The IV machine beeps with alarm, jolting me back to an antiseptic-scented reality. I press the button on the remote to summon a nurse then go back to gazing out the window. Snowflakes dance through their fall, delighting in meeting with one another, then settling together to land on the blanket of snow covering the trees and shrubs at the hospital’s entrance.
I move the starched blanket off of me, frustrated by the consistent fluctuation of temperature in this place. And always, whether it’s too hot or too cold, it’s artificial. It’s a snow day. I should feel cold right now, I think to myself as I imagine standing outside, raising my arms out, and tilting my head back to take in the fresh air. Sticking my tongue out to collect the tiny specs of ice, savoring their melt into droplets of water. Fresh water that didn’t come from a faucet or plastic pitcher on a hospital bedside table.
Today’s weather reminds me of that one snow day as a kid. I must have been about six or seven. One of many stays in the hospital, waiting on my fourth or fifth surgery. My parents have always done the best they could with our situation. My condition. I remember plenty of pain growing up; the endless stick of needles, the doctors without answers but countless pills to push. What hurt the most was seeing the anguish squeezing each of my parents’ hearts as they looked down on me, knowing there was nothing they could do to make me better, to give me a normal life.
The years of arguments with insurance, hushed panic in their voices as they examined the endless medical bills, and desperate pleas with doctors created distance in their relationship over time. I could see it in the way their hands started staying on their own laps instead of reaching out to connect themselves across their separate hospital room chairs. Their eyes started getting distant, like they preferred to look through the walls of my room, see what was on the other side, how life was treating other families. Some nights after I would convince them to go home to sleep in their own beds I would lie awake pleading, “Dear God, I don’t know if you’re really out there, but if you are, could you please make me better? And if you can’t make me better, maybe I can go join you up there. Let Mom and Dad start over fresh with a new kid; one that isn’t broken. Then they can be happy again. Please God, I’m really tired.”
One day a new nurse was assigned to my room. She wore a bright pink headband and big rainbow glitter earrings. She greeted me with so much joy that I wondered if I should remind her that I was sick and we were in a hospital. This wasn’t supposed to be a happy place. But when her warm hand held mine in comfort as she asked how I was feeling, I could tell it wasn’t an act. She knew my life was hard and this was a sad place to grow up in.
She swished over to the window and pushed the curtains as wide as they could go, then turned to me, “Have you seen the snow today? It’s beautiful.”
“No, I haven’t seen it.” I looked down in disappointment.
“Here,” she checked the status of my IV, glanced at my chart and the latest vitals, then disconnected me from the tubes and machines. She helped me stand up and approach the window. “Isn’t it great?”
I took in the sprawling white landscape in front of me, miles of road and greenery, covered in glittering white. Then I narrowed my focus to individual snowflakes falling outside the window. I noticed how light and free they looked, not being weighed down by life or beeping monitors.
“Look, that pond over there has completely frozen over,” she pointed toward one corner of the window. “I saw someone out ice skating on it the other day. Have you ever been ice skating?” I shook my head in a defeated response. “Well it’s pretty easy to fall since the ice is so slippery, but it’s still fun.”
“Sounds nice,” I murmured, backing away from the window.
“You want to try it?” She asked with a flash of a smile and a glint in her eye.
“What do you mean? I don’t have skates and I’m not sure I should even go outside.”
“I checked your stats. You don’t have the next blood test until this evening and there’s a full day before they start prep for surgery. I think we should go out there. Let you live a little.”
My jaw dropped at the suggestion. The next thing I knew I was bundled up in regular clothing and we were making our way to the exit.
“Shh,” she warned me with a wink and finger to her lips as we passed the nurse’s station and she grabbed her jacket. I wondered if a doctor would try to stop us if we were caught, and my stomach fluttered with the thrill of it. But somehow we made it out the doors without hassle.
We stepped outside and I took in a big breath of fresh air as the scent of pine tickled my nose. We walked out toward the pond and I couldn’t help the grin that stretched across my face. I giggled as snowflakes landed on my extended tongue.
The nurse held my hand as we tentatively stepped out onto the ice. Then she let go and I took a few more steps out. “Oh!” I gasped as my foot slipped and I fell back on my butt. I was stunned for a second, not sure if I was hurt. The nurse hurried over to me, asking in a panicked voice if I was okay.
“Ah!” She slipped and landed next to me and we found ourselves bursting into laughter. We lied back, looking up at the sky as the flakes melted on our faces, and I felt the cold of the ice seep through my clothing to chill my bones. I let out a shivering breath and thought, this must be what it feels like to be a kid. It’s not so bad.
A nurse enters my room to check my IV and vitals and I’m brought back to today. I’m no longer that child, but still spending too much time in hospitals. This nurse doesn’t have rainbow earrings or a plan to sneak me out of here, but when she takes my temperature she looks me in the eye, acknowledging that I’m more than a patient. When she nods toward the window and asks if I’ve seen the snow today, I say, “Yes, and it’s beautiful.”