Whitney Sutton packed a small overnight bag when her 5-year-old daughter, Ellie Grace, was admitted to UNC Children’s Hospital on March 17.
“I thought we'd be here one night,” Whitney, 33, told TODAY Parents. “We’ve been here three weeks.”
Though Ellie's prognosis is good, Whitney and her husband, Geoff Sutton, have at least another 15 days at UNC with their little girl, who is battling B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Ellie misses her 3-year-old brother, Tristan, terribly. Whitney misses country roads and grass. But the Sutton family has found ways to make their extended hospital stay a little bit easier.
Last month, Whitney began posting “hospital hack” videos on TikTok in hopes of helping other moms and dads in similar situations.
“Having a sick child is really overwhelming and I wanted to share some things that have made the experience less stressful,” Whitney explained.
Here are Whitney and Geoff’s top tips:
Upgrade a sleeper sofa
Whitney describes the pull-out couch in Ellie’s room as “an upgrade from a concrete floor.” After three restless nights, Geoff purchased a luxurious self-inflating mattress at a camping store.
“We’re actually getting decent sleep now,” Whitney said.
Once you’ve dozed off you don’t want to deal with unnecessary interruptions. “We tape a note to the door when we’re sleeping,” Whitney said. “It says, ‘Please see the nurse before entering.’”
Then make more signs
“Ellie likes to know what’s happening before it’s happened,” Whitney said. “So we got her signs that say ‘Please do not touch me until you tell me what you’re doing.’”
Stock up on self-adhesive hooks
There aren’t many places to hang items including towels and shower caddies. Whitney and Geoff fixed the problem by installing temporary wall hangers. The brand the Suttons chose does not leave behind a sticky residue.
Give the space a homey makeover
Whitney noticed Ellie start to relax when they filled the room with stuffed animals, balloons and the foods she loves. "The kids at Ellie's school colored pictures of rainbows, unicorns and mermaids, which are her favorite things," Whitney said. "We taped all the pictures up so it's sunshine."
Invest in a cooler with wheels
“Geoff likes to use a cooler with wheels when he goes to the grocery store,” Whitney said, noting that that it's a long walk from the parking garage to the hospital.
Whitney’s sister texts her at breakfast, lunch and dinner to make sure she eats. “Our life is chaotic. I once made it till 3 p.m. without any food,” Whitney said. “One of Ellie’s doctors was saying that they’ve admitted many parents to the ER because they passed out from dehydration. It’s important to take care of yourself.”