Magical Lights

Elizabeth Wyman, R.N.

Each night at 8:30 p.m., after the nurses have done their last set of vital signs, administered the nighttime medications and children are washed and ready for bed, families and children gather at their hospital room windows, lights off and flashlights at the ready. As they scan the city skyline, they watch as skyscrapers, tugboats, hotels, a yacht club, a night club, residents of a senior living center, police cruisers, and residents send a blinking goodnight message toward the hospital.

I was filled with emotions and brought to tears as I watched the flashing lights across the skyline of eastern Providence, alongside a patient at 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night in 2016. It was my first experience witnessing Good Night Lights – a program that has been brought to life at Hasbro Children’s Hospital by the talented and compassionate cartoonist, Steve Brosnihan.

Steve is someone I had the pleasure of meeting in 2005 as a young, bald 16-year-old battling Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. He had a warm presence and brought a playful and fun energy to the room as he drew out the letters of my name using animal cartoons. I can remember looking forward to the nights he would visit because in that short time, I could forget about the needles, medications, tests and constant flow of medical staff through the room -- and just be a kid.

Eleven years later, I am proud to say I am a pediatric nurse right here at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. As a nurse who knows the feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty in the hospital, I understand the importance of giving families and patients an outlet from the stress.

With the Good Night Lights program, I have the opportunity to be a part of something that gives patients and their families an escape and something to look forward to every night. Steve continues to visit Hasbro Children’s Hospital every week, to bring smiles to not only the patients and their families but the staff as well. He has a contagious uplifting spirit that touches each person he interacts with in a positive way.

Recently for Christmas, he partnered with the Tomorrow Fund to provide special spotlight flashlights for all the staff to use with their patients. His implementation of the Good Night Lights program has brought a new sense of fun to the bedtime routine at the hospital.   

In my first experience with the “magic minute” as Steve refers to it, I was sitting alongside a child with autism. I helped him use the flashlight to signal back “one flash” (thank) and “second flash” (you). Each time we flashed we found a new blinking light across the way signaling four times, “good night Has-bro.”

Although the child was not able to verbally communicate to me his emotions, the smile on his face, and uncontrollable excitement, told me everything I needed to know; in that moment his fears had vanished and he was enjoying just being a kid. Steve has now started hanging signs on the windows of the patient rooms with a brief description of Good Night Lights.

Recently while admitting a patient, as I was walking into their room a bright light from across the harbor flashed into my eyes. It was a large tugboat on the Providence River flashing its lights “good night Has-bro.” As I explained the flashing and began pointing out the other blinking lights across the city skyline, the faces of my patient and her mother quickly turned from worry and concern to smiles and intrigue.

We began flickering the lights of their room on and off in response and it was a great warm welcome, as they knew they were not alone in whatever the next hours or days were to bring them in the hospital. I have also witnessed two young boys who were rooming together, neither of whom spoke the same language, become friends and share smiles as they looked out their window one night.

Many patients and their families have had the pleasure of meeting Steve and experience the magic of Good Night Lights. They have shared with me the overwhelming emotions and love that they feel.

As more staff, families and Providence residents learn about the program, the hope is that Steve's small act of kindness will spread. In the coming months and years, the dream is to reach more businesses and people across the city and inspire others around the country to start similar programs in which the community and hospitalized children are connected through the magic minute.