My heart beat hard and fast as I rode up the elevator towards the ninth floor. It was a large gray metal space with a stain-covered floor. A high-pitched din echoed through the compartment and the yellow light cast scary shadows throughout the elevator. My chest was filled with fear and chills crept down my spine. My breathing increased and my head felt numb to the point where I felt that I could not even think. Finally we reached the floor and the elevator doors opened to a brightly colored room that portrayed an aura of joy and hope, but it did not displace my feelings of nervousness and fear. It failed to fully mask the horrors of the pediatric hospital inside. As I stepped out of the elevator the smell of rubbing alcohol filled my senses and I could hear the cries of children as they were poked with needles and IVs. My mind filled with dread of the pain that was to come.
“Please proceed to the IV room.”
As I walked towards the IV room, in my eyes the colors seemed to dissipate and even become darker. Finally we entered the room and sat down on the brightly colored chairs. At first they looked very inviting, but as you looked closer you could see that the bright colors only served to distract from the ugly stains on the fabric. As I sat down, the smell of alcohol became even stronger. Around me other children were sitting with their parents, some crying and begging their parents not to force them to go inside as they heard screams coming from the room. Others, like me, stared at the ground, unable to even comprehend the situation. My face fixed in a stony and faraway look whenever I came to this place. The receptionist wrapped the hospital bracelet around my waist that tagged me as a patient.
“Johnny? Please come in.”
I got up quickly and walked into the IV room. I followed the nurse to the stall where they would access my blood from the port implanted in my chest. I took off my shirt. Every time they had to draw blood the nurses would tell me how it would only feel like a little pinch. But especially in the beginning it was not just like feeling a pinch, it felt exactly how it was; someone stabbing you with a needle in the chest. She took out the alcohol swab and quickly cleaned the area around the port. It was shocking, and I felt the cold spread across my chest. As she took off the plastic cover that protected the needle, I quickly inhaled in a short gasp. On three she pushed the needle into my chest. She attached the syringe to a tube and flushed the liquid through the tube in order to clean it. The liquid flowed through my chest until I could taste it in my mouth. My stomach churned and felt like it was being forced into my throat. The nurse handed me a bucket and I threw up. I felt dizzy and dehydrated as the taste of puke lingered in my mouth. She then drew a few tubes full of blood from my chest as I stared down, unable to take my eyes off of the needle protruding from my chest. As I watched, she drew what felt like a quart of blood. I nearly became sick at the sight of it all.
I heard children screaming and crying all around me. My eyes welled with tears, not from the pain but from the surreal nature of the entire situation. I wondered how they could do these horrible things to all these kids. The nurse then attached the tube to a large stand that held a strange clear liquid that slowly dripped through the tube and into my body. The nurse then allowed me to exit the IV room. I walked down the brightly colored hallways, once again, and proceeded to a set of ominous double doors. As I walked in, suddenly, colors no longer masked the bleak and painful interior. The walls were gray and depressing. The hallway was narrow and felt as though it was closing in on you. The nurse at the desk at the end of the hallway greeted us courteously but by no means warmly.
“Hello, are you ready for your procedure? Good luck, I am sure all will go well,” she said as she noticed the distressed expression on my face.
Good Luck! Are you sure? You have no idea what’s going to happen. Fear sparked throughout my body. I quickly noticed that I was now sweating profusely and I suddenly felt hot. My heart beat quickly in my chest. I pulled at my hair. What was I going to do? What if I died today?
“Mom! Dad! Please don’t make me go in there!”
“You’ll be fine. Really. It’s going to be okay,” my dad said and they hustled me into the operation room.
There I was met by a doctor in a light blue jumpsuit. He greeted us kindly, telling us he would only be administering the anesthesia as if he wanted to leave as soon as possible. This bothered me. Shouldn’t he be more concerned for my life? He attached another tube to my port. He injected the sedative and the pins and needles spread throughout my body. In fear I stopped breathing. I felt like the monster was strangling me. Putting me in a chokehold that would be my last moments on earth. But before I knew it, I was completely unconscious. The last thing I recall were the feelings of fear as I saw the doctors entering with their instruments. I woke up a few hours later with a horrible headache and my back throbbing with pain. So went my regular hospital visits as a Leukemia patient.
