I began getting sick when I was only a pre-teen. I traded in a life of running around at recess and trading snacks with my friends to walking the walls of The Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto and making friends with the wonderful ladies who would deliver my meals.
My life was different, yes, but life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.
Here are 11 things I learned from growing up in a hospital, and why I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
1. Your family is not limited to who sleeps in your hospital room. Family can be every person who enters your hospital room.
Whether it’s the team of doctors doing rounds at 7:00 am, or a nurse or a child life specialist, each of these people come in with a common purpose of wanting to see you better. And they work to get you there. They stay up late and wake up early wracking their brains trying to discover ways to combat every curveball your body throws at them. It doesn’t take long for you to love them and for them to love you.
2. The only reason to ever look at what someone else has is to make sure they have enough.
You learn to appreciate every moment, celebrate every victory and be grateful for every breath because someone across the hall is begging for his or her child to take another one. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t undermine your victories for theirs. It can always be worse and it will always get better.
3. Your future will be figured out for you before you’re old enough to realize it.
I walked into the hospital at a young age, cursing anyone who came near me with a needle. It took me two visits to realize that I wanted nothing more than to be the one on the other side. Today, I’m studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse thanks to each and every one of the nurses that have ever taken care of me — even the bad ones! The love of a nurse is unlike any other.
4. “True strength doesn’t come from being strong all the time. It comes from having fears and doubts, falling to them, succumbing to them and then rising above them.”
Someone I love once told me that. Sick kids made sure that I knew that I didn’t have to be a superhero all the time, and that it was OK to not be OK. I learned to accept my fears and sadness and move forward with happiness.
5. Difficult paths lead to beautiful destinations.
Being sick isn’t an easy or beautiful journey, but after fighting all of these years I’ve realized that the greatest things have come out of the hardest fights. I’ve been taught to deeply appreciate any victory. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of my best friends and the most inspiring little kids. I’ve found what makes me happy and what makes life worth living.
6. You can take the child out of a children’s hospital but you can’t take the children’s hospital out of a child.
The hospital will always be a second home to me. It will always be a safe place and it will always be in my life.
7. Loving yourself is more important than being loved by others.
Truthfully, fighting these illnesses has been a very isolating journey. A lot of people have left — friends, family and even the people who swore they never would. At first I was hurt by it and my world would crumble each time, but eventually I learned the importance of loving myself and knowing I was capable of doing things alone.
8. When all else fails, ice chips and banana popsicles will prevail.
9. This is my reality, and that’s OK.
Someone once told me that I couldn’t possibly find happiness within the hospital. It took me a while to understand it, but I grew up in the hospital during the years of “self discovery.” I learned who I was as a person and the hospital was a part of that. My comfort foods and greatest pieces of advice came from within those walls and I won’t be ashamed of that.
10. Bad things happen to good people and we don’t know why.
This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to accept. I will never understand why a sweet little baby had to fight for every breath of her life only to be taken from us. But as long as we don’t understand we will keep fighting for better days.
11. The little things will always matter the most.
A “ticket to fly” after a long inpatient stay, a freshly made bed, a cup of hospital ice after being unable to eat for a while or watching the movie “White Chicks” with your nurse at 3:00 in the morning — these little gestures meant the world to me.