The Hospital

13 May

Two posts ago, I talked about a personal essay I had written for a class where I shared a perspective changing experience. For a month, I sat on that post, because I could not find this essay. But two months later, I finally found it! So, here is the essay I shared with the class about my experiences being in the hospital as a kid:

I dread going to the hospital. I dread seeing entire families in the lobby crying, dabbing their noses and eyes with shreds of tissues. I dread the smell of Pine-sol and infection. I dread not being able to have a cigarette since I quit four years ago. And I dread remembering that the last time I was in a hospital, my grandmother died in the ICU.

It’s amazing how much your perspective changes as you grow older. You know, when I was a kid, I actually liked being in the hospital. I had to stay there four times when I was 3,5,7, and 9 for bone revision surgery, about a week long for each surgery, to have part of the bone taken off because it was poking through the skin. Each visit would begin in the same fashion–I’d go to the lab to get blood drawn. Am I the only kid who liked getting her blood taken? The needles didn’t scare me. I’d look on in amazement as the technicians tied the cylinder-shaped tourniquet around my arm and feel proud when they told me I had good veins. I’d watch in the wonder, the bright red blood quickly filling the tiny tubes.

Next, they’d wheel me to my hospital room to settle in. I remember the excitement upon entering my new, clean, white room for the next week–meeting my new roommate, getting my pillows and clothes situated, dressing in my green princess nightgown, organizing my stuffed animals to comfort me. The thrill of opening the sterile packages of toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, soap and mouth swabs, the little tan plastic cup and vomit tray, praying I wouldn’t need it. I delighted in the anticipation of all the visitors who’d come and the presents I’d receive–cards, balloons, stuffed animals.

The first night was always exciting to me. I enjoyed eating the hospital food–it seemed better than my mom’s cooking somehow–The way it arrived in little containers and compartments. I’d savor opening each container, peek under the round lid of the entrée first, then open milk cartons, apple sauce, juice, jello, and let the feast begin. Later, I’d get to watch anything I’d want on TV, and when it was finally time for bed, my mom would tuck me in beneath the warm, hospital blankets. My dad would be there too, with worry in his eyes, and would not leave my side till I slept.

Sleeping in the hospital was a unique experience. It was difficult sleeping, knowing I’d be having surgery the next day, but I’d feel comforted in seeing my mom sleeping next to me in the pull-out chair. Playing with the buttons on the bed was the most fun–sometimes I’d put my legs up, or I’d put my head up, and sometimes both, squishing my body between the mattress. It was never quite dark in the hospital, always an eerie glow in the hall, which I liked because I was afraid of the dark. I’d peek out the door and see snippets of activity: nurses walking by with carts full of medication in Dixie cups, doctors in green scrubs and gloves, patients being wheeled down the hall in stretchers. There was a feeling of illicitness about being awoken in the middle of the night to take medication, eat cookies, and drink ginger ale. After all the excitement, I’d finally drift unwillingly, but quickly off to sleep.

Of course there were things I didn’t like about the hospital–the uncomfortable feel of IV needles in my skin, recovering from surgery in an unfamiliar bed and puking from the anesthesia. I definitely disliked getting bandages changed, the embarrassment of having to use a bedpan, and the pain. But these things I don’t remember so vividly as the good ones. I guess part of what made the hospital so great, was all the attention I’d get and the people who’d take care of me. At just the click of a button, I could call a nurse to my room any time I wanted (though I don’t think I ever took full advantage of that fact). All of my relatives would come to visit, bringing cards and presents; I’d even get gifts from the people at my dad’s job. I’d get flowers from church, and I’d get a slew of homemade cards from my classmates and girl-scout troop. My parents doted on me–adjusting my pillows, reading books, giving me crayons and books to color and do crosswords in–and comforted me whenever I needed them to.

A day or two after the surgery, I’d start feeling better and I’d be able to move around a bit. The time I was seven, the doctors decided to move me from a semi-private room to the children’s ward. The children’s ward was a hug room that could house about 20 patients at a time, and despite all the cribs, hospital beds, and medical equipment, it was like a dream to me. It had a large play area with tons of toys, a video player, and a library full of books for me to discover.

Perhaps the part I liked most was all the interesting people I’d meet. I remember first being wheeled down the ward, seeing so many faces. When I got to my bed at the end of the room, I met my neighbor Alyssa. She told me that she was 2 and she had a koala bear named Cubby. I also met a three-year old girl named Crystal, who was a midget with curly red hair, and her mother, also a midget, told me she had just had surgery on her legs and hips to aid in her future walking. She looked like a normal three-year old would, but her appearance was peculiar because she had a cast on both legs, which went all the way up to the hips. It had a metal rod that separated her legs at the ankles and the hind-section was cut out. I remember her cries for her mom in the middle of the night and how her mom would always come. Another little friend I met was a tiny dwarf baby named Cliff, who had just had the same surgery as Crystal, and was beginning to learn to walk with special shoes. I can still see him toddling around and feeling such pride for him. One kid, Douggie, liked to ride his wheelchair like a race car. Another boy taught me how to run on crutches, much to the chagrin of the nurses.

One day, my dad introduced me to Lori, an African-American teenager; when we first met, I was shocked and scared at the sight of her. She really didn’t have hands or feet, just nubs at the ends of her short legs and arms. Her eyes bulged blankly from the sockets. Her hair was scattered in patches, and put in baby barrettes where possible, and her clothes were so big, she looked like a large, misshapen doll. Later my dad told me she suffered from an extremely rare disorder, which caused her bones and skin to form incorrectly; she wasn’t expected to live too far into adulthood.

Even though I was apprehensive, we started talking. She was really funny and a great person to be around. As the days wore on, her appearance became less important to me, and she became my friend. We’d hang out playing Atari, which I didn’t have at home, and eating popsicles. I remember feeling sad when I had to leave the hospital because I’d really miss all the friends I’d met, especially Lori. About 10 years later, to my surprise, I saw Lori at the mall. I was in the elevator and she was being wheeled in by an assistant. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t really think she’d remember me because she’d been in and out of hospitals her entire life, but I knew I had to say something. So with apprehension, I introduced myself, explained my situation, and found out from her assistant that she had her own apartment and had been going to college. I was glad to know she was still around, but disappointed that I found it so hard to speak to her directly. As they walked away, I wished I had said more and felt ashamed that I couldn’t see her through the same eyes I had as a child. As I said before, it’s amazing how much your perspective changes as you grow older.

Nowadays, I don’t dread going to the hospital as much. I think back to my experiences, and remember–it’s always the people that matter most.

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