Christmas in the corona crisis: Everything is different at St. Anna Children's Hospital this year
Christmas in the corona crisis: Everything is different at St. Anna Children's Hospital this year

How are the children in the oncology ward? And how will Christmas take place under the strict Corona measures? We asked nursing director Barbara Hahn.

Christmas in the corona crisis: Everything is different at St. Anna Children's Hospital this year
Christmas in the corona crisis: Everything is different at St. Anna Children's Hospital this year

While we collectively complain about tightened corona measures and the overall situation, we often forget one thing: to be grateful for what we actually have. Because what this pandemic brings with it is that we all too often forget about others while we are preoccupied with our own situation. Those people who are not in our immediate environment, we may be blocking out more than we would like. That is why we wanted to sharpen our eyes again shortly before Christmas and asked the St. Anna Children's Hospital how the families are doing at the moment.

Around 100 children are treated here in acute care. There are 18 stationary children from Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland. For the little patients, their families and all employees, the corona crisis means one thing above all else: the utmost caution. Because an infection can mean great danger for the kids in the oncology ward. We found out in an interview from nursing director Barbara Hahn whether they can currently see their family at all and how Christmas is celebrated.

WOMAN: What about the visiting times in the St. Anna Children's Hospital since the corona crisis?

Barbara Hahn: For us it was very important that we only change the already exhausting and difficult time in the hospital for the children and their families through meaningful and necessary measures and thus we were able to ensure through careful and consistent measures that every child can be accompanied by their caregiver. We test every child before they are admitted as well as mom and dad who are admitted to the hospital.


WOMAN: Are families de facto separated?

Barbara Hahn: It is important to us that we look at the family as a whole. So children with their parents, siblings and grandparents. Unfortunately, this is currently not possible - and of course also a major problem. The caregiver who is taken in with the child and sleeps with the child currently always remains in the hospital. But we try to master the situation as best we can. The caregivers often change for a few days: For example, the father stays with the child for the next five or six days and the mother can go to the siblings at home and vice versa. Before the admission, the caregivers are tested. So there are small living units in which the caregiver stays with the child. Common areas such as the kitchen, where parents can prepare something for the children outside of our meal service, are currently allowed, but under strict precautions.

"One parent bears the brunt of the burden."

WOMAN: What other difficulties are there?

Barbara Hahn: The caregiver, who is permanently with the child, bears the main burden. She cannot talk to her partner directly or only over the phone. Before the corona pandemic, the parents were able to relieve each other a little. One parent was with the child, the other came straight after work. That's just not possible right now.

WOMAN: How do the children deal with the Corona issue in view of their illness?

Barbara Hahn: Children always receive age-appropriate information about their illness, just as we try to bring them closer to the abstract of a virus. Our onco-kids are trained and instructed from the beginning to observe various measures, including many hygiene measures, but also that at certain phases of the illness no visitors are allowed or school cannot be visited; thus very few measures were necessary.

WOMAN: What gives children and parents courage during this time?

Barbara Hahn: In everyday hospital life, we continue to try to ensure that there is a lot of normality and that we create structures that enable sick children to enjoy a high quality of life. Family-oriented care with information, guidance and advice in partnership. It is particularly valuable that many of our partners, such as the voluntary employees of the Vienna Red Cross, regularly relieve parents by looking after the children, that our young people can hold their computer driving license as an online tool, that the parents' initiative Kinderkrebshilfe also offers their advice online, that we are currently games and vouchers for the children are now being donated in the run-up to Christmas. However, all employees of the psychosocial group are also very important and an essential support in our system: the music therapist, social worker, our psychologists, who accompany the children and their caregivers through difficult times.

"Having to be in a small hospital room with your child is often one of the worst constraints."

WOMAN: Which restrictions are particularly difficult for children and parents?

Barbara Hahn: We know that the first time after a cancer diagnosis is spent in a state of shock and when this phase of fear is over, there is often the desire to want to "get out" again. Before the pandemic, we were of course able to enable the families to go home and sleep there one more night before starting treatment. Unfortunately that is not possible at the moment. Having to be in a small hospital room with your child is often one of the worst restrictions - we celebrate all the more, e.g. when a child is allowed to go home for the first time after a diagnosis. In many cases, of course, physical changes in the child are also experienced as bad, as we in the multi-professional team try to accompany and support both the child and the parents well.


WOMAN: Have there already been corona cases in the hospital?

Barbara Hahn: Yes, we had almost 30 cases, both patients and employees, a large number were young infants with their mothers, some oncocids were also Covid-positive and we are very happy that not a single child had a serious course! We are incredibly proud that not a single employee has infected anyone else, that everyone has adhered to our very strict and certainly very drastic measures - because this is the only way to achieve such success!

WOMAN: How did the cases come about?

Barbara Hahn: These are children who have previously been at home and were tested on admission or who found during the day-clinic assessment that the children are Covid-positive.

WOMAN: How is Christmas celebrated this year in contrast to other years?

Barbara Hahn: There's a lot of testing going on next week. That is of course challenging, but very important for us so that the families can really get together. But some children can go home and come back on December 25th. The kindergarten teachers will individually decorate the Christmas trees with the children on the wards, and on December 24th. Then each family celebrates individually in the living areas - unlike the years before - in front of the station tree. We will try to ensure that the families can really celebrate together and of course test all family members beforehand. The nurses will decorate themselves with Christmas headbands again and some oncologists will have infected a flashing reindeer.

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