He’d just had his spleen removed and he was still a bit woozy from the anesthesia. But 10-year-old Ellington King was game when child life specialist Sarah Maurer asked him, and his mom, if we could stop by to visit.
I was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital with RAK staff photographer Dan Friedman, shadowing Sarah and trying to get a sense of what her life is like now that she is no longer a patient, but a patient advocate. Her story is the first is a series of magazine articles I plan to write in coming months that revisit the stories of children and families we’ve featured in the past. (“Sarah’s Story: 1993, 2008 and today.” is in our September 2011 magazine.)
Sarah was a cancer patient at Phoenix Children’s when she appeared on our cover in 1993. She was a college student when she was featured again in a 25-year-anniversary story we wrote about the hospital in 2008.
And now she is a child life specialist at the hospital that saved her life.
Sarah sat near Ellington’s bed and talked with him just as she would if our entourage, which included two members of the hospital’s public relations office, hadn’t been there.
“Any surprises?” she asked Ellington, referring to his surgery.
“Yeah,” he said. “All of you!” We laughed, eager to hear more from this bright, engaging fifth grader.
Sarah handed him a laminated, handmade flip book, something she and other child life specialists use to prepare children for surgeries. The book shows pictures of the various places and pieces of equipment that are involved. She asked Ellington to describe his experience.
This child needed no props to launch his monologue.
“I’m knocked out, havin’ a great time, sleepin’, dreamin’ about hamburgers and French fries all the time,” he said.
“Because you couldn’t eat anything all day, right?” Sarah prompted.
“Then I wake up, I say, ‘I got my spleen out!’ then I come back here and get knocked out again.” (Meaning he fell back asleep again, tired from the medicine, Sarah explained.)
Being on anesthesia “just reminds me of the ‘forget me’ stick from Megaminds,” he said, and more laughter erupted.
As we looked at the pictures, Ellington showed a clear grasp of all the work Sarah had done to prepare him. As he explained how an IV is used to administer medicine, he looked at Dan. “You might want to get a picture of this,” he said.
Ellington, who told us he’s been in the hospital “hundreds of millions of times,” has a condition called spherocytosis. His mom, Cheerve, told us it affects him much like sickle cell anemia would, though “he is not as severe.” Her son also has asthma.
There was nothing in Ellington’s demeanor that would indicate he was in any discomfort or pain. Still, he told Sarah, “I was just crying here a little while ago, I was hurting so bad.”
“Did you tell someone, so they could give you some medicine for the pain?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “They did give me pain medicine, right here, in the IV.”
“What else can you do to help the pain?” she prompted.
“Pray and breathe,” he responded.
Sarah liked both of those suggestions and reminded him that there are things she can bring to help: bubbles to focus his breathing, play-doh or squeezy balls to work out stress.
I asked Ellington if everything he’s learned and all the time he’s spent in the hospital had him thinking about a career in medicine.
“No!” he said emphatically. “I really just want to be in basketball. But now that my spleen is out, I’m totally playing football. Knocking everybody down.”
“I’m kinda thinking maybe comedy?” I said.
“Oh yes. I’m thinking of being a comedian, too,” Ellington said. “Or an actor. I’m acting right now because I really feel like just passing out.”
Before we left, I asked Cheerve if he’s always like this — or if the pain medications were contributing to the entertainment factor of her son’s comments.
“He’s always like this,” she told me. So if comedy (or acting) is in his future, he’s clearly got what it takes.