When I was turning 6, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. At that age, of course, I had no idea what that meant and what it would mean for my life going forward. But I learned quickly. Specifically, the three years of chemo were hellish as I received many drugs that caused me to feel sad or depressed. Everyday I would lay on the couch and turn off all the lights as I experienced awful migraines. The drugs also caused me to lose my hair, ostracizing me from other children my age who simply thought that I looked weird and did not grasp the severity of my situation. My skin became pale and frail. I felt that my life would never return to normal as I had to be home schooled and became further segregated from my classmates. I hardly came in contact with anyone, and when I did I was forced to wear a mask. I would have to get blood drawn and every few weeks I would go through the double doors of the hospital’s surgery wing to get a bone marrow biopsy and spinal tap to inject chemotherapy. The cycle continued month after month with increasingly larger gaps. While the elevator ride up to the hospital and the smell of rubbing alcohol continued to spark fear in my mind, I began to feel comfort in the routine.
After 3 ½ years, the day finally came for the last drugs I would ever have to take and the last spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy that I would ever have to experience. Maybe I could say goodbye to this disease that infected not only my body but also my mind. Maybe I could say goodbye to all of it. The fear. The alcohol smell. The walls. Everything that had made me that kid who has cancer, who all the others avoided. I thought about all this as I was laid down and was injected with the anesthesia. The white liquid filled a large syringe that the doctor attached to the tube connected to my arm. He began to inject the liquid and it traveled up the tube and into my arm. Pins and needles exploded through my arm and burned until it became completely numb. It crawled through my shoulder and into my torso. Quickly, it flew through my chest and down to my feet. Finally the monster clawed at my face and head. Then I was no longer scared. In fact, I thought of nothing. As the anesthesia spread into my head I could no longer think. I was able see everything around me but could comprehend none of it. It was as if I had turned into an insect. Able to see and use my senses, but not able to comprehend anything. It spread through the back of my head first numbing my mind, and then infected my eyes and face, making the world bleary and foggy. I no longer felt in control of my body. I began to feel dizzy as my eyes lost focus on the world. It was as if the monster had possessed me and was drowning me in a cool bath of acid that was numbing my body and mind, slowly killing me. I could no longer move, but could only see very fuzzy doctors hurrying into the room. Static was the only noise that filled my ears and I could almost taste the sedative in my mouth making me want to hurl. The noise increased louder and louder until I thought I would go deaf. The world got foggier and foggier as my parents waved at me saying goodbye for the next few hours. My head seemed to throb with numbness, with each surge spreading that numbness further and further as I began to lose consciousness. Strangely I was enjoying this time of rest. While this moment would only last for a few seconds — I would once again be awake in a matter of hours — I felt completely at peace. Then, all of the sudden it stopped, and everything stopped. There was no noise; I had no sight, or taste. I was in a deep, dark and dreamless sleep. Maybe to anyone else this would have felt like death as if someone was injecting you with poison to kill you. But I strangely was comforted by the whole scene. It was no longer in my hands. I would have no worries while I was unconscious and I would have not have to deal with torments of hours of worry to fall asleep.
I groggily regained my hearing. All around me I heard beeping and hushed voices. I could feel the light shining brightly on my eyelids. Where was I? I slowly opened my eyes to find myself staring at a white ceiling with my parents standing alongside my bed.
“Where am I?” I tried to ask them, but my mouth couldn’t form the words. I tried again but I still could not make a sound. I felt my heart beating in my chest. I tried to sit up and immense pain shot up my spine and into my head. I suddenly became aware of my surroundings. The bright lights blinded my still groggy eyes while the noise increased hurting my head with each syllable. The taste of the bitter sedative seemed to linger in my mouth. I wanted to throw up but there was nothing in my stomach. I gagged and reached for the bucket only to realize once again the pain in my back. Finally I just gave up and lay back down in the bed. I felt awful. After about half an hour I was able to sit up and comprehend what was going on around me again.
“That’s it Johnny, you never have to do that again. You made it,” said my father. I already knew it but I finally understood that it was actually happening. As we were walking home I thought about all I had been through and I became, strangely, more and more depressed. Figures on the street became blurry as I felt my eyes well up with tears. It was over. That phase of my life was completely gone. But what made it even stranger to me was that I wasn’t sad about losing those years of my life and how they had forced me to grow up; I was actually sad that it was over. I had found comfort in that life I was living. While most of it felt like hell, it was a place where I knew what was going to happen and where people had cared for me and made me happy. I was now forced back into the world where I had hardly learned how to be a child and where I would have to make new friends. I would no longer be with the doctors who surrounded me and supported me. I felt almost spoiled in that life where everyone around me cared so deeply for me and about my health. I felt lost in the “real” world. Here I did not know how to act. This was a world that was not designed to support me, and would treat me as if I had never left it in the first place. And as I realized this I knew that there would be many challenges for me to face ahead.
Jeffers Guthrie, Age 15, Grade 9, Hunter College High School, Silver Key