One of the most significant experiences I have ever had in my life comes from the time that I was volunteering at the hospital. I worked with a lot of patients during the year and a half that I was there. All of them had something different that was wrong with them. A few of them had AIDS; a few of them had cancer. There were some that were having trouble recovering from pneumonia. I loved most of the patients, but there was one boy in particular that was special.
His name was David and he was ten. His hospital records said something about sarcoma or lymphoma. It was some form of cancerÖ I canít really remember which one it was. Itís been too long.
I will never forget the first time I walked into his room.
He coldly informed me, "Get out. I donít want anything from you stupid volunteers. Why canít you fucking leave me alone?"
Needless to say, my first impression of him wasnít the best. The boy was ten! Where had he learned that kind of language? I avoided his room after that, only entering if it was absolutely necessary. I would stick with the pleasant patients. I didnít need Davidís abuse.
It went on like that for approximately a month. I bothered him only if I had no other choice. The child was a brat. Without fail, whenever I came in, no matter how nice I was, he yelled and threw a tantrum. I didnít have a very good opinion of him.
Then one day, Claudia, who was my supervisor, asked me to go into Davidís room and tell him that he needed to come out. There was a guest that day and all the patients were supposed to meet him. Unhappily, dreading every step, I made my way into his territory. I felt almost like I was entering a yard labeled with the sign, "Beware of dog."
When I walked into his room, I got the reaction I had been expecting. "Get out!" he yelled. "I donít want anything!"
I lost my patience. I knew that I was asking for trouble, but I couldnít help myself. I was sick of having him yell at me. I snapped, "Good, because I didnít come in here to ask you if you wanted anything. You need to get out of bed."
I expected him to yell, but oddly enough, he was silent. Even stranger, he was looking at me with this weird expression on his face. Quietly, he finally said, "Claudia knows I donít go out for those things."
I just shrugged and walked out of the room. Let her deal with him, I thought as I relayed the message. I felt sort of sorry for her as I watched her walk in the direction of his room.
She came back about ten minutes later with a very peculiar look on her face. "David asked for you," she said. "I can use the other volunteers for this. Why donít you go see what he wants?"
I was trapped. I didnít have a choice. Feeling somewhat angry, I walked to his room. As soon as I entered, he said, "Iím sorry. I didnít mean to yell at you like that. Sometimes I just get angry, you know?"
I almost fell over right then and there. He was apologizing?! Something was definitely not right here. On the other hand, Iíd never been one to hold grudges, and if he was willing to make an attempt, so was I.
"Itís okay," I told him sincerely. "Just try not to do it again, okay?"
He nodded, smiling, and it was beautiful. I had never seen him smile before. It lit up his face, which was far too thin. His skin was stretched taut across his cheekbones. For the first time, I felt a pang of sorrow for the kid. Granted, heíd been awful to me so far, but he still didnít deserve whatever was happening to him.
"Will you sit with me and watch a movie?" he asked in his raspy voice. I nodded and went to fetch one. It took us about three tries to find one that he was happy with watching, but he was nice about it. That was all I was asking.
I could use a clichť here and say that it was the start of a beautiful relationship. In a way it was. David and I would always clash. We were both too headstrong not to fight. But one thing I could count onóno matter whatówas that he would remember his promise not to scream and be nasty. If he did start, I would tell him what he was doing. Then he would stop and apologize.
He was in the hospital for seven months. I visited him every Saturday without fail. Sometimes it was more often in the summer. Usually by the time I came in, heíd already asked the nurses to tell me that he wanted to see me.
It was the third time I visited him that he told me he was going to die. He said it so casually, like he was telling me that he liked football. I was shocked.
"What do you mean, youíre going to die?" I asked him. "You donít know that for sure."
"Yes, I do," he responded immediately. "I overheard the doctor telling my mom."
He was so matter-of-fact about it. I couldnít believe it. Here was this ten-year-old kid, calmly accepting what was going to happen to him. I would have been throwing a fit.
"Thereís always a chance," I said uncomfortably.
