Zits. Dating. Popularity. Puberty. Homework. Extracurricular activities. Friendships.
As if being a teenager wasn’t awkward or difficult enough, adding an illness or health issue to this already tough phase of life can make adolescence even more stressful. You’re old enough to understand what’s happening medically. You know you’re missing out on so much of your “normal” life. And while your friends are out having fun, you’re stuck in a hospital bed.
I know, because I’ve been there.
More than 20 years ago, I celebrated my 15th birthday in a children’s hospital in Minnesota. After shattering my kidney in a basketball accident, I was in and out of the hospital for two months.
Looking back, I wish I’d had access to all of the kinds of services and programs that are available to adolescents at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Last month, I visited the Teen Zone located in the Patricia Crown Family Teen Lounge, a dedicated space for patients ages 13 and older within the hospital. Looking around, it’s clear that this state-of-the-art sanctuary was designed by teenagers for teenagers. There are signed Broncos, Nuggets and Avalanche jerseys hanging on the walls. A jukebox. Corn hole. A pool table. An 80-inch TV screen hooked up to a game console. An electric piano. Darts. And a Pop-A-Shot game, a crowd favorite.
While at the Teen Zone, I met with the Children’s Colorado Youth Advisory Council (YAC) to learn about how Children’s Colorado helps its young adult patients. The YAC is a group of 13- to 18-year-olds who work to improve the patient experience. During YAC’s monthly meeting, I met 17-year-old Kohl, 16-year-old Sev and nearly 18-year-old Leah, all cancer survivors. Seventeen-year-old Maddie, who has a rare genetic disease that affects her joints and organs, and 16-year-old Zach, who has cerebral palsy and now lives in California, joined us on the phone.
In between their bites of pizza, I learned that these kids don’t fit the stereotype of self-absorbed teenagers at all; they are donating their time, energy and ideas in an effort to help make other teenagers’ experiences in the hospital better. Not only are these YAC teenagers living their young lives courageously, they are giving back to the hospital that has given them so much.
“I doubt I’d be walking today if it wasn’t for the care I received at Children’s Colorado,” said Zach, who is now training for the Paralympics in snowboard cross and has undergone therapy at the hospital’s Gait Lab. “The hospital has done a lot for me, and joining YAC was a really good way to give back.”
The group does a variety of things to make adolescents’ interactions at the hospital more positive – everything from hand-delivering cards to teenage patients to hosting social gatherings at the Teen Zone. The group agreed that the best part was seeing the teenage patients’ smiles upon seeing others like them.
At the end of our discussion, the teenagers told me about a rite of passage for all new YAC members. They asked me: “What does a yak (YAC) say?” I gave them my best attempt at a yak call, something between a bleat and a cackle.
Later, after leaving the group, I thought about the question a bit more. I decided that a YAC most certainly makes a very brave, bold noise – a cross between a yell and a roar that lets other teens in the hospital know they’re not alone.
Because just being a teenager requires a lot of courage.
And being a teenager in the hospital? Well, that takes the meaning of courage to a whole new level.
Tags: Family Support