“If you have to be in a hospital on a holiday, this is the Hospital to be in,” said Erin Collins, manager of volunteers at Children's Hospital Central California. Her sentiment proved true Friday, October 29 when the Hospital held its annual Halloween Parade.
Two parades take place concurrently. Depending on room assignments, the patients either gather in the Child Life playroom to line up for the ground level parade, or they assemble in the Guild’s Hall of Fame for a roundtrip through the first floor. Both routes take about a half hour.
Nurses’ stations throughout the Hospital display fliers notifying parents of the special event and where they’ll find free costumes for their children. Every year the Spirit of Halloween retailer donates hundreds of brand new costumes for our patients. Child Life employees and volunteers work to transform the Child Life classroom into a colorful costume shop, and open for business the day before the parade.
When patients drop in to “shop,” they’re often surprised by the display. Juanita Marquez, child life assistant, said, “Seeing it in their eyes, it’s like a toy store. They can’t believe how many costumes there are.”
Having more than enough means even latecomers can browse through the costumes looking for their special find. None of the costumes go to waste, however. Extras are stored for other special occasions throughout the year. Holding up a beautiful blue Cinderella dress, Jenelle Schuil, child life specialist II, said. “Really nice ones like this we’ll give to a little girl for a birthday present.”
Most children preparing to “trick or treat” find the perfect costume well in advance of the parade, but the “costume shop” remained open Friday morning for last-minute shoppers.
Even after the rush of the previous day, the large selection of costumes delighted every child who came looking for a favorite. With no dressing room in sight, patients went elsewhere to try on their costumes. A last-minute “trick-or-treater” left the classroom hoping her costume would be the right size. With no time to spare, the doors parted and Snow White appeared with her prince of a daddy pushing her wheelchair and announcing, “It fits!” The dark-haired beauty truly looked the part. She blushed and smiled to the collective “Ohhh” sighed by the staff and volunteers.
Over in the playroom, costumed children gathered to await the parade. A preschooler dressed as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” clutched her sippy cup and sat up straight in her wagon. “You look very pretty,” said a volunteer dressed as a black cat. “Belle’s” pigtails bobbed in reply.
Sitting in a wheelchair and looking like a rock star, “Hanna Montana” swung her legs back and forth, careful to keep her pastel pink slippers from taking flight. Near the window, a boy disguised as Buzz Lightyear did take flight, right into his daddy’s arms.
Up one floor a large group had assembled in the Guilds’ Hall of Fame. The spacious room buzzed with chatter and expectation.
Several princesses were tucked into their red wagons, deemed royal coaches by active imaginations. A cowboy rode a Radio Flyer tricycle, with no fear of being bucked off. A proud big brother dressed in a helmet, knee pads and wrist guards to match his little brother. The older carried a skateboard, the younger pushed his IV pole. A brave firefighter may have been too young to drive a shiny red fire engine, but a wagon of the same color was perfect for pulling his “Tinkerbell” sister.
For safety reasons, the Hospital requires a parent or a volunteer to accompany the patient. Extra volunteers always show up especially for the parade so every “trick-or-treater” permitted to leave his or her room will not be left out.
Even a few fragile pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) patients came. One little princess had two attendants. Her mommy pushed her wheelchair, and her nurse pulled a little cart with an oxygen tank tucked into the bottom and a CR monitor on top for constant surveillance.
“Not everyone can go from PICU, but the ones that can…,” the nurse’s voice trailed off, but the images in that hall sufficiently finished her sentence. Dozens of children would parade with IV poles of medications and fluids, and at least one other patient would also join the procession with a CR monitor.
An employee dressed in shiny satin jammies with pink rollers in her hair passed through the crowd one last time, making sure each child had received a candy sack. The plastic bags were topped with sturdy black handles and covered with grinning jack-o-lanterns, ready to gobble up the candy they would soon hold.
At 10:30 a.m. sharp the parade of costumed children began, encountering smiling faces everywhere they went. Employees of nurse’s stations, ambulatory clinics and offices lined the hallways on both levels with goodies ready to drop into the candy bags held open by the eager children.
While we hope all these patients are home for the holidays, we will strive to make the season bright for the ones who remain and for all others who may join them.
Happy Halloween from Children's Hospital Central California.