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Surviving for Those Who Didnít - Choose

By Amelia Owen
(Page 1 of 4)

Curled up under a hospital blanket in the large recliner with her workbook from school, she awakened to the sound of the nurse measuring her motherís blood pressure and temperature. The glow from the TV and the methodical pumping of the oxygen machine had lulled her to sleep as she worked on her homework. At first, she could not make out the strange environment. Her memory of the situation came back as she rubbed her eyes and focused on the strange, yet familiar face of the night nurse caring for her mother, recognizing the beeps of the heart monitor and the other unknown, nonetheless purposeful machines. The nurse tenderly looked at the little girl, and the girl repaid the nurseís sympathetic gesture with a yawn and smile to let her know she was ok, all in silence so as to not wake her recovering mother.

The little girl sat up to observe this procedure she had seen numerous nurses perform on a regular basis since her motherís double radical mastectomy. Each time something was done to her mother, the girlís curiosity increased. She watched with growing intent every sequence of steps of the nursesí duties. Paying attention to the responses the nurses gave to each of her motherís needs and requests, she examined their every action as each task was routinely completed. It was not so much with a critical eye she attended these activities, but a sense of protection with a fascination and determination to learn and help. She began to ask questions about the nurses' job because deep inside her eleven year old psyche dwelt a strong resolution to be a part of the team helping her mother heal. And she did. She started measuring bags with drainage of fluid, taking temperatures, refilling ice pitchers, rinsing unusually shaped bowls, brushing her hair, wetting toothbrushes, getting this and that, fluffing pillows, and drawing blankets. Despite her limitations in knowledge, training, and age, she soon became known as Momís Little Nurse. Little Nurse relieved some of the small, tedious burdens her mother's care required, giving her father the ability to work his full-time job and run the family business her mother had taken care of prior to her diagnosis and had to abandon temporarily in order to fight her battle with cancer.

This scene is probably more common than one would expect. For various reasons, more adult patients require care from family members. Usually, one thinks this care would be provided by a spouse, sibling, or friend - an adult . This, more than often, is not the case. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Hospital Fund, "nationwide, there are approximately 1.3 to 1.4 million child caregivers who are between the ages of 8 and 18. The outcomes of this responsibility can be severe. The report states that "they are more likely than non-caregivers to have trouble getting along with teachers, to bully or act mean towards others, to be disobedient at school, and to associate with kids who get in trouble. A number of other studies focus on the effects of severe, life-threatening disease diagnoses on the patients' children.

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