Beside me sits a little boy, maybe six or seven years old, in a wheelchair. His dusty blond hair is shaved close and his head is wrapped in layers of gauze. His left arm is casted and rests in a sling. His legs, covered in bruises, cannot hide under his short hospital gown. His right arm is wrapped in a foam pad that protects his IV site, but he has no trouble using this arm to shake his maraca to the guitar's beat. Incredibly, his face is smiling brightly. The boy's father sits beside him, smiling at his son, but the father's smile is guarded and weary. I wonder how long it's been since the accident and how long it has been since the father has slept.
Beside them sits another family: a young mother and father with their four-year-old daughter, "Kelsey." I know this family. We met on the elevator yesterday. I had joked about the pile of movies on Kelsey's lap as she rode in her wheelchair. "We've watched about every movie in the library," her mom sighed, "we've been here for over three months." She freely told their story. Kelsey had been born with a hidden birth defect: a weak stomach that caused no problems until it suddenly burst one summer day and sent Kelsey into septic shock. She had nearly died and only recently was well enough to be up and about in her wheelchair. "We're hoping to go home in another four or five months," the mother cheerily summed up. Today Kelsey also smiles and beats the lollipop drum on her lap. I wonder if she even remembers her home or how it felt to swing on a swing or slide down a slide.
Next in our circle are two girls, each with a parent and an IV pole beside them, but like my daughter, it is not readily apparent why they are here. "Jesse" is reclined in his special-needs wheelchair on the other side of me. He has only a nurse to help him beat a drum, but with his eyes to the ceiling and his tongue protruding he beats his drum and laughs. I am surprised when he laughs. I had assumed from his blank expression that his emotions were blank as well, but as he beats harder and laughs harder I realize how wrong I had been. I wish his parents were there to see him laugh.
The lady with the guitar sings softly and we play our instruments softly. She sings loudly and the whole ninth floor of that children's hospital is brought to life with maracas and drums and laughing sick children. I didn't choose to be in that room today. I want to be home with my other children. I want my daughter to be able to walk without pain today. A nurse sees my sad eyes as I look around that circle and leans close to me to say, "That's the thing about working here I guess. I realize that no matter how bad things are they could always be worse." She is right, but I am gripped by more: if Jesse and Kelsey and the boy from the accident can beat a drum and shake a maraca and smile, I have no reason not to join in the song.