Don’t ever talk to my like that.”
My mentor had just left the room and those were the first words directed towards me by my buddy, Monica. She was a young thirteen year old girl who has spent around 6 months in a prison that was 9 stories high, covered in thick glass that caged her in just because she had cancer along with a hundred other kids.
“Talk to you how? I haven’t even introduced myself.”
She could tell I was nervous by the way I was avoiding eye contact, while trying to form words with my throat which had gone dry, and focusing on the little details she had around her hospital room.
The Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona has a welcoming environment that helps the patients feel at home despite them being away from their own home for so long. The walls are full of bright colors. The windows bring in sunshine,lighting the hallways as if to bring light into the lives of people suffering within the hospitals walls. And then there is the workers. All day, they walk around with smiles on their faces and ecstatic attitudes despite them being tired. I find it hard to understand how the doctors are able to be surrounded by so many depressing scenarios yet still manage to see the bring side of each situation.
For many patients waking up to see the same for walls every day is like a movie being played on repeat-boring,distant,and endless. At such a young age the kids adapt to such a dull environment that they begin to think of those four walls and endless tests, and tasteless food, and the same people everyday as normal.
“Don’t talk to me like I am fragile and I will break if you say anything wrong.”
“I didn’t mean to-”
I incomprehensibly mumbled as if speaking too loud would tear down all the colorful streamers that were hanging from her room’s ceiling. The streamers were supposed to bring joy to the room with their bright colors but they cascaded down to the floor as if they were losing the one thing that made them bright.
“It’s okay a lot of people do it without realizing it. I think it is the way your mentor talks to the volunteers about us. It makes you guys pity us before even seeing our names or hearing our stories.”
What she said was true. Our mentor talked to us before she gave us the names of our buddies. He compared us to bears and the patients to fireflies.
“You guys are the big scary bears but the patients are as delicate as the fireflies hovering above your paw”
He made us feel sorry for them without telling us their back story. Without giving us any information about them. Without him informing us about their situation besides what they were in the hospital for.
“You are right. He made you guys seem weak. He didn’t tell me much about you. Or why you are here. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
Her luminous smile let me know nobody had asked her that before. Just with that simple question she seemed intoxicated with the thought of being able to talk about anything that brought her joy. She talked as if her breath were going to run out at any moment and she needed to say everything before that one breathe left her tiny body.
By the time she was done the sun began to go down and it was time for me to leave.
“Before you leave do you mind staying until the sun goes all the way down? We don’t get to have that many visitors often. You are the first new face I have seen in weeks.”
I sat down with her next to the window. She looked so much more relaxed and comfortable than when I had first came in. I hadn’t said much, I just sat there listening to her yet it made her so happy. It took almost no effort on my side to help her have a better day within a couple of minutes.
She layed in bed after seeing the sun go down and I waited for her to sleep,watching her go from a introverted patient to a cheerful girl was needed to rest after explaining her life story to a stranger.