Posts Tagged ‘hospital’

The Next Little Boy Story

October 22, 2008

The next little boy story. But this boy would not want to have had anybody think of him as little. His name was Tony, I guess it still is.

Professional people work within strong boundaries of confidentiality. We expect that, and it’s my own expectation and practice. This time I’m going to make an exception. This story is true, and the name I use is true. But the story is also from many years ago and there is nothing here to embarrass or compromise anyone. Perhaps the time will come when Tony, or somebody who knows him, will find this story and get in touch.

There are people who touch our lives for a moment, but something powerful in that moment sticks to us and becomes part of us. This encounter with Tony was one of those times.

Tony lived in a wheelchair. Back in 1981/82 he was in hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne again, for a review of his condition and its treatment. I was the Chaplain on his ward. It was natural that we met.

I was sitting talking to a boy about ten. He was in for routine surgery, as were many children through the school holidays. He was nervous, and waiting for his grandfather to visit him. Up rolled Tony in his chair, fourteen years old and more than a bit pissed off with life, especially his life. He held up a pack of cards.

“Poker? Chaplain?” The voice was cynical, but a smile played on his lips.

“Sure thing, Tony” I said. “Who else?”

“Him, and him,” said Tony, pointing to the boy I was talking with and the boy in the next bed.

“What’ll we use for chips?” I asked.

“This.” Tony picked up the clippers from the boy’s bed. And he picked up the cane basket the boy had been making with the play-therapist. It was one of those baskets with a masonite base, cane struts rising through the holes, and cane woven through them. The boy had it half finished.

Tony clipped the tops of the uprights, one after the other, an inch at a time, until it become apparent that the boy had, indeed, finished the basket. The boy’s eyes nearly dropped out as he watched. We shared the clippings among us and between Tony and myself we taught the other two boys how to play poker.

That is when the grandfather walked in. What a delicious and scandalous moment for him to find his little grandson playing poker under the tuition of the chaplain. Most kids just asked me to put their Rubiks cube back in original condition. I had the book. Everyone knew.

Tony objected strongly to much of his life. He objected strongly to the demands that his treatment made upon him. He was surrounded by medical people telling him to do this, to do that. They had his best interests at heart, but they did not connect with this fourteen year old boy still coming to terms with his life. So I joined his side.

I look back with a bit of pleasure at a conversation with the ward sister. She took me to task about my attitude towards his treatment regime. She wanted my support. She didn’t think I was doing my job.

I did not enjoy the reprimand when it happened. But I soon learned to look back at that moment with pleasure and pride. Tony’s life was difficult. He had things to deal with that most kids never have to face. I was proud to be on his side.

Still am.

Tony would now be forty, perhaps a year or two older. I still think of him and worry a bit about him. Maybe one day he will be googling around and find this story and remember.

Hope he gets in touch.

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That Life and Death Thing

October 21, 2008

I’ve been thinking about my friend Rob, the one who died last week. And that means I’ve also been thinking a bit about death, and life.

Rob was a priest of the Anglican Church of Australia, as am I. He worked in parishes for his whole ministry, I have worked in chaplaincies for much of mine. There was a time when I was doing some chaplaincy training in a hospital. It was a children’s hospital, one of Australia’s finest. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

Things did now always go well. After all, it was a place of life and death. There was a little boy, about seven or eight years old. He had a brain tumour that started at the base of his brain and was working its way down his spinal column. Perhaps these days things are different, but in 1981 it was inoperable.

The boy was going to die. He was going to die the night I was called to his bedside. His parents could not face it, that final breath, and had disappeared. It was December and Christmas was looming. Nobody knew where they were and I was called to sit with the boy.

I held his hand. Almost lifeless. Both of us. His skin was grey, the colour of the water in the school paint jar. He didn’t move, didn’t open his eyes, didn’t acknowlege my presence, he only breathed, and that seemed so shallow as to be incapable of supporting life. And that is what it proved to be.

I have tears yet for that little boy.

It is twenty seven years since, and I still wonder how his parents are getting on. I never met them but for a moment I took their place, the place of comfort I hope, being mother and father to a tiny stranger.

My friend Rob had much life yet to live. That is our declaration. But what of this little boy and the many others like him who die before their time?

There’s a phrase that goes through my mind – “Our only legacy is the love we leave behind.” An older person has so much more opportunity to plant that legacy and see it growing before his death. But the little boy?

Perhaps it’s time I thought a bit more about that phrase. Perhaps it’s the love we have received that becomes our legacy, as much as the love we have given. There was a moment, a few hours at the end of a boy’s life, that I was able to give some comforting love in the place of those he loved.

Whatever his family might have of him in their memories, he still lives in mine.