(From a student in my AMH 2020 online class summer 2015)
My Mission Up until now, I never gave the idea of death and illness much thought. I always figured that long lives outweighed the number of shortened ones. My sister works at a children's hospital. She suffered with childhood disease and decided to work at the hospital she spent many of her childhood days in. For my "good deed mission" I spent a day volunteering at this hospital. I was told to go to patients rooms and bring them cheer; reading to them or coloring or acting silly, whatever worked to make them smile. I never visited my sister when she was hospitalized because I was a kid myself and they didn't allow kids to visit much, so being there was an entire new experience for me.
Right away, I didn't like it. It had that cleaning product hospital smell and felt sad even with the colorful decor. Immediately, I felt a sadness for all the kids that had to be there rather than being outside, carefree.My sister works on the Neurology floor but I was allowed to visit a couple of the other floors so I did. I started on the floor that was for patients with digestive issues. There were mostly preteens and teenagers on this floor, all suffering from some sort of eating disorder. It surprised me to see a few teenage boys on this floor because I've always associated eating disorders with females so that was my first eye opener of the day. Because they were older they weren't really in the mood for "silly stuff" so I just sat and chatted with them about all the real big world issues like Kanye West’s new sneakers coming out and Kim Kardashian’s new pregnancy. We also listened to music.
Teenagers, ill or not, are usually moody so strange visitors are not really wanted by them; I was not welcomed by all. Their food trays were all calorie calculated and the ones that refused to eat these trays of burgers, fries and milk shakes had a feeding tube that went up their nose. My next stop was the oncology and hematology wing, the saddest stop of my day. This was the floor my sister came to know well when she was a child. Kids, the youngest ones still in cribs, having to fight cancers and other blood related diseases. Even adults have it bad when they have to battle cancer but a child?
There were a few rooms I wasn't allowed in because the patients had bone marrow transplants and germs were a big issue. I met a little girl, I'll call her Mack, and she was the sweetest little girl. Mack was born with a tumor they didn't find until it caused her problems at 4 years of age. She was now 6, her face all puffy from the medications and all her hair gone but a huge smile on her face. We colored and I made funny puppets with blown up latex gloves but I think it was my voices that were the funny part for her. Her parents looked tired and distant like they couldn't remember a time before this when things were good and all was right in the world.
I felt really bad about it all. Bad for all these parents having to deal with a child that might die and bad for all the children that have been robbed of a normal childhood and maybe even a life. It made me realize how fortunate I am and how precious health really is and no one in good health ever really thinks of it because they expect it to remain good. They take all these things for granted when so many wish for lives like theirs, free of disease and doctor visits. Free of limitations and just freedom in general is had by all those in good health unaware of this freedom they have. I never realized that until my visit here. I also thought about how stupid people are in general for how they think they've got it bad when they have no idea what bad is. A buddy of mine was going through a breakup recently and he made it seem like there was nothing else more tragic than someone breaking up with you.
He could clearly use a day volunteering at this hospital to get his mind right.
My last stop of the day was the Neurology floor where my sister was working. She brought me around to her patients rooms for introductions. The ones I watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with were epileptics. They were regular looking kids, teaching me the hot dog song, that I will forever remember; “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog.." Thankfully, I didn't witness any seizures. I did visit two rooms that didn't need my smiling expertise but I went in for the introductions. One room had a teenage boy who's parents were holding a bedside vigil. He originally just had a headache and fever and now the doctors said he was "gone" but his parents refuse to accept that idea. His mom told me she fully believes he's still in there and she's not giving up. I'm not an outwardly emotional person but that hit me hard. Imagine having to make that choice for your child, I don't even have children and I don't think I could let go either.
The second room was a very hard room to be in. There was a young boy who had no skull on top. Doctors had to remove it after he was in an accident because he had so much swelling of the brain. It was all sunken in. This boy was a patient of my sister's so I was in the room when she was checking up on him.
The top of his head moved like a water bed when she moved him slightly. I was really afraid she was going to break him or something even though she was very gentle. His mother was in the room, another strong woman, as all the mothers I met that day were. She too believes there is hope for her son to recover. I drew a picture for him that she put on the wall because his wall was full of drawings and pictures for him to see when he "wakes up"
I chose to come to this children's hospital because I wanted to see what my sister endured as a kid. These parents and children have to go through it every single day of their lives. My mission was successful, I managed to make every patient I met smile and forget where they were for a minute and I learned a lot in the process. Simple acts of kindness to those around you cost nothing and can make a difference in their lives. You have no idea the battles people are facing everyday and if you can help ease that with something as tiny as a "hello" what's stopping you? That 10 second hello is pulling them out of their funk long enough for them to see they're not alone. I learned that life is precious and so is your health and you should appreciate both if you're lucky enough to have them. People today are so stuck in their lives of minor issues that they can't see the big picture. Smile, be grateful, be present, if these kids and parents can do it every day, all the more reason that you can too. I went home that day emotionally drained and it had only been one day.Side Note: My sister has since informed me that Mack has earned her angel wings. She was smiling till the end and there is some peace in knowing that. I’m happy I was able to have that special time with her and bring her some cheer while she was here.