I had the privilege of visiting a little guy at Children’s Hospital on Saturday. I long ago became convinced that hospitals are one of those places where the secular and the sacred collide, with noticeable results. God is at work, bidden or unbidden God is there, as they say.
Being a patient in a hospital, aside from whatever reason put a person there in the first place, is boring as all heck. Boredom is probably worse than pain for a kid. I think of every little kid I’ve ever known who would rather risk a spanking for misbehavior than sit still while waiting for an appointment or keep quiet while mom’s on the phone. Boredom stinks.
But I marveled at the hospital at how little the children’s hospital feels like a hospital. Its colorful, for one thing, and whimsical. And it has places where the kids can get out for a stroll (complete with tubes and equipment and wheelchairs and whatnot), a little library, a play room, a giant statue of a robot holding the Stanley Cup (for you robots and Penguins fans) and some sort of funky projected image that little kids seem to like to stomp on.
On the way out of the hospital I came across two healthy siblings of a hospitalized child, going bonkers in the foyer. I passed a patient room where I heard a child crying, and gave thanks that he or she was healthy enough to squalk a bit. I met a little mop top child running like mad while being tailed by tubes, parents, and one of those medical “trees” on wheels. It was a thankful thing, that some architects somewhere had made space for kids to bust out, even if their bodies weren’t exactly able to co-operate.
Even the little guy I was visiting, when his mom was out of the room (shhh… don’t tell), had fun with our adventures to turn on the light switch (which I will sacrifice my adult and professional dignity to confess involved lots of “vroom, vroooooom!” sounds and unnecessary little detours around the room with his wheelchair) and some silly reading of Cat in the Hat (which we didn’t quite finish… I owe him one). Strolling about with him and his mom, we had a great view of the city. Things look different a garden from six floors up.
In the end, I think its easy to underestimate kids who are hospitalized, to dehumanize them into needy objects, especially those who are severely ill. But they’re still in there, just aching to bust out, even when their bodies don’t wholly co-operate. They’re still contributing to our world, even when we are too self absorbed and busy to notice their quiet ways. They’re still active, even when so attached to tubes and medical trees that the activity is veiled, when pain or loss of control demands that the activity be slow and deliberate.
And it makes me thankful for their witness.
And for whoever thought a garishly hot pink ladies room was a good idea. And for the person who painted a six foot Statue of Liberty black and gold for the sixth floor atrium. And for the garden designer who put a mosaic sun in the middle of the winding wheelchair friendly little paths. And for the little kids who, heedless of pain and medical accoutrements were busting loose on the path and in the atrium and in countless other corners of the hospital and our world.
If play for children is more important to them than pain or discomfort or risk… what for adults has the same value?