Please take a moment to donate something to Child’s Play, my charity of choice. Buy yourself a shirt, pick out some toys for a hospital near you, or just throw a few bucks in that general direction. You’ll be performing an act of unambiguous good. How often do you get to do that?
I am fourteen years old. I’ve been fourteen for less than a month, and I’ve spent a decent bit of the past three weeks being vaguely worried about what’s happening now. What’s happening now is that I’m in the pre-op ward of Overlook Hospital with an IV in my arm, waiting to be rolled into surgery. The surgeon assures me that this is a minor procedure, more like a booster shot than anything else. It will be quick, and I’ll be able to go home later today. He tells me that recovery will be rapid and I should be able to walk back into my junior high within a couple of weeks. This is the same man who performed my other leg surgeries eight years ago. As doctors go, he is a genius and a saint, and I trust him implicitly.
“Are you sure I can’t interest you in a general anesthetic? We have several interesting flavors,” he says.
“No, I really think I’ll be okay on just the local.” The local anesthetic will numb my legs but leave me awake during surgery, accomplishing three things. One, it’s manly. Two, I’m genuinely curious about how an operating room and my favorite surgeon work. Three, waking up from my first major surgery was the single most excruciating moment of my entire life. A person’s life is filled with a million little pains, but believe me, nothing has ever come close to matching that first moment of consciousness, in which I was blind from shock and on fire from the waist down. More than anything, I want to avoid replicating that memory today.
Eventually my number comes up and I’m brought into the operating room. The surgeon asks me if I’d like to listen to anything in particular on the radio. I give him my stock answer, “Anything but country.”
And then suddenly I’m in the recovery ward. No hallucinatory dream sequence, no fade to black, just a sharp cut from that room to this one. I’m surprised and angry to have missed an event that I was so intent on observing, and the anesthetic, whatever it is, has my brain all out of whack, and I’m crying a little, trying to explain that I’m not really upset about anything, and not even that uncomfortable.
Then comes the at-home recovery, in which I relearn how to walk. Again. I gradually progress from complete immobility to slowly dragging myself around on my grandmother’s walker. This period is a highlight reel of vulnerability and embarrassing moments, but suffice to say that things eventually hit a plateau. It has been four weeks, significantly longer than what the surgeon had promised. We schedule a check-up with him.
“Take a few steps for me, Jon.”
I’m in a large room that the surgeon uses for check-ups and evaluations. I take a few tentative steps.
“Alright, now pretend that there are really big rocks here, and take some big steps.”
I do so.
A slight smile catches on his mouth. “Alright,” he says, grabbing my hand, “now let’s run.”
Before I can really think about it, he’s pulling me across his office, and to my surprise, I’m keeping up.
I walked into school two weeks later.
I learned after the fact that the expected recovery time for my surgery is not two weeks. The recovery time is better than what would have been possible even ten years prior, but still significantly longer than what my surgeon claimed. He low-balled the recovery time because he knew that if he’d said, “The standard recovery time is eight weeks,” then I’d definitely be recuperating for eight weeks. On the other hand, if I expect to be back to normal in two weeks, my recovery just might go faster.
Health is a state of mind. True, no amount of positive thinking will cure hepatitis, but a person’s state of mind, one’s attitude toward his illness or injury, makes a real difference in the quality and final outcome of healing. By buying video games for sick kids, you’re not just purchasing fun little distractions. You’re brightening the atmosphere of an unpleasant place, and giving young minds something new, fun, and exciting to think about. In a very real sense, you are helping them heal. So, again, Child’s Play.