There is a lot to be learned when you spend an unanticipated 5 days in the hospital with your 7 year old son with a broken arm, a bone infection, and the patience of…a 7 year old. It would be easy to feel sorry for ourselves. And while one of us did understandably pity himself, I found myself humbled by just how fortunate we really are. Even our most unfortunate circumstances can shed some positive perspective on the bigger picture.
As I sat (and sat and sat and sat) in that hospital room with my grumpy son, and endured his abuse as he barked orders at me and insisted I was falling short in every way and that it was all my fault that they wouldn’t let him go home, all while we both knew that there was no one else in the whole wide world he wanted by his side than his flawed and infinitley patient mommy, I was reminded, everywhere I looked, that things could be much, much worse.
It all began when our 16 year old roomate joined us. His father and sister dropped him off for a stomach issue. As I sat on the other side of our curtian divider, drowning in their stench of what could only be described as a chain smoking, filthy old kitty litter box, I listened to the nurses ask their millions of questions and made a few humbling discoveries right away; He and his barely older sister live alone together, mom is barely in the picture at all, and dad couldn’t get out there fast enough, and would “come back for him when they were ready to let him out”. Otherwise, this kid was on his own. And for the next three days, he laid there, alone, with what I can only imagine were his only constants in life, video games, and that stench,
Now, while a different kind of person may have thrown a fit about having to share a room with that odor and its attached sad reality, I couldn’t bear the thought of this boy being put in a room anymore empty and lonely than his life already appeared to be. So I sucked it up (while trying not to breath unless my life depended on it. It's as hard as it sounds).
I had high hopes that this smelly experiece could somehow serve as a teachable moment for my son. I knew it would be heartbreaking to watch his family NOT show up or even call day after day. But I thought it might help my cranky, meaner than usual, impossible to please son, realize how lucky he was. It didn’t. He was unphased, because he’s 7 and all. The misfortunes of our roomate did not overshadow the needles and medicines and procedures and inedible hospital food and unfortunate diagnosis that led to day after day of “sorry kid, you can’t leave yet.” I didn’t blame him for his lack of compassion. He was enduring a lot. And between the curtain seperating us from each other, the body’s ability to grow accustome to fowl odor, and the heartbreaking silence of our roomate’s loneliness, I suppose it was all too easy for my son to pretend he was the only poor kid in the room.
By the 3 or 4th day of being a dedicated, doting, loving, failure of a mother in the ungrateful eyes of my son, and listening to his pity parties every few minutes, and his harsh critiques of my every unconditional-love filled move, I started shooting him some serious glaring, warning looks. I was hoping he would somehow hear my unspoken lecture shooting out of my eyes. Every time he asked to go home and was told no and responded with an “I hate my life!”, my teeth would clench and my eyes would fill with words I needed him to see, because screaming “why don’t you count your blessings that you’re not the little baby next door who just had brain surgery, or the newborn baby down the hall who hasn’t even gotten to go home yet because she’s too sick, or the kids who are so sick they can’t even get out of bed, or the kids who have been here for months, or the kid who’s parents don’t even care enough to visit or call!” would be insensitive to the children and parents who were living in that reality. As if they needed a reminder that they were worse off than us.
My son didn’t see a single word of my silent lecture screaming from my eyes. And a part of me started wishing and hoping that our lonely neighbor behind the curtain was growing tired of listening to my ungrateful boy not appreciate his mother and her unyielding efforts to meet his every want and need. I began wishifully thinking that he would suddenly snap and start spewing words of wisdom from behind that curtain like the great and powerful Wizard of the Pediatric Wing that went something like:
"hey kid, do you know how lucky you are to have two parents who have been by your side every single second doing everything and anything they can for you?! If I were you I would stop being such an ungrateful little *******!”
But he remained as silent about my bratty kid as we did about his odor.
Aside from my sleepless first night on a broken, non-reclining recliner, and in spite of my understandaly miserable, thankless child, I tried not to complain too much. Because if there is one things to be learned in the pediatric wing of hospital, it is that, if you’re lucky, things could be much, much worse. We were lucky.
We’ve got a long road ahead of us. And I hate what my boy is going through this. But I hope that one day, he looks back and remembers the sick kids who were stuck there through no fault of their own, (and not because they chose to jump off the top of a playground), or the kids who were not even aware that there was a world beyond those hospital doors, or the boy who’s parents didn’t care enough to be there, and maybe even his own parents, who were there every second, and who would have taken his place in that hospital bed if they could have. I will never forget. Blessed.