By Kevin Coyle (’23)
It was about midway through the winter of 2016 when I was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital for an ever-progressing case of bacterial pneumonia. The doctors in the emergency room gave my mom and I the quick run-down of what I would expect for the next week. To my surprise, the future did not look as bright as I thought it would. I was severely dehydrated, weak to my core, and very much panicking. Seconds after receiving the news that I would not be spending my nights at home for at least the next couple of days, several nurses scurried in and poked a few holes in my arm. The nurse who made the first attempt missed my vein, so the second took over. After successfully starting me on fluids for my dehydration, they made a few joking comments regarding my bravery, the usual pediatric talk. It made me feel better, even if the moment was short lived. My mom and I waited for the doctors to return, in a small room filled with all the usual gadgets you’d find at a hospital. This one was nothing special, although it had an emptiness to it now that the hospital staff had left us to be alone. There was only a computer, a chair, and a few miscellaneous objects like latex gloves and a blood pressure cuff. I sat there sobbing.
To give you a bit of context, let me explain where I was at the beginning of the week. As a 16-year-old in his second year of high school, getting sick was like an inconvenience. An inconvenience that lasted for maybe a week, but then slowly faded out into nothingness where I would never think about it ever again. This started as nothing different. I was a music nerd, preparing for an upcoming concert which I was ecstatic to perform in. I was a clarinet player for my school’s concert band. Near the end of the weekend prior to my arrival at the E.R., I developed this cough. It was nothing to be concerned about at all, in fact, I took my temperature, checking it regularly until I had to go to school that Monday. The thermometer read 98.6. Monday goes fine at school, and I survived unscathed.
When Tuesday morning arrived, I woke up with a high fever, shivers, and all. The thermometer read 101 degrees Fahrenheit, my cough is worse, and now I can’t take a deep breath without wheezing. The feeling of not being able to breath is something I can’t effectively describe in words. My mom brought me some pain killers soon after I awoke. Something told me that this wasn’t your average cold. Maybe it was my mom’s instinct to rush me to the hospital that very morning, or just the simple fact that I could not breath. At any rate, this was the moment we both knew the seriousness of the situation. Perhaps the most important difference between my mom and I’s mindsets at this moment, was my stubborn sense of denial, and her utter willingness to get me help. It didn’t matter how long it would take to drive into the city to see a doctor, the fact that I just wanted to stay home and play video games while eating fast food, or the consequences of getting out of work that day, not to mention the rest of the week. She was completely determined.
Back at the hospital where we waited for the doctor to come back, I showed a deep sense of sadness to anyone who interacted with me. This was masked by my fake laughter, which I deployed on anyone who would attempt to provide me with comfort in my situation of uncertainty. I was rolled upstairs on a gurney to the intensive care unit by a friendly staff member, where I was uncertain. I remember everything about this person and his interactions with me, except for his name.
Finally, I got to the room where I was to be taken care of in. I was alone, except for an infant, who must’ve been under 2 years old. As you can imagine, those nights consisted of quite possibly the worst sleep I’ve ever gotten in my life. I don’t blame him though, as his parents never once stepped foot in the room to see him while I was there. There was no explanation as to why this was the case for that child, so I really can’t speak for his situation. Towards the end of the week, my pediatrician became more involved in my care plan, and he prescribed me antibiotics. What he also did was arrange for me to see a social worker. It was in the late afternoon when I was propped up in my bed watching some movie, that he walked in. He looked friendly enough. I don’t remember his name either. The man was carrying what looked to be a camera bag, and to my surprise, it was a camera. It was a bit of an awkward situation for me to be honest. When every person I had seen before him had only been concerned with numerical data related to my health, and for better or worse, was preoccupied with seeing other patients, it was very strange for me to have someone give me their undivided attention. I was closed off like I had been for much of my time at the hospital when the social worker came into the room.
He introduced himself, took out his camera and said, “I hear you like to make movies”. “Yes”, I said, in a depressed manner. He remarked speaking upwardly in his tone, “well do you want to film one about your experience here?”. I was caught off guard again, due to the fact that a complete stranger could be so empathetic and supportive of my emotional well-being. Needless to say, I accepted his offer.
The doctors and nurses who took care of me deserve the highest praise, there is not a doubt in my mind about this. However, the fast-paced nature of the hospital did not allow them to spend much time with their patients, especially when that hospital is in the middle of a city such as Boston. This seemed to provide more of what I needed during my time there. As much as I dismissed many of the staff’s friendly remarks towards me, I wish I hadn’t in retrospect. I wish I had told them I was truly grateful, especially the social worker.
So, if there is a main point, I’d like for people to take away from this story of mine, it’s that sometimes, sitting down and giving someone your complete attention is all that is needed to make them feel that they can keep going in the game of life. It’s reserving judgement, and truly listening to what someone is saying, that makes the difference when it comes to caring. I felt this way when I talked with the social worker, the nurses, the doctors, and the other staff members who transported me to my room. In a way, I feel that I perhaps got what Langston Hughes needed in his moment of hardship. What he had instead, was a group of people who wanted him to conform to their beliefs, rather than hearing what was driving his own internal state of mind. Hughes needed someone who was curious to know about his unfiltered experience, and not the one which he used to mask his real self in. This is why listening to others is so important.