Letters to Child's Play

Mike, Jerry, and anyone else who may be reading:

First, a touch of sentimental back-story about one of the hospitals on the list this year. At the age of 15 I was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for a Harrington rod procedure to treat advanced scoliosis. Now, I don’t normally like to over-dramatize the procedure, because in subsequent years I have been called upon a handful of times to calm down a hyperventilating teen who has just been sentenced to the treatment, but in plain English the operation does sound like something out of a science fiction horror film. In my case it involved breaking my back in 9 places, using a circular saw to extract bone from my pelvis, and then applying a graft of this bone along the length, fastening it in place with 2 surgical steel rods, 2 mean-looking hooks, and 6 screws.

Silly as it sounds now, I was a bit embarrassed to be going to a children’s hospital at the age of 15. I felt at once unworthy of the care - my hallmates would, in many cases, be childhood cancer patients who had been there for months - and too old for the environment. At this point in my life I was occupied by table-top roleplaying games, dial-up bulletin board systems, video games, and clarinet practice. I was one of those for whom, two years later, the death of Aeris would be a defining moment. I didn’t consider it likely I would find any of these things at the hospital. I’d been there. There were teddy bears on the walls.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to surgery prep. I was expecting a sterile white-and-green wasteland, but instead I found myself in a brightly-colored, brightly-lit room with three or four un-inhabited stretchers and a clutch of children in hospital gowns playing Playstation. I wanted to join them, but my surgery was a long one and already behind schedule. The pleasant, familiar gaming sounds soothed me - as much as I could be soothed, faced with the prospect of my first IV. Mike recently wrote of this phenomenon, speaking of Gabriel’s birth. I fell asleep to that happy music. Seemingly moments later, I awoke in the recovery room. While I know I lost 30 pounds over the course of my stay there, it still feels, in memory, that I lost every bit of it during those first few, long hours in the dim light and soft beeps of the ICU.

There was a nurse on the hall whose sole responsibility was pain management, and he’d come in every few hours to ask me to rate my pain between 1 and 10, always with a smile and a joke. He introduced me to the amenities, listing them jovially as he adjusted the ugly accoutrements of drip narcotics. As it turned out, I -did- have balloons or something painted on my walls and the closed-circuit generally -did- consist of endless repeats of Thumbalina. But there were also reruns of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. There were VCRs and a video library. After a few days (a week? I don’t know) my nursing staff started to come in to coax me into a sitting position and encourage me to try to put my feet on the ground and use a walker, and there was that constant promise of Good Things four doors down if I would be a good girl and try. If I’d been woman enough to walk, a Super Nintendo awaited me for a reward.

I think there’s a perception that children’s hospitals are all about 5 year olds. And yes, there are a lot of small children, and yes, the places are presented accordingly. But for this reason or that, the patients can also be 15 year old gamer chicks like I was - I, who would have been reading your strip had it existed then. And I think this drive is going to make a big difference to those kids, the kids who don’t want to be called children anymore. It’s amazing what a difference it can make. I’ve stayed in a hospital once since and visited many times. They’re drab, they’re matter-of-fact, and the entertainment options are limited to either broadcast daytime television or the up-down game with your hospital bed.

I’m 24 now. I’m a computer programmer, and despite age and the influx of electricity bills and 401(k) considerations, I am pretty much the same dork now that I was then. I maintain strong opinions on the animation times for radiation debuffs in City of Heroes. I chose not to upgrade my ranger to the 3.5 core ruleset. I have an LED binary clock on my desk at home. My computer cost more than my car. Et cetera. And I was thinking about your project, and I want to help. I want to help as much as possible.

I work near Texas Children’s Hospital. If you have any need for a “local crew,” please let me know. I could probably summon half a dozen or more able bodies to handle packages or do any local footwork.

It’s a long, round-about email, but it’s an issue close to my heart. Thank you for your hard work.

Regards,
Vicky Sherrouse