He’s no ordinary duck. Although at first that is what I thought. “We will add him to her collection of stuffed animals from the hospital stays,” I said to Dan. “I really don’t think that she will pay much attention to him.”
Dressed in blue scrubs with a red bandana on his head, Ducky became a bigger part of our lives than I could have anticipated upon his first arrival. Then when I first pulled apart the velcro that fastened his shirt together, I remember losing my breath briefly.
Ducky came to Tessa from the hospital as a gift from the Gabe’s Chemo Duck program. Megan, the child life specialist, introduced Tessa and the duck, and an instant friendship bloomed. She told us that Chemo Duck is often used as a stress reliever and companion for kids going through treatment. “He will soothe her and comfort her,” Megan said. To me he was just an adorable duck, but to Tessa he was so much more.
Like Tessa, under his shirt he has a central line placed in his chest. His arm has a cuff on it to help keep his IV in place…or in Tessa’s case to check his blood pressure. When Tessa gets her dressing changed, so does Ducky–and he even goes first!
Tessa learned how to listen to his belly, back and heart. She checks his temperature and give him his daily meds. She checks his eyes and checks his mouth for sores. She built trust and confidence in herself and the hospital staff with the help of her new friend. When Ducky is not busy showing her the endless ropes of the inpatient life, he is sitting next to her watching Madagascar, sharing popsicles, strolling the halls in the grocery cart, and eventually cuddling her to sleep. I had no idea that Ducky would blend so perfectly in her environment.
You see, he has given her something that I couldn’t. You would not think that a two year old would notice the similarities between herself and Chemo Duck, but she does. I see the way her eyes light up when I ask where Ducky is? Her smile grows as she reaches out to give him a massive hug. She makes sure to tuck him into bed with a blankie. Ducky provides an escape from reality of the hospital by offering up extra soft security. When we are unsure how to be there for her, he is there just how she needs him to be. He gave Tessa the gift of true friendship, not just because she can relate, but because he is always there for her comforting her, soothing her, making everything alright. He makes her happy.
As I prepare for Tessa’s final round of chemo scheduled for tomorrow, I catch myself constantly checking to see that Ducky is still packed in with her things for the long stay. He makes an escape now and then for a quick round of tea, but he has never missed a treatment. Sometimes I forget what it is like to be a kid, relying on the one thing that melts away the bad as soon it is in hand.
For me it was Lucy, a handmade bunny dressed in a red paisley pattern. Sure she had a wooden block that stabilized her head underneath that pattern, but I loved her so much that I could ignore the minor injuries to my face while sleeping thanks to her wooden neck. I carried Lucy with me for many years, and tucked her in beside me at night.
For Tessa it is Ducky. I won’t soon forget about all that he has done for her by doing nothing at all.
And if I could, I would tell Ducky thank you.
To learn more about Gabe’s Chemo Duck program, please visit chemoduck.org