Children's Hospital This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The waiting rooms were always the same, bearing a youthful décor of bright primary colors, trains and whales, scattered with children’s toys and political magazines. Little children sit in enormous armchairs, playing portable video games that beep and whizz and whir. Always a fishtank with exotic tropicals that said “do not tap the glass,” and usually a child doing so. Through the happy commotion, always a feeling of anxiety and hopelessness. Parents sighing as they watch their children roll out of hospital rooms in wheelchairs, or with an intravenous system hooked up to them, wires and tubes sticking out every which way like a freakish cyborg.

I’d sit and read pre-released books about anthropology and listen to the melodic foreign languages spoken by sick children’s mothers, the news playing muted on a television in a corner while I waited for my sister’s radiation treatment to finish. She always thought the place was an insult to a mature woman like herself, but being under 21, it was technically a juvenile cancer. Luckily, she loved children if not the environment; and always became a temporary mentor to her wide-eyed roommates. She read them stories and played games, and they looked up to her like a hero. A big girl who’s sick like them. A big girl who is strong, who knows the world and knows they will be okay and someday they will have a beautiful survival story to tell their children and their children’s children. Roommates came and went for various reasons; sickness, health and death. Time marched on indifferently as a spoiled child. You sometimes had to do the same to survive the place.

Her wing of the hospital was the most conflicting of all: the hematology/oncology ward. Hairless, waif children rode through the halls on Big Wheels, laughing while their mothers watched telenovelas. Toddlers and elementary schoolers with afflictions some 40-year-olds aren’t concerned about in the near future. Children being scanned, x-rayed, ultrasounded and biopsied. Children being poked with needles and wires and being too sick to care. Children staring down death at the dawn of life.

Somehow, it seemed the melancholy in the ward did not come from them. They ran and bounced in the halls, stood awed at the full-service rotating vending machine with sandwiches and soup and begged their fathers for candy, ran toy trucks into the wall and rode tiny bikes in circles around nurses. They acted as if life were no different, perhaps treated the big C-A-N-C-E-R word as a little speed bump in their life. No, the doom and gloom in this ward came from parents. The roles almost reverse: the children are optimistic and practical, while the parents break down, cry and ask “why.” The young child must become a leader, an example of optimism; if they break down along with their parents, the whole family will fall to shambles. But they don’t think in those terms. They only think of their birthday next week and hope they’ll get an Optimus Prime action figure, as one very bald little boy told me. It’s a big “so-what:” so they’re sick. Life happens. Unlike us, they realize they can still enjoy and make the best of the time they have, be it eight more months or eighty more years.

Near the entrance to the ward there was a door to another. It was heavy and locked by safeguarding mechanisms. I never saw inside, but I heard the panic and commotion and frantic nurses shouting codes over the loudspeakers when a patient escaped. It was the psych ward. Why they chose to put the two scariest and most depressing wards next to each other, I’ll never know. I could only wonder what kind of children are in there, and what has gone so wrong with them.

To my very self-loving sister, the most atrocious thing about the hospital were its rules and regulations. During treatment, she was only allowed to leave her room at predetermined times of the day and rarely allowed outside of the hospital. When she was feeling well enough to raise hell, we'd sneak her out through an alternate entrance of the hospital. If a nurse asked, we were going to the cafeteria. We'd ride the elevators to a ward that didn't know her and leave right through a conspicuous automatic door, giggling the whole time over the mischief we'd pulled off. We'd shove in the car with too many friends and sneak around Seattle's University Village, ogle the jewelry at Tiffany's, get burgers, and buy new clothes for her ever-shrinking body. The nurses only seemed mildly amused and annoyed when we returned.
Often though, she was not feeling well enough to leave, but still followed her own needs over the rules, as that was her nature.

Chemotherapy gave her a sensitive stomach and she couldn't handle the unidentifiable slop they attempted to feed her, or even the adequate but greasy fare of the cafeteria. Betwixt parental trips to the grocery store for Original flavor Goldfish, we'd sneak out to the vending machines on the far side of the ward. They were housed in an enclave away from the wall with a phone and a few tables. On one table sat a bag of rice and a printed still from a Justin Bieber music video on our first visit. That was around the holidays, and Mom had been trying to lighten things up.

She hated being in her hospital room for that period, she thought the little fake Christmas tree was tacky. It seemed so unnatural and forced, an attempt to instill joy that backfired and only emphasized the lack of brightness and celebration. A much sadder day, though, was the day she spent her eighteenth birthday undergoing intensive chemotherapy. But still, day in and day out, through some of the toughest trials of life, the children ride their bikes through the hallways.





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