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  • The worst thing I have ever seen wasn't something on the news, didn't make the cover of the New York Times or is even public knowledge. This is something that few people saw and few people have to deal with directly and its something I saw for only a few seconds. The worst things we witness tend to be not macro but micro experiences that rattle us to the core because they happen at a certain time in our lives when we are open to receiving them and being affected by them.

    The worst thing I have ever seen was a child being loaded off of an ambulance into the emergency room entrance of a cancer hospital. Not just a cancer hospital, THE cancer hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering. I saw this because I used to live right next to it and I would often walk by the emergency room on my way home. I didn't mean to look, I tend not to, but the doors of the ambulance were open wide and a small pale child full of tubes on the stretcher was in plain sight. I don't even know if the child was a boy of a girl, the child's age or if they were even conscious. None of those details mattered because this was a child, and the first sick child I have seen who was that sick and that close. This was real.

    I was never even fond of children and may not even have any, but this was horrible. Even the idea of an innocent child suffering from any disease is heartbreaking and so incredibly grossly unfair. But this child was here and so was I and could see it and it snapped me out of my element like a feeling you have when you missed a stair and you think you are about to fall down a whole flight. Except this was in my mind. And so was the mania and depression and traces of OCD and awful horrible thoughts that raged through my mind from sunrise to sundown. I saw many sunrises that year because I could not or would not sleep. But I felt like an asshole, because while its not true that I did, I FELT like I had a choice against my disease when the child did not.

    I felt like an asshole. Because how dare I range within myself full of hatred and darkness when REAL diseases are ranging within someone else, especially innocent children. They didn't deserve it, but I might have. I played with a mind, MY mind, fragile and susceptible to darkness and I am the one who allowed it to get to that state because I was careless. The day I saw that child I was in the deepest trenches of my depression and that child must have been in the deepest trenches of their disease as well. And here we were facing each other and I am walking, home, I am able and capable and yet, miserable. How dare I feel that way! How DARE I take life for granted.

    I thought about that child for a long time. I even let myself cry, something I rarely allow myself to do because it does not solve anything. I thought about choice and fairness and pain and suffering and I still felt like an asshole. But the truth is, that neither one of us had a choice. Disease takes hold in different ways and if I let mine rage long enough if it would have taken me too. I wish I could tell you that seeing that child in that moment made me realize things about life and made me turn my life around, right then and there. This is not how it happened. It took another year before I began getting better.

    Much like chemo, the medications given to help stabilize the mind are often very destructive and don't always work and so, I took my chances without them. Unlike the child, I had a choice, right? I am still torn on the idea if medication is necessary at all but its not my place to judge because I now understand disease better and the illusion of choice. The only choices we have are in the treatment and our willingness to follow through. I don't know what happened to that child since, I can only hope for the best though I am not really big on wishful thinking, as you can image. As they say in the Fault in Our Stars, "the world is not a wish granting factory" and our health or lack-thereof is really dumb luck.

    Two years later I moved close to where the hospital is again but I like to believe I left the worst below 67th street. I can't really bring myself to look at the emergency room again. I still feel like an asshole and I hate the fact that in this world children are allowed to be that sick. It was ironic indeed to live so close to a place where innocent people have no choice and fight for life while I seemed to be fighting for destruction just a few feet away. And yet, we have more in common than most people think. Not in the severity of our disease, of course not, but in the hope that maybe one day someone or something will make us better because we really, truly, had no choice with the mind or body we were given.

    Week 17 of 52 - Story a Week in 2014
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