A very angry thank you

To the doctors, nurses, techs and child life specialists who choose to work with pediatric cancer patients, I have one quick question: What the %*&@ is wrong with you???

You know there are easier ways to make a living. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find a more demanding way to earn a paycheck.

Sure, there are other professions with long hours and stressful conditions. Not one includes telling parents their children might die.

Perhaps no one mentioned this in medical or nursing school, but there are fields where the chances of watching an infant vomit and defecate blood are next to none. Podiatry comes to mind. Urology, perhaps.

Or, hey, you know what? F—k medicine altogether. As far as I know, investment bankers don’t have to repeatedly stick a needle into a shrieking toddler to start an IV in impossibly small veins.

Yes, other people deal with anger on the job. (Does anyone like a telemarketer?) But in no other profession is the vitriol as relentless and undeserved as it is for you.

Sometimes it comes in the heat of the moment: a parent snaps after weeks, months, even years of watching their child suffer, and turns on those trying to help.

Other times, it comes from the realm of the Perpetually Righteously Indignant, those terminally wise fools who enjoy spouting off to anyone who will listen about how oncologists love nothing more than a new diagnosis or a relapse because it means more money in their bank accounts.

There is a special place for people like this. I’ve heard it’s very warm.

And then there are those who believe doctors are part of a conspiracy to keep the cure for cancer under wraps because, as the logic goes, if you cured cancer, the medical industry would lose out on a valuable source of revenue.

Look, I love me a good conspiracy theory. Is it possible that pharmaceutical company execs are conspiring with each other to keep a failsafe cure for cancer from coming to the market? I dunno. I have some serious reservations about this theory but then I didn’t spend all those years watching The X Files and not learn a little something about the possibility of the implausible.

But if this is the case, do I believe the doctors and nurses working with pediatric cancer patients are “in” on it?

Oh hell no.

Because it would take one hell of a monster to subject children to the misery and uncertainty of chemotherapy and radiation if there was a magic pill that could quickly and painlessly make all the bad stuff go away.

What I would suggest for those who think caregivers are in on the Great Cancer Caper is to spend 24 hours on the job with a pediatric oncology doctor or nurse.

Change the sheets of a toddler who has just thrown up for the tenth time in an hour. Listen to the screams of a 5-month-old whose chronic chemo-induced diarrhea has left his bottom covered in sores. Comfort the parents whose child just died in their arms.

Then come back and tell me if you think there is any amount of financial compensation that could make this worth it.

But back to you, oncology types.

What gets me about you people, is that you choose to live the way most people can’t.

Most people get to exist quite happily outside of the pediatric cancer bubble. Before my daughter was diagnosed, I was one of them. Like everyone else, I thought of kids with cancer only when an ad for St. Jude’s came on the TV, or when watching old episodes of Highway to Heaven. (I don’t get out much.)

These often saccharine depictions, which are still too overwhelming for some, don’t even begin to capture the horror of pediatric cancer.

You live the reality.

You spend your work hours in the trenches with these children, witnessing more pain and suffering than any human should have to. You spend your down time walking or hiking or mud-running to raise money for cancer charities. You celebrate the victories. You cry at the funerals. You honor the birthdays of those who will never grow up.

It takes one hell of a person to do that. I mean, the words “bat” and “s—t” come to mind but that doesn’t really capture the high regard in which I hold you maniacs.

All I can say is, on behalf of all the families that have been or will be affected by pediatric cancer, thank you. Thank you for choosing to do what you do, to put up with what you put up with.

Because your lunacy makes it possible for cancer families to keep going.

Y’frigging nut jobs.

Hospital food kicks a**: and 4 other things I forgot about life on the children’s ward.

Charlie and I recently spent some time in the hospital, although it wasn’t for anything serious. The poor kid has a hair-trigger gag reflex, which means that the tiniest amount of post-nasal drip can cause her to start vomiting. (She even throws up in her sleep, which is both impressive and unsanitary. It’s like living with Janis Joplin.)

As a result, a little cold can land her in the hospital, as she becomes unable to keep any medicine or fluids down on her own. Last year she was hospitalized five times for colds, so we feel lucky she’s only needed one stay this year.

During her cancer treatments, we pretty much lived at the hospital. Each surgery or round of chemo meant a stay of several days to several weeks. We got to know most of the people who worked there and easily slipped into the rhythm and routine of the children’s ward whenever we were back.

What surprises me when return these days is not how familiar everything seems, but how much I have forgotten. You spend that amount of time in one place and you assume the details will be etched in your memory forever.

But I’m middle-aged and have the memory of a goldfish.

During our recent stay, I was reminded of the following aspects of hospital life:

1. The food is amazing.

Our hospital makes its own pizza and has a sushi bar. A friggin’ sushi bar. On the children’s floor, the staff stashes candy, ice cream and cookies to cheer up the tiny inmates.

If you can get past the fact your child is bedridden in a hospital, it’s kind of like being on a cruise.

2. Someone is always giving you stuff.

People feel really sorry for sick kids and are constantly donating stuff to the hospital to cheer them up.

Within five minutes of arriving last week, Charlie received a board game, a stuffed animal and an Irish Dancing Barbie:


I think this proves once and for all Barbie really has held every job in the world.

3. Pranks are good for morale.

Time really drags in the hospital, so it’s important to entertain yourself.

Sometimes when an earnest teenage volunteer stops by, I slurp apple juice from an (unused) urine specimen cup.

“Toddler pee!” I’ll say. “Great for the menopause.”

They are usually backing out the door before I can add, “Hey, where are my manners? Let me shake her u-bag and get you some.”

When passing a nurse at a computer station, I’ll say loudly, “Why are you looking at porn?”

They are never looking at porn. They aren’t even browsing eBay or checking Facebook. They are always, always, always immersed in the never-ending purgatory of onscreen paperwork known as patient charts.

Even so, most of them will freeze and then glance frantically at the screen, terrified that dosages and vital signs have somehow been instantaneously replaced by “MILF-aholics.com.”

Not only does this game pass the time, it guarantees the nurses will recommend my kid for early discharge. Score.

4. A little dose of perspective never hurts.

Sometimes, even if you’re only there for a short stay, hospital life can get you down.

When I start to feel sorry for myself, I always encounter someone who helps me get over it stat. (That’s hospital jargon for, “As soon as you finish those charts.”)

Last week it was the cheerful mom in the parents’ room who told me she and her son had been on the ward for eight months.

Nothing makes you suck it up faster than someone who has it worse but is bitching less.

And finally, I was reminded that:

5. People who work in hospitals are much stronger than I am.

During our time on the pediatric floor, I have witnessed doctors, nurses and nurse assistants get hit, kicked, spit on and yelled at.

And that’s just by the parents.

Understandably, not everyone is at their best when their child is ill, and the staff bears the brunt of this anguish with admirable calm.

What I find more astounding than their composure is how they continue to open themselves up emotionally on the job.

Occasionally on the children’s ward, you will hear the keening of a mother whose child has just passed away. There are no words for the agony and sorrow expressed in those cries.

It doesn’t surprise me that nurses and doctors also weep during these times, although it’s touching to know that they care.

What is more incredible is how the next day they will celebrate with a family who has just received good news. They don’t let the difficulties of their job shut them off from joy any more than they do from pain.

It takes an remarkably strong person to do that day in and day out, and the hospital halls are crawling with them.

And not one of them is looking at porn on the job. I swear.