Hospitals are usually thought of as places of death. Places filled with scary machines and needles and terrible diagnosis’. They are not thought of as places of hope and friendship or somewhere where someone finally finds the meaning of self-love. If the walls in those hospitals could talk, they would tell you about the patients and the make shift home they make for themselves and the love and and joy that goes on in there. About 2 years ago, I was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital because they thought I had a brain tumor. I was 12 years old and absolutely petrified, given the fact that I had just been told that I probably have cancer. I was only admitted for a week, but I learned so much and met so many people.
There was this little girl with leukemia who was only about 5 years old. She would run through the halls with this rainbow hat covering her shaved head, and every day, she would stop at my window and press her little face up to the glass and wave at me. I would wave back and she would giggle and run back down the hall. She was a ray of sunshine that brought light to such a dark place. She was a flame, a walking, living, breathing bit of hope. She was more broken than the rest of us, but in a peculiarly lovely way, like she had so many cracks in her that it let all the light come through, and I pray to God that the light didn’t go out.
Then there was this boy who was maybe a year or two older than me. I couldn’t tell what was wrong with him, but he was still tethered to an IV pole just like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, he didn’t wear a hospital gown, he wore regular clothes so I knew that he had been there awhile. He taught me how to play cards and it was a different game every morning. He never talked, so neither did I. It was an unspoken friendship. An unspoken agreement to make the best out of where we were. One night, he knocked on the door to my room and told me he was being discharged. It was weird hearing him talk. He gave me a hug, wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and told me he hopes I feel better. Then he left, and in the best way possible, I lost a friend.
There was also a little boy who was only about five. He had skin the color of ebony and wide eyes that were the deepest kind of brown you could ever imagine. I know his mom told me once what was wrong with him, but I must have forgotten. I remember he loved Frozen and would sit next to the little girl with the shaved head and they would sing “Let it Go” together while an audience of nurses looked on. We would color pictures and read together. I taught him how to play Jenga, and he gave me a full history of the Power Rangers. He reminded me of my little brother, and just like the girl with leukemia, he lit up every room he walked into. He was always so completely happy all the time. He didn’t burn like the little girl, he glowed. A constant, steady, beautiful glow. I was discharged before him and never got to say goodbye.
Because TV got old and re-re-re-reading The Fault in Our Stars got repetitive, I would walk laps around the nurses’ station, over and over and over. I walked so much that the father of one of the patients started calling me Miss Myrtle, like the ghost in Harry Potter that haunts the bathroom. That man’s daughter was in one of the long term rooms, and I could tell she had already been there for a while because she had completely redecorated the outside sanitary station in the front of her room. Her dad invited me to visit her, but her room was one of those that you had to put on a special gown and mask and gloves, so I really wasn’t allowed to visit her. I never met that girl, never even saw her or learned what was wrong with her. She quietly lived in her hospital room like it was her own personal asylum, hidden away from the rest of the world for God knows how long.
There was this nurse who was the best nurse I had ever had. I remember she was engaged and I got met her fiancé who was some sort of brain surgeon. She was the only person who didn’t treat her patients like they were broken children even though that’s exactly what we were. We were children who were fighting against their own bodies to stay awake; to stay awake and to stay us instead of a twisted, mangled, sick creature that vaguely resembles the people we used to be. Everyday that we wake up but aren’t really awake and everyday that we struggle to keep down our hospital food and pray for a diagnosis, for a cure. Every single time we wanted to give up or run away or walk out, she was there. She was there to pick us up when we fell, to remind us to always keep fighting. She saw us in our absolute worst moments and didn’t care. She loved us like we were her own children. She was the only person in that entire place who knew what to do with any of us.
And I remember the doctors. There were so many of them. There were neurologists and optometrists and pediatricians and generals and neuro-ophthalmologists. They brought in oncologists and allergists and immunologists audiologists and ENT’s. They even had psychologists and diagnosticians see me. They tried everything. Every specialist, every test, every scan. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Sometimes I think about how they didn’t look hard enough or figure it out sooner and how they made me suffer longer than I should have, and I get really angry. It’s still unbelievable to me that through all of that, nobody even bothered to check my heart.
Some days I wake up and think about all these people. I wonder if that little girl with cancer went into remission or if she got worse. I think about the boy who taught me cards and our unspoken friendship and wonder what was wrong with him and if he is okay now. I want to know if the little boy with the ebony skin still loves Frozen, or if he’s over it now. I think about that girl I never met, and wonder if she’s still there, trapped in her decorated hospital room, praying for a cure. And sometimes I sit and think about that one nurse who treated me not only as a patient, but as a friend. I wonder if her wedding went how she wanted or if she has her own kids now.
These people showed me that you don’t have to know someone for a long time for them to make such a huge impact on your life. The little girl with the shaved head and the ebony boy taught me that no matter what you’re going through, there can always a bright side and in the words of Victor Hugo, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will shine again.” The boy with the cards taught me that a strong friendship may lack words, and that’s okay. The mystery girl in the quarantined room showed me that just because you’ve never met someone, you can still change their life, and the nurse who treated us less like sick children and more like regular people, taught me to always treat others with respect and understanding, and to not judge them. And finally, the doctors who couldn’t find the one broken thing in this one broken girl taught me that some things are unfixable.
I never had the chance to thank any of these people for what they taught me or what they helped me get through, so I will thank them now. Thank you, all of you, for helping me through the hardest and sickest part of my life. I know now that there is no cure and I will never be completely whole ever again, because no one goes through two years of hellish torture without breaking. But you gave me hope, which was something I desperately needed. I barely knew you and you barely knew me, but it didn’t matter. We were once broken children playing at being whole and praying for a cure, but like all broken things, we can be mended, and we mended each other.