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A-Ha Moments

Lessons from a Hospital’s Waiting Room

Written by: Bill Sherman on Thursday, 24 July 2008, 4:58 AM

As a child, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. For over sixteen years, I was treated by remarkable specialists at the University of Chicago’s Cystic Fibrosis clinic.

My family lived in the western suburbs of Chicago, and it meant a 45 minute commute to the south side of Chicago whenever I got sick (which happened a lot).

The cystic fibrosis clinic shared a waiting room with the sickle-cell anemia clinic. You didn’t need to be a doctor to diagnose these kids. The white kids, generally, were the ones with cystic, and the black kids had sickle cell anemia. Both diseases are written within the childrens’ genes. You don’t “catch” cystic or sickle cell. You’re born with them.

There, in that bleak waiting room, some children coughed–with the loose, rattling, emphysematic cough of decades long smokers. Other children cried. Some sat silently, struggling to breathe. Their eyes revealed a deep pain.

In that waiting room, I received a vaccination against prejudice. I learned, as a five-year old, that sick children are just that–sick children–regardless of race or gender. This philosophy formed a cornerstone of my personality, and it still shapes me today. I’m grateful for each breath I take.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a white kid struggling with cystic or a black kid struggling with sickle cell. We sat and played together in that waiting room, happy for each breath and hoping for another.

We shared toys. We waited. We breathed.

What childhood experiences give you a unique and positive perspective on life and social interactions?

One Response to “Lessons from a Hospital’s Waiting Room”

  1. Dan Hawthorne Says:

    I generally grew up very healthy. I had some minor health issues. I’d crack my skull pretty frequently or break a bone. But, my problems were the ones that came from being an active child, with some behavior problems. I was always out and about, playing in the dirt or at other kids’ houses.

    I’m a sexual abuse survivor. A friend’s mother had a boyfriend who took an interest in me one day. It was terrifying, and it really played hell with my life until I was at least 30. I almost killed myself.

    But, I didn’t.

    For how terrible that one instance was, and how deeply it affected my life, I did survive. Once you have a perspective on what death is and what it looks like, it’s not nearly as terrifying anymore. And once you flip that perspective, you can see life as really special and interesting. Every breath you take…every breeze you feel…every little piece of life becomes special and perfect.

    And the barriers that a lot of other people see, I see as challenges or hurdles to overcome. Once you look death in the face, other challenges pale in comparison.

    July 24th, 2008 10:58 am

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