical Christmas Day back then was waking up early to see what Santa brought for me. Each patient got a stocking full of goodies. I will say that CHEO was pretty good when it came to making sure that everyone got presents from Santa, which was pretty cool. After I emptied my stocking, I’d get all ready to go and head to the lobby to wait for my ride.

I guess some things never change.

Once my ride showed, off, I went to my parent’s. Back then, my parents had a dog named Molson. Molson was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. As soon as she saw my ride pull up in front of the house, she’d run onto the bus and stay by my side for the whole day and keep watch. She was awesome.

Once I got out of the van, my mom would carry me into the house, lay me down on the couch, and then to a lawn chair situated in front of the TV. Another person would then bring in my portable Ventilator and other equipment. If I recall correctly, my Brother or Sister would be squeezing air into my lungs. It was a procedure.

After everything was set up and I was comfortable, we’d all open gifts. The rest of the day was spent playing with whatever I received, watching TV, spending time with my family, and sometimes my Parent’s neighbor.

When it came time to leave later that same day, we simply did everything in reverse. It was tough on me, only being able to spend a few hours at a time with my family. We all did what we could, though, and I’m grateful for that.

In later years, I helped organized the CHEO Christmas Party, which included a very young Alanis Morrisette and other local talents such as Eight Seconds and One To One.

I strongly suggest you check them out on Youtube.

Before I wrap this up, I just want to say a few things.

For those in the hospital right now, whether it’s for your physical or mental health, my thoughts are with you. I also want you to know that you’re not alone. I hope you feel better soon. The same goes for those that aren’t in the hospital.

I know that this holiday season will be very different for many, not just due to Covid. For many that have lost loved ones, this time of year can be challenging. I know that all too well.

My best advice is to try to keep your mind occupied. Even if it means binge-watching shows, listening to podcasts, music etc. Do whatever you can to keep your mind busy. There are also numerous grief support groups online.

I should also again mention the Distress Centre Of Ottawa And Region. They’re available 24/7 at 613-238-3311.

Please visit for more information regarding how to connect online.

I hope you all have a good holiday season, whatever you may celebrate. Try to make the best of it. Relax, enjoy, keep a safe distance, and wear a mask.

The sooner we all do that, the sooner we’ll all be able to be together again.

Photo: Biserka Stojanovic