A very special BYH to the shopper couple who volunteered to load the very heavy case of water into our cart at Sams Cub...

Rutledge: Being a kid in the hospital is no fun, but there are benefits


Santa, Mrs. Claus and a senior elf of an unknown job description visit Noel Rutledge at Niswonger Children's Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

No one ever wants to be a hospital patient, but if I have to be one again I might try passing myself off as a kid. Impossible, but perhaps for the effort they’d give me a room at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

At 6-foot-one, my 14-year-old daughter, Noel, probably was the tallest kid admitted to Niswonger last week. But she’s still a kid and she still got the kid treatment after having her appendix removed next door at Johnson City Medical Center.

As my daughter was sleeping off the effects of anesthesia, I stared out the new-wing window of her room. Across the courtyard, the old familiar JCMC hospital building where I worked my way through college is finally starting to show some age.

When I was hired in 1981, the building’s concrete exterior was a year into replacing the old red-brick Memorial Hospital near downtown. As sincerely kid-friendly as pediatric units were in the old days, nothing tops an entire hospital dedicated to children and their families.

Children never deserve to be sick. But when they are sick the treatment must be absolutely special.

Perhaps St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital set the standard for the trend in child-focused facilities. The medical complex where our twins were born in Greenville, N.C., was the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital. We thankfully never required services there, but knowing they were at the ready made for a better standard of living.

Whenever I visit a hospital I’m reminded that during my years of working at one the fringe benefits included a lesser tendency toward taking life and good health for granted. Our daughter is on the mend and will soon be pain-free again. Some of the little ones she met in the halls do not have that assurance.

The staff and volunteers at Niswonger obviously are dedicated to providing every patient every possible assurance — as are the volunteers. People come by with offers of everything from coloring books, crayons and crafts to spiritual consultation.

The visits reminded my mother of my father’s appendicitis attack, which hit early in their marriage during a trip to be with Mom’s parents in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains.

“He was still in the hospital on Sunday,” Mom said, “and the mountain people all came to visit with him.”

The “mountain people” were rural Christians who took seriously certain passages in Matthew that can be interpreted: “Thou shalt visit the sick.”

“That’s what they did back then after church on Sunday,” Mom said.

Noel was home before Sunday, so we cannot say what happens at Niswonger Children’s Hospital when church lets out. This close to Christmas, however, we do know that visitors travel in from a snowy land far, far away.

Santa, Mrs. Claus and a third senior elf of an unknown job description came by with bells on to cheer up my long-tall little girl.

This was no “beef-and-cheese” Santa like the fake one in the movie “Elf.” He was the genuine article, with his own white hair and beard.

We took a picture to share on Facebook, and it’s destined to become a tree ornament to remind us to count our many blessings. And to always appreciate and emulate “whoever welcomes one of these little children…”

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com.