maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. -arthur miller


How to Ruin a Great CD

(or, The One Where I Talk About My Job).

Like many jobs, my summer job is incredibly awesome about some of the time, totally terrible sometimes, and most of the time it's somewhere in between. The hours aren't bad, my coworkers (for the most part) are smart and hard working, and the paycheck doesn't suck.

In the details though, my job veers pretty far off of the traditional college summer job track. I work in the Child Life department in a hospital-- essentially, I work in a playroom for sick kids. I've been there for about three years (off and on), and I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had the experiences there that I've had.

First off, I'll just say that every cliche you've ever heard (and many you haven't) about working with very sick and terminally ill children is true. You think it's the size of the dog in the fight? You haven't seen enough six year olds with brain tumors. It's the size of the fight in the dog, and these kids just know that if their fight isn't big enough, if don't want it bad enough, they're done. And by "it" in that last sentence I mean an eleventh birthday. (Want to be inspired? Read If I Get to Five.) Brilliant physicians treat the disease, but there's more to it than that, and anyone who tells you otherwise has never been sick.

To make a sick kid laugh, to challenge them to an Uno tournament, to sit and watch a movie with them while their chemo drips in from a bag above our heads-- these are the moments that I have learned to savor. To know that I am part of the team getting these families through the hardest experience of their lives is incredibly rewarding.

On the other hand, the crappy part of my job is so much worse than the crappy parts of other summer jobs. Most of the time I can keep a certain amount of distance-- I've learned that when I leave for the day, I don't have to feel guilty about going out and laughing. But there are days when I leave the hospital and feel like I can't breathe, like the sadness and the unfairness of it all has taken a hold of my heart and it squeezing hard and will. not. let. go. I seem to hit a wall every summer with this-- a point at which the patients' reality begins to edge out my own, at which their fights become my own.

And this is where ruining good music comes in to the picture. I started listening to Coldplay's Rush of Blood to the Head every day on my way to and from the hospital shortly after I started working there, and at this point I've rewritten the soul of the record. I call it my twenty minute rule-- I give myself the twenty minutes of my commute to be heartbroken for the kid whose cancer has spread, for the one whose infection has them stuck in the hospital for the third week this summer. When I get home I turn off my music, and hopefully my heartbreak with it. It allows me to go back to my "real life", to seperate who I am from what I do at work.

I love the job. It's rewarding, it's hard, and it makes me want to be a doctor more and more every day.

Still, I don't think I will ever be able to hear Chris Martin sing the "the Scientist" and not think about some of the kids I've watched win their fights, and the ones who were not so lucky. But not for lack of trying.


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