By Olivia Maccoux
I’ve been a patient at Children’s my entire life (17 years). I’m also on the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. This is my eighth year as a part of that. YAC is a group of kids and teens who are either patients at Children’s or family to patients here. Our job is to make the hospital a better place to stay and to heal. Because of our experiences, we all understand that the hospital is not where anyone wants to spend their time, but we try to make it a little better and more comfortable.
I was born early at 29 weeks and suffered from brain bleeds at birth. This caused me to develop a condition called Hydrocephalus, which is also known as water on the brain. Hydrocephalus affects everyone differently. It mainly causes headaches, but the headaches are caused by pressure in the brain, which, if not corrected can lead to brain damage.
Because of this diagnosis, I’ve had to undergo over 70, yes 7-0 brain surgeries (all at Children’s) to attempt to fix or at least help the complications from the condition. There’s currently no known cause for Hydrocephalus, but the primary treatment is the placement of a shunt. A shunt is basically tubing that is placed in the brain, which drains the fluid from the brain to the stomach area, which relieves pressure and makes the headaches less painful. With Hydrocephalus, you’re basically looking for a happy medium of pressure (not too high or too low) all the time. With more than 70 surgeries in just over 17 years, that amounts to a lot of time in the hospital.
As a veteran patient and a member of YAC, my job is to try to help kids who are or have been in the hospital. By writing this blog post, I hope to help with something other than just “getting better” or “enjoying your stay.” I want to address something that is very important and also very difficult: Keeping up with school when you’re absent because of health issues. Whether that’s because you’re an inpatient or just don’t feel good enough to be at school, staying caught up can be so hard. I’m a junior in high school, so I’ll mainly address high school students. But my advice applies to those in elementary and middle school.
Be proactive: If you know you won’t be in school, talk to your teachers ahead of time. ALWAYS keep teachers updated, even if it’s just a quick email about little stuff. They’ll be much more willing to work with you if they’re kept in the loop. Let them know what’s going on, why you can’t be in school, and when you think you’ll be returning to school. Share as much as you’re comfortable with.
Plan ahead – if you can: Depending on how serious your medical situation may be, you may not be able to do homework while in the hospital. If you know that’s the case, make sure to plan for that and make a plan for when you will do the work. Having your teacher help you create a plan may also be helpful – for both of you.
Talk to your classmates: If you know friends are in your classes, they can gather homework for you and even tutor you if needed. That way, when you return you kind of know what’s going on. This is how I’ve survived 11 years of schooling and 17 years of hospital stays. Everyone’s situations are different, so do what works for you.
Prioritize the work: It totally depends on the situation on whether you can complete homework in the hospital. It depends on how you feel, how hard the curriculum is, how much medication you’re on and how busy you are with treatment while there. When hospitalized I try to prioritize when I feel at least somewhat decent. If there’s homework that I find easier or won’t take long to complete, I try to get that done during my stay (and sometimes even get help from my nurses)! But if there’s homework I need help on, or don’t feel up to doing, I try to schedule a way to do it (and get help on it) once I’m discharged.
Communicate early: If you’re unexpectedly hospitalized (which has happened to me plenty of times), it can be really frustrating and stressful, just from a medical standpoint plus you have school to worry about, too. At the beginning of each semester or when I get new teachers, I make sure I have their contact information. That way if and when I need it, I have it. If I’m not expecting to be admitted but am, the first thing I do (once I feel good enough) is email my teachers. Most teachers are very willing to help you out. Once your teachers know, you can figure out a plan together and everything will be just fine. Education is very important, obviously, but I’ve learned that the main thing is to always focus on getting better before anything else.
Start early: If you have a chronic condition and think you might be hospitalized often, my biggest piece of advice would be to figure out a system while you’re young. Especially before high school if you can, as classes get harder, so does staying up with everything.
Good luck with everything, whether it’s educationally, medically or otherwise, and remember you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let anything (like being in the hospital) stop you.