He shook his head. "Nope," he announced, relishing the fact that I was wrong. "They did surgery and couldnít get it out. Iím going to die."
I think I might have changed the subject then. Maybe I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. I canít remember. Again, it was so long ago that the little details escape me.
I was afraid to let myself get attached to him. After all, he wasnít going to be there for much longer. He could be gone at any time. I donít mean that he could be discharged, because he refused to leave the hospital. He liked the security it gave him. When I said that, I meant that he could die.
I didnít realize at the time that becoming attached to him was inevitable. If I want to be honest with myself, I could admit that I loved the kid. He was impolite (sometimes bordering on rude), crude, and arrogant. But more than thatómore than anything elseóhe was scared.
The last time I saw him, he asked me to hold his hand. There was a movie playing on "his" television like always. It was a normal afternoon visit for me. It wasnít even surprising that heíd asked for comfort. He did that occasionally, when the pain got too bad. He always apologized beforehand in case he hurt me. I didnít have the heart to tell him that he was too weak to do much damage. It would have made him try. David was perverse like that. What made the situation strange was his request for me to stay with him. Not just to stay with him until he fell asleep like we usually did, but to stay with him while he was sleeping. He wanted me there when he woke up. He said he was scared.
I did that for him. When he woke up, I left. He protested until I reminded him that I couldnít spend the night in his room. I had to go home.
The week before my graduation ceremony, I went into the hospital to volunteer. The first thing I did was check the patient list, looking for his name, just like I did every week. It wasnít there.
I panicked. I immediately rushed out to the nursesí station, frantically asking about him. The nurses were surprised at the conclusion Iíd arrived at. David hadnít died. Heíd just been discharged.
I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that maybe he was okay, even though I knew it was a false hope. Every week I had come in for the last two months, heíd looked worse. Heíd been on a respirator for some time now. There was no way he was miraculously better. Still, I hoped.
I missed the next weekend because of graduation. There was no way I could make it. I wanted to go, but there was too much that needed to be done.
I returned the following weekend to a very somber hospital staff. One of my favorite nurses pulled me aside with a grim look on her face. I could feel dread building up inside me. I knew what was coming.
"Becka," she said. "David died yesterday at home. I know heíd want you to know."
I didnít cry for him; I couldnít. Heíd been in so much pain those last couple of weeks. It was better for him wherever he was now. David believed fiercely in God and heaven, so I can only hope thatís where he ended up.
He taught me so much about people. He taught me so much about myself. Iím getting choked up as I write this. I canít help it. People say that you donít know how much people mean to you until you lose them, and thatís true. As awful as that child could be, he saw people. Usually he only saw the bad, but sometimes he saw the good as well. Either way, whatever he saw was frequently how it really was.
I stopped volunteering. I didnít mean to do it for good. Every once in awhile Iíll think, "Maybe itís time to go back." And then I realize that Iím not sure I could walk into the room that was his and not lose it completely. I would like to volunteer again. I miss it. But somehow, it always comes back to David.
I realize that this response doesnít have much to do with the reading, but when I finished it, I felt compelled to write about him. He was the first thing that popped into my head. They planted a tree for him, which reminds me of the quilt the people in the poem sewed for Junie.
Both he and the person in the poem were special in their own way. Thatís what makes them both so important. They may not have touched many lives, but the ones they did touch would forever be changed. It didnít matter how small that change was.
Before I met David, I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I didnít know the technical term for it then. I usually just referred to it as a "childrenís cancer doctor." Whatever term I used had the same effect. People always said the same thing, "Oh, I wouldnít be able to handle that. It would be too sad." Even I wasnít sure if I would be able to do it.
He changed that for me. Now, I know without question that it is going to be sad, but I also know that I have to do it. I loved him, just as I will probably love all of my patients. I was heartbroken when he died. Weíd had a weird relationshipókind of a cross between siblings and friends. It didnít matter that he was only ten.
Watching him die had made me realize something: if I could help even one person live, it would be worth it.
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