By a show of hands how many of you have ever utilized a children’s hospital? Not just the pediatric floor at your nearby clinic but a stand-alone-research/regional hub for life-saving care for complicated and very sick children? OK, y’all ten people put your hands down.
For the rest of you, let me give you a min-introduction to these buildings filled with pain and hope. Thankfully, so far we’ve only accessed these centers on an outpatient basis though we’ve been to many all over the country.
The whole focus and scope of the aesthetics and “feel” of a children’s hospital is to try to help you forget that you are in a building that you never wanted to be in in the first place. It is cheery with a capital C. The employees are happy and competent. There is free valet parking as if handicapped parking isn’t good enough. I’m not really sure why they don’t have people handing out hors d’oeuvres but I’m definitely writing that in my feedback survey.
Recently, we had an appointment in the surgery wing of one of these centers and as I sat there waiting for my daughter to return from her fairly short procedure, I found myself in a room about the dimension of six good-sized living rooms. It was divided into sections decorated with Plexiglas screens colored boldly with sunshine, grass and butterflies, all serving as a distraction from the fact that you’d rather be in a real park with actual grass watching your child chase legitimate butterflies instead of them being sedated, wired, poked and stitched up.
While seated there eating my complementary granola bar (because, children’s hospital) and watching people and doctors come and go, I noticed a couple directly in front of me.
I tried not to be a total creeper watching them a mere three feet away as they waited to hear how their daughter’s surgery was progressing. The mother was on the phone with a family member and I could tell she was trying not to cry. Her husband was pacing, also updating someone on his phone. A few minutes later, he completed his call, rubbed his face and just sat there staring into space.
As I watched over the top of my now-forgotten book, the calls and conversations revealed that their six-week old baby had some sort of heart malformation and throughout the day it had been touch and go. They were trying to implant a device and the first one didn’t work and now they were trying a second option. Then the phone rang at the check-in desk with an update from the operating room: Mom got off her phone while Dad went to answer it. I swear the world stopped turning.
Trying not to intrude, I gazed down and prayed for this sweet baby and these two raw, tired parents. As he listened, I watched the fear and terror fade from his face as he and his wife embraced, crying tears of relief. The implanted device was at first too large for her tiny heart but as they maneuvered it a different way, it miraculously fit. They hugged and sobbed and laughed through tears while I was wiping mine from my own cheeks and sending up a prayer of gratitude for their sweet little baby whose name means “Miracle”.
I used to be offended when people (either total strangers or close acquaintances) would comment innocently, “I don’t know how you do it.” “It” being raising a child with special needs.
Now with a few more years of wisdom and empathy under my belt I recognize that the meaning and message behind their words were, “I just don’t know what that feels or looks like. I don’t know where the handicapped parking is or which neighborhoods have sidewalks that are wheelchair accessible. I don’t know how to answer children’s questions when they ask why she walks funny, slobbers or has a wheelchair. I don’t know how you manage time, paperwork, doctor visits and insurance. That all looks so foreign because your reality is not my reality.”
Frankly, twelve years ago I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions either. Hard things are challenging mostly because they represent the unknown: unemployment, cancer, death, accidents, widowhood, single parenting, natural disasters, and yes, raising typical and special needs children—all unexpected and all new territory.
With your own flavors of hard things in your life I can’t promise you that relief and answers lie just around the corner; sometimes there is no corner and the road is straight and unyielding but I do know that we are never truly alone if we allow others and God in. Whenever we fall, He rises. If you open the door—even just a crack—hope, love and peace come in.
Whatever your belief system, I hope you can find strength in the sorrow, clarity in the confusion and peace in the percussive pounding of life’s hard things and discover that hard times can indeed be holy times.
A little girl was given a name that means miracle. Her name doesn’t guarantee a challenge-free life but I believe her parents must know that joy and sorrow are besties and you cannot have one without the other.
I have learned intimately that miracles are a natural companion to hard things. The choice we have dear reader is do we continuously look backward wishing for the old normal or resolve that this waiting room, this apartment, this marriage, this whatever-it-is-that-we-didn’t-plan-for-or-wanted-or-thought-we-deserved—can this new life be happy too? Can we find joy in this new normal?
Can Plexiglas butterflies still be beautiful?
Yes they can.