New York Methodist Hospital was deep into Park Slope, but despite my tardiness, the group huddled together expectantly when I entered the pediatrics ward was not waiting for me.
The family room there was much cheerier than the one I have come to know intimately at Sloan, but then again, this one catered to a decidedly more youthful demographic. Sesame Street was lighting up the TV corner, and the walls were painted sunflower yellow. Mylar balloons in smiley face and St. Patrick’s Day designs bobbed near the ceiling, and a table covered with miniature cupcakes and ice cream stood conspicuously in the center of the room. The cupcakes looked considerably better than the average hospital food.
The only thing missing was the children.
To keep spirits high, the hospital throws a party for the kids once a month. For reasons I couldn’t discern, these were called birthday parties, even though there was no real birthday to celebrate. The kids, when they did show up, also found this confusing, but kids rarely argue in the face of free cupcakes.
The ward was fairly empty that night, and the few young patients in residence had summarily been deemed too sick (quarantined) or too young (newborns and such) to attend the festivities. This left us, the volunteers, staring hungrily at the cupcakes and making small talk about our jobs. I was one of the only ones not in the field of medicine.
We managed to wrangle a small blond girl and her parents, and she wheeled into the room with her oxygen tank and made a beeline for the coloring table. A handful of kids and parents trickled in on her heels, but most stayed for 10 minutes or less.
A tiny girl with an arm splint and a head of gorgeous curls tottered in just as the blond girl was leaving, and took up her vacant seat next to me. Her mother looked weary in the way that parents only look after worrying after a sick child for days on end. She was alone, save her daughter, and seemed grateful for adult company. After a couple of cupcakes and a few compliments about her little girl, she detailed their saga.
This was not the first time they had been to this hospital, and by the sound of it, wouldn’t be the last. Her three-year-old had severe asthma, and the condition was exacerbated by dust and possibly asbestos in their apartment. Since the apartment was in the projects, the mother couldn’t just pack up their things and move to a better place, and her appeals for a transfer to one of the more modern buildings had been summarily denied.
She had tears in her eyes now, and I assured her that the case would ultimately be resolved in her favor. My conscience twinged as I did so, knowing that our worlds did not operate within the same justice system. I knew nothing of her perspective, and what it must feel like to have your pleas fall on deaf ears. If an assailant crawled in my window one night and cut my throat, the police would launch a full-scale investigation.The same could not be said of her neighborhood.
On nights like this, it seems ludicrous that a girl who operates within the privileged West Village bubble would be out on a daily quest to change the world, when I will only ever see precious little of the parts that most need it.