I never realized how blessed I was growing up. I lived in suburbia and had a middle-class background and two parents dedicated to marriage and their children. The gift of my childhood became increasingly clear the day I met one particular family.
My shift at the hospital was off to a frantic start. Call lights all abuzz, overhead pages, and a disoriented patients voice echoing down the hall were all trying my patience until I witnessed a greater evil our patient toy room transformed into a war zone for uninhibited children. Cans of fruit punch had been spilled across the activity table, dribbling down the sides, toys were flying across the room, bobbing up and down as the unknown visitors participated in a toy fight. High pitched screams of Im gonna get you! and Look what I found! served as their battle cries.
My mind was racing. All the toys would need to be re-sanitized, juice stains on the carpet would have to be shampooed. There was a huge clean-up project right before my eyes. How could anyone let children run wild like this in the patient toy lounge? Where were these childrens manners? Everyone stop! I barked. Put those toys away immediately and stay here.
Down the hall I trudged. I was on a mission. I was checking rooms frantically until I felt a warm hand embrace my shoulder. Sharon, Im so sorry about what my grandchildren did to your toy room. Her voice was soft, like the tender lines across her face. Her hair was silvery gray, set with great care, and her eyes radiated sincerity and years of wisdom. You see, their mother has an awful bad habit of the drugs, and Im all theyve got. I was tendin to my sick baby and they must have snuck off on me. You know my baby? He has cerebral palsy. I was silenced by her gentle spirit and ashamed of my quick temper.
The next day, I hunted down the social worker to find out more about this modest family. The mother was a drug addict and had turned to prostitution, which produced several children, to support her habit. The grandmother was kind enough to see to it that all the children received proper upbringings. The grandmother could not support the children alone, so she had to rely on some state assistance and small rations of kindness from neighbors. All five of them, including the littlest angel with cerebral palsy, lived in a modest apartment located in the projects. The social worker gently informed me, You know, Sharon, that was possibly the first time those children have ever seen a refrigerator so full, and such a large selection of toys.
My ears were red, hot, and ringing. That display Id witnessed was not a bunch of spoiled brats defying hospital rules, instead it was children overjoyed, hardly able to contain themselves at what they had discovered. My eyes are open now, and I will not be so quick to make assumptions in the future.
Sharon M. Aliaga, RN, BSN, has been an RN for almost 13 years and has worked in inpatient physical rehabilitation, utilization review and disease management.