Monday, September 21, 2015

To the Worried Mother in the Hospital Waiting Room : I'll See You on the Outside.

I noticed you sitting quietly by yourself, holding your son's hand in the corner of this noisy waiting room. I see the worry on your face, and even though we are total strangers, I feel like I can relate in some small way to what you are feeling. I was the patient, not the parent, but I am familiar with the look of pain on your face, because I have seen that look on the faces of my own parents at certain times in my past, and I wanted to let you know that you're not alone.
Right now, I am a twenty year old student, working part time at a job that challenges and fulfills me, and I am very happy. But that's not my whole story, and I want you to know how much struggling it took for me to reach this point. Words like "infectious disease" and "Anaphylactic shock", were at one time a very vivid part of my reality. I am familiar with pick-lines, home health, and medical equipment like wound- vacs and fixators that seem like they belong in a low budget horror movie instead of real life.  Sometimes I'll hear a sound that resembles the beeping of an IV pump, or catch a whiff of something that "smells like a hospital", and it can throw off my whole mood for a few minutes or a week. Right now I am fortunate enough to be in a period of life where hospital visits are only for occasional checkups, but I am painfully aware of the fact that this could change at a moments notice. I am twenty now, and since the 7th grade I have been trying to learn how to let myself be happy without constantly keeping that happiness in check so that it I don't have too far to fall the next time I am yanked away from the happiness of ordinary life because an x-ray or CT scan shows that something has gone wrong. I have come a long way, but I will always struggle with that. Yes, I am happy right now, but I just wanted you to know that there is a long story behind that happiness.
Right now you're sitting in a hospital waiting room holding your son's hand, and I just wanted to tell you that you're doing a good job. You might feel helpless, and devastated because your child has problems that you don't have the ability to fix, but I wanted to somehow tell you that I have been that child, and my parents have been the worried ones holding my hand, and it is exactly the right thing to do. Having a familiar hand to hold in an unfamiliar, scary hospital is essential, especially for a child. You might feel powerless, but you are a hero because you are giving that child something that no one else can, because parents have the rare ability to feel a child's pain with them and understand their needs in a way that no doctor can.
Today was my last visit with my jovial neurosurgeon, because I am at the age where I have to start transitioning out of the children's hospital, and his parting words to me were "See you on the outside." It was a funny thing for a doctor to say, but also somehow profoundly fitting, because sometimes the horrors we face within the walls of a hospital make it seem like a different world. So to you, worried mother, I just wanted to say "I'll see you on the outside." I don't necessarily know if our paths will cross again, but I do know that one day, even if it is only for a brief moment, you will catch yourself doing something shockingly ordinary with your sweet son, like shopping at the grocery store or spending a lazy Sunday afternoon at home, and it will strike you that against all odds, you have made it back to that beloved place that everyone takes for granted, ordinary life in the outside world. I don't know how long it will take, or how long you will get to stay before the cruel realities of having a sick child come knocking at your door again, but I do know that one day, no matter how impossible it seems right now, you will get there. I know because I did.
It is not often you meet a neurosurgeon with a great sense of humor who sings when you come into his office and nicknames you "boss lady" when it feels like everything is out of your control. See you on the outside, Dr. B.