It's Sunday afternoon, and I find myself in Children's Hospital. My friend Chris's oldest daughter is there.
The place is squeaky-clean and they've painted it with bright colors, a full crayola box of colors designed to make a place of illness look friendly and fun. They are high ceilings, textured masonry and I like what I see of the architecture. But it smells of disinfectant.
I pass children playing with a brightly colored wagon. Is their brother or sister in here? Are they getting their tonsils out? Are they gaining another brother or sister? Or are they about to lose one.
I try not to think of that. This is a hospital. Children shouldn't be here. But many are.
Beth is thirteen years old, with a sweet, gentle disposition and a love of books. She writes exceptionally well for her age. But she has a prominent jaw and Alfred E. Neuman's own eyes at an age where looks are about to become everything. And she has scoliosis in a really bad way. Walking she hunches over, and carries her books on one side because one leg just doesn't work quite right. So Monday she went under the knife.
I find her sitting up in a Geri-Chair, with an IV plugged into her left hand. Beth smiles at me, but it's obvious she's in agony. When I was thirteen I spent my days hunting for pubic hairs, reading Heinlein and hoping to french kiss Denise. Beth won't be doing any of that. Instead she'll spend next year in a brace. She shows me the puncture marks on her hand from the IV. The last couple days have been the worst, since they stopped the morphine, and made her do with tylenol and codeine. Soon it will be just tylenol. But this child is moaning.
Chris and Kim are there, and very happy to see me, particularly as Beth likes me. I sit next to her and we try to talk. She's in pain, and doesn't understand why this had to happen to her.
Chris in particular doesn't understand. He was a fundamentalist for years. He and Kim met at a very conservative Bible college. But he's also utterly honest, open-minded and hungry for knowledge. Years ago we debated on the topic of evolution versus creation. I told him evolution held all the cards, and if he did the research he'd find out I was right.
So Chris did the research. That's the kind of guy he is. Because he is honest, he changed his way of thinking. Yet I wonder how much of that was the evidence and how much of it has to do with the poor suffering girl sitting next to us, begging to be put back in bed. It's very easy to point out all the beautiful, miraculous things in the world and see some form of intelligence behind it. But how do you argue that the human spine was intelligently designed, or the human knee. How do you argue the intelligent design of a genetic system that produces so many misfires?
I wonder if Beth herself weren't exhibit A for the scientific proposition.
I take her hand and tell her the truth. That I know this is horrible, but I don't know any way in the world to make it better. And I promise her the pain will end. I tell her to hold on to that one promise I can make with confidence.
She nods and tries to believe, Beth really is special. The nurses come and lay her down. It's time for her nap. It doesn't hurt when she sleeps.
I walk down the long corridors to the parking garage, and smell the antiseptic. The staff here is kind and genuinely cares. But children shouldn't be in such a place. And knowing that they are, I weep.
Beth has come through her surgery, and the pain is gone, though she will have to be careful for the next year. And she is two inches taller (5 cm) than she was before the surgery. While I feel bad for what happens, I thank God
for modern medicine