Jonathan Dobres

child's play

I work as a researcher at a hospital. Prior to starting work there I assumed, as I think many do, that doctors simply materialize in these places to diagnose and treat the patients. Either that or they live there. As a former patient, I’d never quite realized that doctors commute and hospitals have human resources departments (trust me, they’re just as misguided as anywhere else). These mundane, workaday facts are very far from the minds of the patient and family. For them, the hospital is not part of the daily routine, but instead an unwelcome disruption of “real life”. Patients understandably want to be done with the hospital, and its bland food, and its medications, and its small beds, and its beeps and bells, and its lonely nights, as quickly as possible. In the best case the patients are able to tolerate the disruption with good humor and frequent visits from family members. In the worst case, the patients feel trapped by the hospital, resent the healthy staff, and refuse to participate in the healing process.

This is, by the way, in a rehabilitation hospital, where the focus is on long term recovery, the initial health crisis having passed. Imagine how much worse all of this is in the acute facilities, where the chemotherapy has just begun, the blood clot is still a time bomb, the wounds from the accident are still bleeding, and the surgery is tomorrow. Now imagine that you are a child in this place, surrounded by monitors and needles, forced to undergo all kinds of unpleasant daily routines, forced to spend nights without mom and dad. Everything is uncertain, and as a child you may not really understand the reason for any of it. Though the fear is terrible, the boredom can often be just as bad. Hospitals, despite the greatest efforts, just aren’t kid friendly places.

When I had my surgeries at the age of six I experienced all these things. It was 1988. Winter, I think, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remember anything detailed from my multiple operations and long hospital stays. Most of the memories I’ve retained have to do with the rare fun moments. The ceramic bunny I painted alongside the kid with spina bifida. A brief flash of riding a tricycle down a corridor in rehab. The heated therapy pool that was run by a physical therapist who, I learned later, was blind. The weird little doll I made out of the same material they use for casts. The thing I remember most clearly? That would be the day someone on staff wheeled in a little TV, connected to a Nintendo Entertainment System. It was my first experience with Super Mario Brothers, but not the last. We got a Nintendo for my recovery at home. The music drove my mother insane but she put up with it. Family friends all bought me games for my birthday, despite the protests of my parents over what was then perceived to be the outrageous cost of cartridges. Mario made the hospital bearable for a few brief nights, and made my long-term recovery–trapped in full leg casts that were molded like a pair of inflexible pants–much, much easier.

Where did videogames begin for you? After all this time, after a literal lifetime of Final Fantasy, Mario, and Doom, I’d nearly forgotten that for me, videogames began in a hospital. My life is so much better for it.

All of this is a long-winded way of telling you that you should donate a little money or Amazon toys to Child’s Play, the annual charity drive started by the heroes at Penny Arcade. It can be as simple as Play-Do, which usually has to thrown out after each individual use in the hospital. So donate. Even something small will make a huge difference to the kids. Trust me.