It’s just a doorway.
Not remarkable at first glance.
But this little stop along the polished hallway in the perioperative area of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, holds a special status among patients, families and staff.
This is the “kissing corner.”
It is the last opportunity for parents to give their child a comforting kiss and hug before they are separated and their little one is wheeled into the operating room for surgery.
Fifteen-month-old Kylie is about to have a laser procedure to treat a port-wine stain that covers part of her face, chest and back. She needs the treatment to prevent future medical complications.
A cheerful O.R. team takes Kylie for a short ride on the gurney from her room in preop, past the colorful aquatic theme adorning the walls.
Just as they reach a large set of double doors, the gurney comes to a gentle stop.
This is the tough and tender moment for families. They’ve reached the “kissing corner.”
Kylie’s mom and dad, Jessica and Lee, press their lips to each of Kylie’s chubby cheeks, “sandwiching” her into a kiss. If they could, they would stay frozen in this moment forever, with lips attached to their little girl.
“She’s my baby, and it’s just hard to let her go,” Jessica says.
Kylie looks up into her mom’s eyes for approval and gets the affirming nod and smile.
All will be well.
The parents watch as the gurney glides over the sterile threshold into the surgical area, double doors closing in its wake.
A release of control. A transfer of sacred trust.
No one knows exactly how far back in the hospital’s history the “kissing corner” goes, or even who gave it its name.
They just know how important it is.
“Having that moment allows kids to more easily make the separation,” says O.R. nurse Judie Dimas, R.N. “And parents are comforted too, because they know they’re going to be with their child up to the very last moment before surgery.”
Victoria, the mother of 3-year-old Knight, is escorting her son to the “kissing corner” — for the 11th time. Knight has a complex condition that has required many surgeries at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, including successful brain surgery.
Today’s procedure is less complex, but it’s never easy to separate from her child.
Still, she keeps her eye on the goal.
“These procedures are helping his quality of life,” Victoria says. “Every time he gets something done, he’s better. And the staff is wonderful. I know they care so much about the kids here.”
Preop nurse Denise Snyder, R.N., helps to prepare patients and families for surgery. As a mom herself, she understands the anxiety that comes naturally for parents.
“If you could, you would put yourself in your child’s place in two seconds. But you can’t,” Snyder says. “So, it’s really important for our team to do the things that build trust.”
For Jorge, whose little girl had open-heart surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s two years ago, the “kissing corner” moment remains crystallized in his mind.
“I remember the wave of emotion that came over me,” Jorge says.
He is grateful for the life-saving surgery, and for the small ways the staff showed a special kind of care.
“I don’t think people realize how significant, how important that little moment at the ‘kissing corner’ is,” he says.
Each day, as many as 35 children pass through the “kissing corner” into surgery at All Children’s.
9,000 children a year.
Over and over again — love and longing bear witness in that space, eventually giving way to a more joyful state — one of relief, of healing, of restoration.
Just now, Kylie is waking up hungry in the recovery area, insisting on cheese puffs, her favorite snack.
Her mom gives her all the cheese puffs she wants — and a mountain of bonus kisses.
Kylie is a step closer to wellness.