Inoperable. A devastating word. A life-altering word. A word that just should not exist. When some people find out where I work, they respond by saying,

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

They mean well, maybe, but I can’t help but feel like I’m some sort of insensitive cruel person. Because most days, I truly love my job. I am honored and constantly grateful to work with some of the best people that this world has to offer. Completely self-sacrificing, beautiful, poised, compassionate, grateful human beings. The kind that make you tear up because they are so amazingly skilled and inspiring. And fully engaged and present in some of the most difficult times a child and family will ever encounter.

In the hospital setting, you witness kids battling, overcoming, devoted parents persevering, supporting and loving their kids wholeheartedly, you meet siblings feeling so deeply that….it’s just like no other experience sometimes. A child’s resilience, determination, and brave little spirit will knock the breath out of you. Sometimes because the little Hulks have kicked you. Spunky little fighters. They will say stuff, hard, honest, deep, trying-to-figure things out stuff that will cause your eyes to well up with this intense crazy hard-to-explain emotion. They are the best gifts that this life has to offer. Their honesty, their passion, their compassion, and their tenacity to get better inspires even the most lifeless of adults. And that’s why the good days and moments impact you in the meaningful way that they do. And that’s why the painful, horrific, sad and challenging days impact you in the unforgettable way that they do.

There are the nights that I can’t get to my car fast enough. Twelve plus hours can be a really looooong shift. These kind of nights, I know why people say that.

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

Bad stuff, mind boggling awful stuff happens in this world. We all know it, in the back of our minds, but to kids? Yes. Even to kids. Sweet, innocent, dependent children. I have not found a way to callous my heart, or to restrain my thoughts from going to the deep, dark places that I have seen at work. I have safe places to cry and release the pent up tears from the day’s utter, unexplainable, inoperable sadness. In my car. At my kitchen table. On the treadmill. In the shower. In my husband’s arms.

Sometimes, all day long at work, I’m trying to balance an emotional response that shows that I truly, deeply care without completely letting myself feel the intense pain of a horrible diagnosis, a tragic accident, a child hurting. Or a mother leaving with empty arms. I don’t get the luxury of unraveling because it’s not my child. I just met him. Or her. Or them. The siblings. I tell myself, “Just do your job well. Try and relate.” No, don’t relate. Not too much. Wait, he has the same birthday as my boys. Will he even live to celebrate another birthday? Stop thinking so much. Keep it together.

In one moment, I witness a parent’s life-filled smiling eyes replaced with fear, uncertainty and knowledge. Not the kind of knowledge that any parent wants. And I just wish I was somewhere, anywhere else, making someone a latte, or alphabetizing insurance forms.

But not tonight. I missed my exit. Again. Tears rolling down too quickly to wipe them all away. Thoughts firing at a rapidly difficult pace to keep up with. The “what ifs,” the “whys.” The pain. The hope. All of the day’s events. The sad music playing in the background. I plead with God. Through choked up breaths. I cry out. Why? Just why?

So I get it.

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

But, I have for 10 years. I’m not super insensitive or super human. Far from either, I think. Any strength I have is not my own. When you clock in, you have no idea what the day will bring. You open yourself up to be there for kids and families in some of their most painful, vulnerable moments. And that’s exactly what you do. You open yourself up. Fully exposed. To crying children that don’t understand what’s going on. To scared, confused parents. To a mother wailing for her dead son or daughter. You’re exposed to the fragility of life. The uncertainty. The unfathomable and incomprehensible. There is something so strangely beautiful in the midst of it all. The love woven delicately throughout the hurt. The strength amidst the unspeakable pain. The nurses, care assistants, doctors, social workers, radiology techs, interpreters, pharmacists, who I witness sacrificing their hearts to be fully present with families. To provide the best, most loving, compassionate and gentle care to people who they’ve just met. They are God’s hands. And shoulders. There, truly right there in that room, for families in some of the most painful, exhausting and utterly horrific times of life.

You pause. You walk down the hall. Then, boom, you remember your own family. And you panic. You call home. Please answer. You hear their voices. Temporary relief. Back to it. Then, you finally clock out. Anxiously drive to get home, walk through your garage door. Get upstairs. See and feel for yourself the sleeping breathing boys. You’re reminded of the beauty of loving someone so intensely that your chest hurts thinking that you may not get home to hold them one more time.

The thing is when you open yourself up…you hurt…you feel, and you experience life through another’s eyes. And you remember those moments forever. You love more deeply. You laugh more readily. You forgive more easily. You live. You grow. And more than anything else, you walk around with this added sense. Perspective. Different from seeing or hearing or even touching. It’s an acquired sense. From your many, many experiences. There are no guarantees in life. One moment you may be helping your 93 year old Grandma go to the bathroom. And the next, you may be sitting with an 8 year old child who may not live to blow out 9 candles.

You’re not perfect. You’re going to get upset sometimes at the small things. Spilled drinks. Sometimes, the bigger things will get you too. But you hug your loved ones longer, tighter, more often and you make sure they always know how deeply you love them. And you try your absolute best to protect them. You have to. Because you owe it to those who you’ve met. Those who left this world too soon. Or those who didn’t get to experience relentless love. And those who didn’t know that the last time they waved goodbye or hugged their child would be that. The very last time.

7 thoughts on “Inoperable

  1. This sums it up. And to count the many times this has happened is, to some, unreasonable of what one person can endure. But then in the midst of it all, there is the one little hand you hold or the one little smile that makes it all worth it. Then the next shift, you do it again. I could not think of anything else or anywhere else i would want to be. Thank God for the children’s hospital.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right about those little hands or big ones. Smiles and proud eyes…And the sounds of a child saying, “I did it! I did it!” An amazing place. Thank you for your dedication.


  2. Living your life with your chest hurting and bursting at the same time is one of your greatest strengths, and it truly is so courageous. And I think it is that courage, not callousness, that most people could not do as their job. Thanks for the peek into your world. How lucky you are to know and love these kids and their families, and them, you.


    1. Jobloather, powerful profiund words. Thank you. I’m quite certain you have some Chest hurting/heart bursting moments too as a teacher. And likewise, that kids are lucky to have you!!!


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