Striped Pajamas

by Tamara Leonard
Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA

Striped Pajamas

Can you imagine being a young child in the hospital? It can be a frightening experience for anyone, but for a young child it can be downright terrifying.

Between the ages of five and sixteen I was hospitalized sixteen times for pneumonia. My asthma never failed to get the best of me during fall and winter. I even spent a Christmas and birthday on the children’s ward. I’ll never forget wearing the hospital pajamas, with different colored stripes for each size. Yellow and white stripes were the smallest size, red and white the largest.

I spent the first few days of each visit in an oxygen tent, shut off from the world around me. I can still feel the dampness and hear the hiss of oxygen inside that wet and cloudy world. Inside that tent, I felt like the loneliest little girl alive.

My parents visited daily. It was rough for them to travel every day from Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia, Canada, and the strain showed on their faces. If customs was backed up, it was an hour’s travel. My mother missed work to spend her afternoons with me. My dad took over around dinner time, bringing a piece of fruit to speed my recovery.

When evening came, my exhausted parents had to go home. If I was well enough, I watched from my hospital window as they walked across in the parking lot below. This was when I felt the saddest.

My third hospital stay a nurse wearing black rimmed glasses entered the children’s ward in the evening, pushing the snack cart. That was my first glimpse of Kayla, a nurse with a soft voice that calmed my fears. Kayla was slim, with brown hair in a pony tail, and kind brown eyes behind her glasses.

Kayla asked how I was feeling. She checked my pulse, gave me some juice and got me another blanket. She sensed how scared I felt and talked with me for a while. When I got a little better, she let me help prepare the snack cart, and walk along to hand out the juice and cookies.

One evening Kayla snuck me down to the nurses’ locker room. We padded down the quiet halls together, she in her soft-soled nurse’s shoes, me with my small slippered feet. Boy, did I feel special that day! Each consecutive stay in the children’s ward was easier, because I had Kayla to come back to. She always made me comfortable, even when taking my temperature or administering medications.

I know nurses have very demanding jobs with too many patients and not enough time. Yet Kayla made the effort to make a shy, frightened little girl feel less scared. She may never know how much she meant to me, but at least I can let the rest of the world know.

Originally published as HeroicStories #145 on May 19, 2000

1 thought on “Striped Pajamas”

  1. There’s a lot I don’t understand about this story, like why the little girl had to go to Canada to get her pheumonia treatment, and her parents had to cross the US-Canada border every day to visit her. (I guess I would understand better if they had crossed from Canada to the US, or from Mexico to the US!) It does not say that the familiy were Canadian citizens and had to use their health care system. Not complaining! Just con’t understand.
    But the story was about a nurse who cared enough to make the child’s visits for treatment more bearable. and it did get that point across.


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