By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Last year, like so many parents before and inevitably after me, I had the pleasure of two extended stays at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Most parents at least experience a worried and white-knuckled trip to the Children’s E.R.; the lucky few get to stay awhile. It’s a great place – I mean that…I feel compelled to say so because I recognize it’s often hard to tell where the sarcasm ends and the truth begins. The staff is incredible, the doctors are tireless and the joint – from the decorum to the activities and 24/7 in-room kid-friendly network - is simply amazing. Collectively it’s a facility completely committed to its primary mission: comforting and treating sick children.
Still, it’s a hospital. It’s the last place a parent wants their child. And a few weeks of foldout couches, lukewarm showers, cafeteria fare and endless middle-of-the-night doctors visits can take a toll on you. What’s worse, of course, is waking up every morning to your sick child lying in a hospital bed attached to as many wires as an HD T.V. In that semi-delirious moment it hits you again, just like it had the day before: it’s not a bad dream, it’s reality and you have to deal with it. Fortunately my family’s adventure had a reasonably happy ending.
Self-pity certainly wasn’t a problem (Children’s hospitals are an effective antidote). During our second stay, the room had a birds-eye view of the hospital’s helicopter pad. Whether I wanted to or not (and I didn’t), I was acutely aware of every departure and arrival. It left me with only my imagination to consider the terrible circumstances surrounding the helicopter’s dispatch. Certainly some parent, similar to me, was instantly dealing with something far worse than I was. In another very poignant moment, your weary (or so he thought) sports guy, nearly two weeks deep into his stay, entered an elevator where two women were talking openly. It was impossible not to ascertain that this wasn’t their first meeting. As the elevator arrived at one of the their destinations, the other asked, “how long have you been here now?” As the doors opened she turned back in mid-stride and answered, “12 weeks…hopefully only a couple more to go.” In that moment I, only two weeks in, was the closest I hope to ever be to the feeling Lou Gehrig had when he famously said, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Like I said, parental self-pity is fleeting in a children’s hospital.
A hospital seemed an odd place to intersect with my beloved world of sports, but meet we did. Such has been my relationship with sports. Unlike many things in life, it has always been there and has rarely let me down; this challenging period was no different. During our stays, we were fortunate to catch visits from Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and then-closer Matt Capps and D.C. native and Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis. All three gentlemen couldn’t have been more gracious. Watching each patiently paint, draw, sign autographs and interact with sick kids was the antithesis of the sensationalized media profile of pro-athletes. The propaganda we’re fed portrays them as self-absorbed, spoiled, disconnected millionaires who have little concern for the plight of the average family. Like most broad brush-strokes, there’s truth in that accusation. However, there are plenty of exceptions to the after-hours brawls, mindless tweets, violent acts against women, steroid use and general debauchery that dominants the sports news fans are force-fed. I met three such exceptions. Like white knights they took time out of their schedules to give back their communities and produced smiles (from children and parents) where few existed and many were needed. They did so likely knowing that their acts wouldn’t be publicized. To my knowledge, they weren’t.
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