Patient Entertainment Center: Then & Now

I don't think I really understood why we were going to the doctor's that day, but I could tell that my parents did. From the way my mom moved and her facial expression I knew that it wasn't an emergency, but it was more than just a "regular check-up." They nudged me and my baby brother along towards the front door, tugging on jackets and sneakers as if they were dragging us along for a day of chores. Backpacks were stuffed with homework assignments, field trip permission slips that needed to be signed, Legos, and a plastic recorder: "you need to practice, you have a recorder lesson on Thursday." 
At the hospital the twin stroller that I, as a nine year-old still sat in, was snapped into shape with a flick of my dad's wrists. In the seat next to me my baby brother was plopped in, he shoved a pudgy hand into my face trying to grab at my hair. "We're a little early so we can wait in the Patient Entertainment Center before going to see the doctor.." 
The Patient Entertainment Center has always (structurally) been the same in all the years I have been going to Boston Children's Hospital. It has always had a stage where clowns, magicians, movies, various local Boston sports figures, and other celebrities have stood with grins the size of cruise ships. That was the stage where patients of any age could be whisked away and forget about their troubles for awhile. It was also always blue, and there were also always free-play arcade machines ready and waiting for the frenzy of fingers to jam away. And of course, who could forget? The jukebox! That jukebox that has unashamedly belts out the "YMCA" song, or Spice Girls, and Backstreet Boys; it's got the soundtrack to make any 90's junior high kid cling to the walls at any school dance. There are older kids, or someone's grandmother cloaked in a blue apron - pushing a cart of board games and coloring sheets; cooly trying to make CandyLand look like the time of your life.

On that afternoon the Patient Entertainment Center was empty. Despite this fact it still seemed welcoming; welcoming enough for me to climb out of my stroller, crawl up the three steps of the empty stage and give an impromptu recital with my recorder. My baby brother screamed and babbled through most of it, I repeatedly stopped my squeaky concert to yell at him: "stoooopppp ITTT! SHUTT UPPP" "Sandy, don't say shut up!" 
My dad scooped me off the hardwood floor of the stage and sat me in his lap.
"You might need surgery Sandy. Dr. Shapiro might have to fix the curve in your leg, today we find out if he will do it." I'm not sure if the words really sunk in, or if I even realized what that meant. I didn't realize that anything needed to be fixed, I thought I was fine, I thought everything was okay.
"Dad, make a song play on the jukebox dad. I want to sing! My concert isn't over!" 

A few days before my dad had called me to remind me that I had an appointment with Dr. Shapiro.
"Yeah okay dad, I know. I'm busy with school, I have to go to class now. No - no, you don't need to come with me I can just go by myself. It's just a check-up." I had told him over the phone, not thinking twice as I tossed my books on the floor of my dorm and went about my day.
I took the subway to Boston Children's Hospital, this time by myself. But still the same brick building greeted me, the same proud #1 Hospital flags fluttered in the wind, the same columns painted in bright primary colors held the front lobby up. Not much has changed about the place, but I had changed - quite a bit. I had come back from my semester away in D.C., my younger brother was now a scrawny and moody teenager in high school, and my older brother was probably studying somewhere in the medical school building next door.
At that appointment Dr. Shapiro had taken x-rays of my leg, specifically around the knee area because it had been bothering me during the last few weeks of my semester away. But I had waited till I came back, because "it hurts, but not enough for me to think that it's a fracture" I had told him. The x-rays showed that the rod had broken, that the top part of it was rubbing into my knee - it would have to be operated on.

So much has changed, but still he told me in that same quiet but confident tone he always uses. I was still sitting in one of the patient rooms off of the cast area, instead of using the light table we could manipulate the x-ray on the computer screen.
"I'll have my secretary call you and she'll set-up a date for the operation that works with you, okay?" He turned to look at me. I sat on the examination table, still trying to figure out what to say - while scrambling to remember what it was my parents had said. What questions did they ask? What am I supposed to do in these situations?! "Okay, that sounds good. I'll wait for her to call then." I replied. I transferred back into my chair and left the 2nd floor of Fegan. As I rolled down the hallways, past the fish tanks, past the framed pictures of "I Spy" games that lined the corridors of the radiology department - I stopped at the Patient Entertainment Center.

I was thankful that it was quiet and empty of any patients or volunteers. I flipped open my cell phone and dialed the number to my parents, "Dr. Shapiro says I need an operation.." I turned to face the empty stage, and was comforted by the familiarity of it all. It was reassuring to know that no matter how many difficult decisions I would have to make, and regardless of how tough the news was to hear, or how baffling the medical procedures would be -- there would always be a place that I could come to. Back then it was a space where I could be freely distracted, now that familiarity has become a place to think and consider my options - instead of being distracted it was a welcome respite that allowed me time to think and just breathe.

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