A smile — one of those tiny side smirks that causes a cheek to abut against the bottom of the eye — creeps onto your face when remembering all of the gadgets and gizmos held within the toy closet at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. This would be the moment when you’d try to blame the delightful giddiness on the inner child emerging from its shell, but it’d be a lie to say the outer man didn’t have a blast absorbing the sight of all the trinkets within the treasure trove.
There was the wall-climbing Spider-Man — very cool, albeit a hint reminiscent of Regan from “The Exorcist” — DVDs, coloring books and a few Xbox titles, several Barbie dolls and a few Transformers to boot. There was a mini basketball hoop adorned with Disney princesses — a combination somehow logical and illogical at the same time — and a scented wax warmer for whatever reason. Even a few knitted caps and garments rested on the walls comfortably.
The smile advances from that opening little smirk to something more when you remember exactly who will receive those items on the walls. They’ll be kids from the very young to teenagers, and the toys and books and movies and video games will end up in a patient’s hands a few moments after a rather frightening and trying time in his or her young life.
Guidelines exist to delineate when, exactly, a kiddo can enter the closet to peruse its contents; without a few parameters, the closet’s (technically closets; there are seven closets for the building’s seven floors) purpose would diminish. The most common opportunities come just after an intensive procedure like a surgery or as compensation for undergoing a transfusion; going in for a regular appointment or something less severe won’t result in a visit.
Staff members sometimes use it as incentive/bribery for children in recovery — walk two or three times today, they might tell a child, and you get a special trip to the closet.
“I’d say the toy closet is the biggest motivator in the hospital,” said Sarah Fischetti, who works in Cardon’s Child Life Department.
Fischetti’s something of a gatekeeper for the closet, and frequently has an opportunity to enter one of the seven mini Toylands as part of one of the more enviable jobs a person can have. It’s not a very long trek for Fischetti and the kids, as the every closet is located right across the hall from one of the rooms where many of their intensive procedures take place.
But the physical distance is outweighed largely by the symbolic one, with a child moving from the darkness of an often nerve-wracking and inherently unfair experience to the light that is the room filled with treats and the ultimate reward for their minutes, hours, days, months or years of courage. “It’s like magic,” Fischetti said. “I always wish we had cameras in here to capture their reactions; it’s priceless.”
She’s dead on with that point; watching a child enter one of those seven closets is no less than an utter joy that, upon reflection, makes the smile grow even larger.
Take, for example, the circumstances behind the visit taken by 3-year-old Royce Rooker into the closet on the seventh floor during an otherwise unimportant Monday morning. The boy had his tonsils taken out about five days earlier, but he was forced to come back to the hospital due to complications with his medication.
He’s still such a small, small boy, and he walked into that room with an IV in his arm and the pole rolling at his side as if it were a dog protecting its owner.
Royce was there with his mom, Tricia, who guided her son through a few of the selections and kept hinting at that wall-climbing Spider-Man; Fischetti said it’s fairly common for parents to “recommend” a toy they find interesting for their kids.
“It’s a lot; even when we go to the store, he’s never able to go for it,” Tricia said. “It’s a little overwhelming because there’s so much stuff in there.”
Some kids do become a little dumbstruck by the walls of toys, and Fischetti said it can take some kids a half hour to figure out exactly what they want. But Royce was a little more efficient than many of his young colleagues, and he had his eyes set on a specific item that featured a few characters from Pixar’s “Cars” franchise.
Unfortunately, the item proved to be a bait-and-switch for the little guy: he expected a toy vehicle, but ended up with some kind of beanbag toss game. He was a little upset, but the hospital let him grab one of the Transformers figures, and that ended up being a winner for the young patient.
“He’ll be playing with that for the rest of the day,” Tricia said afterward.
Entering the closet as frequently as Fischetti does reveal a few trends as to which items children pick most often. Action figures, like Royce’s new Transformers, are popular among the boys, and baby/Barbie dolls are often the top selection or girls. For more time consuming and less invasive procedures like the aforementioned blood transfusions, kids tend to lean toward board games, arts and crafts, and especially coloring books.
“We go through coloring books like crazy,” she said.
Coloring books are one of the items the hospital could use — other items of need include things tailored toward teenage patients and infants to enjoy after their scary times — as the holiday season encroaches. The need is due to the fact that the items in questions, all the toys, books, games, DVDs and miscellany, that fill the seven closets is received via donations from the public.
This article isn’t meant to be a pledge drive — Cardon won’t run out of toys in the near future — but it is a gentle reminder during shopping season to pick up an item or two to donate to the hospital’s toy closets if you have a couple of extra bucks available. A donation can go directly to the hospital as long as its unused — homemade items are accepted as well — or it can be gifted until Dec. 9 through the toy drive conducted by Mesa City Councilmember Dennis Kavanaugh.
The effect that toy or book or video game or movie or scented candle maker will have on a child is immense. All of those items, Fischetti said, help Cardon fashion a sense of normalcy in an environment that is often anything but and make it a clean, well-lighted place. The toys can divert from the pain the kids feel and remove, or at least suppress, the negativity that has entered their lives.
At the very least, one of those items can help kids like 8-year-old Stephanie Kimble — the girl whose photo accompanies this article — and Royce turned a bad day into something a little better, and a frown or a grimace into a smile.
“It definitely changes his mood for the day, which is always nice,” Tricia said of her son’s experience.
Items can be dropped off at Cardon’s front office, 1400 S. Dobson Road in Mesa, and more information is available by calling (480) 412-5437.
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