The Vagabonds of Children’s Hospital
By Barb Thukral
I wake up from a deeply sedated sleep; I am scared. I don’t understand my surroundings, nor how I arrived here. I search for a glimpse of familiarity, the eyes of my loving mother, my adoring father’s warm hands. There they are. They tell me they have not left my side in two days. I have given everyone quite a scare. Bacterial tracheitis killed numerous children in 1980. I was among the first in the state to survive. As a mother now, I can almost understand the terror that my parents felt those first forty-eight hours.
Lying in a hospital bed within the confines of an oxygen tent, I am a critically sick little girl. My body shakes and shivers, gasping for air, seeking a full breath that will not come. Ribs can be seen through my skin, retracting with every raspy breath. I turn my head from side to side struggling for air, frightened by the sound of the oxygen in my ears. The noise is similar to the breathing of Darth Vader—thick, viscous air, like the unclean vent on a clothes dryer. What is absolutely necessary goes in; what is not needed stays out. Funny how the body is able to survive on so little, and so wisely consumes only what it needs. After two days of fighting this monster, I rest, sedated and calm. I will be all right.
The worst of it is over now, and I will be brought to a normal room to recover. Over the course of the next three days, I welcome the opportunity to visit with loved ones. Mom and Dad spend every night in my room, sleeping by my side. One morning, Mom gives me a shiny new tin of Lip Lickers lip balm. When I slide the cover off the tin, the sweet smell of spearmint reaches my nose, the sugary mint coats my cracked lips, making them feel so smooth, teasing me to lick my lips and taste the forbidden syrup that lingers. I am her big, brave three- year-old. Now I am ready for such big-girl items as lip gloss in a tin.
Come morning time, Mom and Dad will be replaced by Grandma and Grandpa. They will bring with them my big brother, fifteen-year-old Mickey. He spends hours sitting at my bedside playing Chutes and Ladders with me. He is my protector. As long as he is seated on my bed, no one can cause me harm. One day when Mickey is visiting, who should appear in my doorway but none other than Vikings great Ron Yary. He was at the hospital making rounds to see all of the sick kids, and was wondering if I would want to play a game of Chutes and Ladders with him. More than I, Mickey wanted to play, but he stepped aside and let the legend pull up a place next to my bed.
Our heroes come in all shapes and sizes. For my parents they wear the uniforms of nurses and doctors, arriving to reassure them that I will be okay. As I sit on the bed with Mickey, I am safe in the company of my hero. A teenage boy lights up in the presence of his hero when that legend walks through the door. We walk through life side by side, unbeknownst to one another the importance of our being, giving strength and hope in the most unbearable of situations.