Updated: July 12, 2012 6:09AM
‘Being a parent,” I used to tell my childless friends back in the early days when I still felt I had to explain it, “is the realization that your entire world can choke to death on a penny.”
Actually, kids tend to be hardier than that. They tumble down stairs, fall off slides, step on nails, develop high fevers and somehow sail through it all, for the most part.
It is the parents, I think, who worry and scar and spread their concern like a field of dry tinder, just waiting for the next spark of anxiety to set the whole thing ablaze again.
For instance. Despite the intriguing complexity of the logistics of moving Children’s Memorial Hospital from Lincoln Park to its lavish new digs in Streeterville, I wondered how many parents — thousands, certainly, more like tens or even hundreds of thousands — heard the words “Children’s Memorial Hospital” and flashed back to some medical moment deeply etched on their psyches.
Good moments — “it’s just a rash;” “we’re seeing a lot of this;” “usually lasts for about a week.” And terrible moments, when the bad news is delivered and the world rips apart and never comes back together again.
My Children’s Memorial memory was on the good side of the scale — a dramatic display which at the time I actually suspected was orchestrated by heaven itself to drive home just how good things were.
Our oldest boy had been so placid we called him “The Prozac Baby.” He slept easily and woke up singing. The younger boy, however, was colicky, crying, frequent painful ear infections, and after several visits to Children’s Memorial, we were told that fluid had built up in his ears, and he would need stents — little tubes — inserted to drain them.
So now my wife and I have escorted the little guy to the doors of the operating room, and they’ve whisked him away, and there’s nothing to do but sit in the waiting room and wait. I’m nervous because they have to put him under anesthetic, and that creates some small risk, and I’m babbling all this to the woman sitting next to me, how worrisome it is, the boy having to be sedated and that while it’s a minor, routine procedure, my God, what if it isn’t routine? Things happen.
So I’m prattling on in this vein for quite a while, this woman listening very politely, when it gradually dawns on me that at some point I should summon the strength to stop talking and ask her why she’s here.
So I do.
Well, she says calmly, her daughter has brain cancer, and they’re here for a routine biopsy, which involves pushing aside the eye and sticking a probe up through the socket and into the brain to check things out.
Oh. I said something sympathetic — at least I hope I did and didn’t just sit there with my mouth hanging open. Because I don’t remember saying anything. In my memory, I sat back, raised one finger high up and waggled it at the sky, saying “Point taken.” There are hells below this one, I am the luckiest S.O.B. on the face of the earth and should remember it and act accordingly.
In fact, we were lucky just being at the hospital. As bad as it is to have a sick kid, imagine having a sick kid and no health care. Frankly, it boggles my mind that the attempts to get care for the uninsured millions fell so spectacularly flat — the Obama administration utterly failed to convey the message of what was at stake, the Republicans fell upon the plan like ravening beasts, as if it were the worst form of government abuse imaginable, and now the Supreme Court is poised to throw the whole thing out any day now as if there weren’t millions of sick kids behind it all — who get sick whether they can see a doctor or not.
Our medical values are twisted and we never even pause to notice. We all hail the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. And nobody asks: Why is it that hospitals are always so hot to expand and modernize, offering ever more expensive procedures to an ever more select clientele, instead of using profits to increase their care to the poor? You can’t talk to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for two minutes without her railing that the top-rated, most respected hospitals in Chicago often are also the ones that don’t meet the minimum standards for care to the indigent. They’d rather build a new wing. You’d think any parent who ever hurried to the hospital in the dead of night, their entire world wrapped in a blue and pink flannel blanket, and whipped out that all important insurance card that parts the doors and lets them in, would understand. But we’re selfish, and hypocrites, and so we focus entirely on our own precious selves and our own precious kids, except for those rare moments when fate diverts our attention to glance at those who really have it tough.