Being a kid in a grown-up hospital mattered mostly to the grownups. I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. “It’s too bad you’re the only kid here” they’d say as if I’d be socializing if there were others. And do we really want more kids? I think not. I wouldn’t have wished this upon my worst enemy. Even with a drawer full, and I mean full, of my favourite candy, daily cake delivery, and endless movie watching, I’d choose freedom any day.
There were also some perks to being the only kid. I got the only TV and VCR set. I didn’t have to share my candy. I was also pretty popular with the nurses. They probably appreciated that I wasn’t a dirty old man or something. In the few moments I wasn’t being poked at by medical people or gawked at by visitors, I could actually be alone. Or at least with my parents. I didn’t much like being alone because of the ghosts, but that’s a story for a later post.
During the first few days in my new room on the 3rd floor, I started meeting social workers. Some other folks came by too. Nice ones, to be clear; an important distinction. Turns out, I was kinda well-known around these old parts. Word got out the Laura E Bradley was a new resident. Ok, not quite. They likely heard some kid needed a transplant and like, that’s rare or whatever. That was my 15 seconds of fame, and I didn’t even know about it. Probably for the best.
The social workers started talking about wishes. I remember them saying over and over in a positive high-pitched tone “Wishes are usually for kids that are dying but we can figure something out for you!” “ You deserve it!” That was exciting. The wish I mean. Not the social worker’s medical prognosis. I never thought I was going to die so when other people said things like that, I ignored it. I figured they were saying it more for their own benefit, or maybe my parents’ benefit, who knows.
Well, one day, a social worker came by with someone who worked in the hospital and who was actually known to my family. She was holding one of those red Ikea heart pillows. You know, the ones with the arms and more importantly, the fingers. In my usual fashion, I stared at the pillow to avoid looking at their faces while they spoke. I was listening, I promise! I just had a very hard time acknowledging that people could see me. I didn’t want to believe they could. The pillow really stuck out to me. Or rather, one of its fingers really stuck out to me. Now, I know what you’re thinking “But Laura, they only have four fingers” and to that, I say, “Read between the lines”. Just kidding. 🙂
I stared at that pillow. That pillow and I were meant for each other. Of course, I didn’t assume it was for me. Maybe it was like a hospital mascot coming to welcome me to the family. That would be kinda messed up though. Anyway, spoiler alert, the pillow with the messed-up finger, was indeed for me! And thus, I had my very first tool for communicating to this scary new world.
Every time, I grabbed my heart-shaped pillow, my family knew how I felt about the situation I was in. If it was a visitor, time for them to go. If it was medical related, time for a break. My pillow got me through so much. Just having something to squeeze, is one thing. Having something to squeeze that at the same time is flipping off the person causing me pain or discomfort, even better!
There was one person in particular who I did not like. He made a joke when I was in the ICU. People were always trying to make me smile, which is ok. But something about this guy was not ok. I didn’t specifically know what or how to explain it. Bad vibes? I did not like him. Unfortunately, he had an important role in my story. Every good story needs a villain though, right? I think they called him a perfusionist. I don’t know what that means. I google everything. So, if don’t know what something means, especially after 20 years, it’s probably on purpose. This guy took care of the machine that was hooked to me. So, he had a pretty big role. I think he came every day. And guess what? One day he came by when neither of my parents was there. This nearly never happened. It was so early on that this could have been the day of my grandpa’s funeral. He came in and started talking to me. I had been there for two or three weeks. He had known me for as long. Everyone who met me within seconds knew I was hopelessly shy. But this guy’s ego didn’t like that. I guess there is power in being shy after all.
I treated him like I did everyone else. But he thought he was special. I couldn’t look at him while he talked. My usual M.O. This was unacceptable to him. I remember exactly how he leaned in towards me, arms spread open as if to make himself bigger to this underweight, sick, thirteen-year-old kid. Then he yelled right in my face. Strategically. He knew what he was doing. He knew exactly how not to be heard by anyone in the hall. I wonder how many others he had done this to. “LISTEN TO ME WHEN I TALK TO YOU!”.
I squeezed my brand-new heart pillow harder than I would ever need to again. I squeezed it and I looked up at him.
I didn’t look up because he had earned it, no. I looked up at him because he had just made a mistake that he was never going to make again. I don’t know what my face did, but it worked. He backed down. Maybe because he thought he got what he wanted. I’ll never know. But he never did it again.
To Be Continued.
P.S. Even an asshole can be an organ donor 😉