April 9, 2020

My daughter had surgery at Children’s Hospital during the COVID-19 changes. Here’s what was different — and what was, thankfully, the same.

Temperature checks and social distancing were very different. The care and concern had not changed at all.

Ginger E. Holt, MD, talks with VUMC employee Jessica Pasley and her daughter, prior to Giga having surgery to remove a suspicious lump on her leg at Monroe Carell Jr. ChildrenÕs Hospital at Vanderbilt, . Photos by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Ginger E. Holt, MD, professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, talks with  Jessica Pasley and her daughter Gigi before Gigi’s surgery. Photo by Donn Jones

My family is very familiar with wearing masks, strict hand washing, social distancing, and paying close attention to every sniffle and fever.

Abiding by this code of conduct was literally a matter of life and death for us when my twin daughters, Jade and Gigi, were undergoing chemotherapy treatments and stem cell transplants.

That was two decades ago. My husband, Irvin, son Myles, Gigi and I are still heartbroken that Jade did not survive.

A few weeks ago, a couple of Gigi’s physicians strongly urged her to self-quarantine for protective measures. She has multiple chronic health conditions due to her years of therapy for cancer. We also learned that she needed surgery that would not wait for the pandemic to subside.

Jessica Pasley shares a moment with Gigi prior to Gigi’s surgery. Photo by Donn Jones

Gigi’s surgery on April 6, and the changes brought about by COVID-19, brought back memories of times when we all had to be so careful of infections.

Coming into Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for her surgery showed that many things have changed because of the pandemic.

It also showed that the important things have not.

We were scheduled to arrive at the hospital for Gigi’s surgery at 5:30 a.m.

We are very accustomed to Children’s Hospital; Gigi has been cared for here for her whole life, but even as 20-year veterans, we saw how things are different now.

Parking was abundant. Although in our experience the garage is not typically overcrowded that early, there is usually some foot traffic and a good representation of parked vehicles. We had our choice and nabbed a primo spot.

Signs directed employees one way and visitors/patients another, and officers were stationed at the entrance to help direct people. As we approached the second floor of the hospital, we saw tables just beyond the Information Desk.

Gigi is accustomed to wearing masks from her years in treatment, but seeing most everyone wearing one was a definite eye opener for her.

The waiting room outside the surgical area in Children’s Hospital is uncharacteristically empty as Jessica Pasley waits while her daughter, Gigi, has surgery. Photo by Donn Jones

We went through the temperature check and health screening, and I got my ticket in — a dated adhesive tag with a giant green check mark.

On the third floor, where the ORs are located, we saw the effect of the postponement of elective surgery: only one other family was in the waiting area. We sat on opposite ends of the large waiting room.

When we met with the members of the surgical teams, they didn’t come in at once, but singly while the others stood nearby, waiting their turn to speak about the pending procedure.

There were other signs that things are different now: pencil holders for “clean” and “dirty” pencils; staff cleaning and wiping down almost everything; clearly marked distancing parameters on floors in the elevators.

We can’t hug each other now, but there were lots of “air hugs.” There was also a lot of nodding and waving. We can’t see the smiles behind masks, but a true smile makes it to the eyes.

When Gigi’s surgery was over and she went to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit for recovery, for hours we were pretty much the only patients in our bay. It was very quiet. Because Gigi has had many surgeries in her life, and we have been here many times, I can say this is a very unusual experience.

While she was in recovery, I stopped by the pharmacy on the second floor to pick up some medication. There were no lines.

So much of this day was different, and almost surreal: the nearly deserted garage and waiting room, the health screens and temperature checks, the masks, the floor markings to make sure we all keep our distance — all those things are different and new.

What has remained the same is the genuine care and attention of the staff.

Everyone who took care of us that day was very accommodating and reassuring. We can’t hug each other now, but there were lots of “air hugs.” There was also a lot of nodding and waving.

We can’t see the smiles behind masks, but a true smile makes it to the eyes.

And Gigi and I know, as we have known for so long now, that Children’s Hospital is truly a special place.

Jessica and Gigi Pasley are very familiar with the halls of Children’s Hospital. Photo by Donn Jones

(Pasley is a writer in VUMC News and Communications. She is based in Children’s Hospital)