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Grandmother's Last-Ditch Plea: Save The Garden At Children's Hospital

A 65-foot dawn redwood tree slated for removal if the plans to build on the site of Prouty Garden proceed. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A 65-foot dawn redwood tree slated for removal if the plans to build on the site of Prouty Garden proceed. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In response to the Boston Landmarks Commission's vote to reject landmark status for a much-loved garden at Boston Children's Hospital, Ellen Gilliam — a librarian in Portland, Me., and the grandmother of a child recently treated at Children's — sent in this poignant and powerful letter:

Last summer, my newborn grandson was a patient for several months at Children's — first in the neonatal intensive care unit, then on a surgical inpatient floor. Fortunately, with the help of the knowledge, skill, expertise, experience and dedication of the medical and support staff there, he was able to recover from surgeries and infections in the aftermath of a serious birth defect and to ultimately go home from the hospital on the day before his three month birthday.

Were it not for the Prouty Garden, we might have lost our sanity while our little guy was fighting for his life.

My family and I certainly know the confines of the NICU there. In fact, we experienced the contrast between the spacious patient and family accommodations at Mass General’s NICU, where my grandson received his initial post-surgical intensive care in a private room with sleeping space for multiple parents, and the much tighter and less convenient NICU quarters at Children’s, as described in a recent Boston Globe article by Andrew Ryan.

That said, I must also add that were it not for the Prouty Garden, we might have lost our sanity while our little guy was fighting for his life. Family caregivers are on their own at Children’s Hospital when it comes to managing the abject anxiety and heartache that accompanies a child’s illness. Indeed, I was surprised by the paucity of organized or informal options for helping family members cope with the stress. The medical staff is compassionate, but their jobs are to tend to the science and medicine of healing the patients. Rightfully so.

The author's son-in-law and grandson take in a quiet moment in the Prouty Garden, August 2014. (Courtesy)
The author's son-in-law and grandson take in a quiet moment in the Prouty Garden, August 2014. (Courtesy)

Meanwhile, the one oasis for family was the Prouty Garden. Stepping into the cool, fresh-air of the garden, with its blooming roses and hydrangeas, its paths meandering by a water fountain and under spreading trees, one could finally exhale the pent-up terror and feel the lightness of human connection with the good earth.

When the baby was well enough to be moved to a room on the surgical floor, one of the first goals was to get him out into the fresh air of the Prouty Garden. We sat under the trees with him in a stroller, his IV pole supporting his infusions into his central line, and we had ice cream and basked in the warm sunshine. My son-in-law let himself stretch out and kick a ball around with a child who spoke no English, the sibling of another patient whose mother was quietly tending to what looked to be other siblings on a blanket on the grass. On the anxious night before a big surgery, we sat out under a Prouty Garden umbrella with a bottle of wine and reflected on how lucky we were to be in Boston, where the little guy could get the care he needs to survive and hopefully have a normal life.

I understand that the hospital finds itself between the proverbial rock and hard place on this question. But I hope there is still a way that the Prouty Garden can be preserved. Yes, it is critical to be able to meet increased demand from the many children and families who need help from across the world, but it is also essential to acknowledge the unique opportunity for healing that the Prouty Garden provides.

Ellen Gilliam is a librarian in Portland, Maine.

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