Can a Hospital be a Playground?

June 15, 2020

Obviously, a hospital is not the first place that comes up when you think of a playground, but for me, Seattle Children’s Hospital was my playground. I was only four years old when my baby brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and as a little kid, I didn’t really understand what was happening. All I knew was that my parents were gonna take my brother to some place, and I’d only be able to see them on weekends. My grandparents stepped in to take care of me while my parents were at the hospital, and they’d take me to see my parents every weekend. As a child, I loved going to the hospital. I got to see my parents, and more importantly, I got to ride a bike around the hospital. I thought I was the coolest kid, riding down the halls as I waved to the nurses. In addition, the hospital even had a pool where my dad and I would swim for hours. Sometimes, some hospital volunteers would bring in a gaming console that I’d play on. Seattle Children’s was my playground, and as far as I knew, my brother was fine and that he’d be out of the hospital after a couple of weeks.

It turned out that my brother was not fine, and things weren’t looking good for him. Words like “chemotherapy” and “bone marrow transplant” were starting be thrown around, and I could tell the gravity of the situation has shifted. I started to see my mother cry more often, and her grief transferred over to me. I remembered when my parents told me I’d be getting a little brother and how excited I was that I’d have a new friend to play with. That memory rekindled my desire to have a sibling and I began to feel somber when I saw him in his hospital crib, motionless. I asked my parents, “Can you wake him up so we can go play outside?” in which they obviously responded no. However, they were able to arrange for me to take him on a ride in his stroller down the hallway during some of the few moments where he was awake. I remember taking him down and introducing him to the nurses and doctors and I was having the time of my life with him. The first time I took him out on a ride was the first time I saw him smile. I immediately knew that this was the sibling relationship I wanted and something I was not willing to give up. However, my brother’s leukemia became more severe which meant his treatment became more aggressive. I found myself giving him less and less rides on his stroller and him rarely being awake.

My brother’s treatments were not working and the cancer was tiring out his body. He became weaker and weaker until he was eventually transferred to the ICU. Since he was in the ICU, it meant I could no longer go in to his room and visit him. It was grueling to sit outside the ICU and wait for hours on end only to hear no good news. My brother eventually went on life support and it got to the point where the doctors pronounced him brain dead. When my parents told me, I was devastated. I only just got a brother and I was about to lose him? The doctors began to discuss cutting off his life support saying, “There’s nothing more we can do for him at this point.” Those words will forever be etched in to my memory because I have never felt so much grief in one moment. I begged my parents not to cut it off, but they said they’d seen him suffer too much and that he’d be happier in heaven. My parents ultimately decided to spend one more night with him before cutting off life support the next day. It killed me to leave the hospital, not being able to say goodbye.

The next day, we went to the hospital to say our final goodbyes and see him one last time. However, when we got there my brother was no longer brain dead and that his condition has greatly improved. He was taken off his life support and transferred out of the ICU. My family was shocked to hear the news and overjoyed that he still had a chance. Even the doctors were surprised and called it a miracle. My brother continued his cancer treatment and we began to see very encouraging results. His cancer levels were dropping, and he was eventually able to be awake and see me again. A month later, he was pronounced cancer free and entered remission. However, his journey was far from over and his recovery was tough. Since he has hasn’t taken food orally for so long, he forgot how to eat and was eventually given a feeding tube. He faced many challenges in remission, but I was just so excited that I could be with him again. We’d play in the pool with my dad, paint stools at the crafts room, and take him on his stroller rides. The hospital was no longer my playground, but ours. It’s easy to see how a hospital can bring many unhappy and sorrowful memories to one’s mind, but I choose to remember the amazing times I had with my brother. It’s the place where our relationship started, and it’s the place where he survived.

Today, my brother continues to live cancer free and family couldn’t be any happier. My brother will soon enter high school and I am so proud of how far he has come. My brother’s journey with cancer is one of the most defining moments of our family and we are so grateful to have him with us. Every year we celebrate his second birthday which is the day where he was taken off of life support and started to improve. On this special day, we play a video of his time at Seattle Children’s in which it always ends up with our entire family crying, including my brother. We are reminded of how my brother conquered and how we all came out together as a stronger family. Although my brother is cancer free, we still see the effects of my brother’s long treatment with radiation. Since he received chemotherapy at such a young age, it affected many parts of his body. The treatment affected his teeth which were still developing and has stunted his growth. However, we are prepared to face these challenges because we know our family can take it. Our experience with cancer was long and gruesome, but our family came out on top. Our family continues to be grateful to those who made his story possible. We know he wouldn’t be here today if wasn’t for the amazing doctors and nurses at Seattle Children’s or the coworkers who covered my mom’s shift so she can stay at the hospital. The endless amount of support we received was overwhelming and we are forever thankful.

Joshua Huh