To a six-year-old boy, hospitals are more confusing than frightening. But Shaun liked this place, even knowing on some level he may never leave. There were the play-closets, for one: child-size doors scattered around the waiting-room where kids who never met could hide and seek each other while parents completed paperwork. Further into the labyrinth was a sprawling wooden house sized just for little ones, always echoing with the giggles of all but the few confined to wheelchairs, too weak to stand but smiling at the sight nonetheless.

Shaun liked it most when they let him press the palm-shaped spot on the wall which made the doors open. It was one of the few times they allowed him to sit up in the rolling bed, and the magic always elicited a smile. After that, he knew, came the hand-held puzzle with the water jets and floating rings, and the thus-far insurmountable challenge to count backwards from ten while the anesthesia began its work. The last time, a nurse even taught him how to swallow a pill–it was so easy! Until then, his stepfather had roughly forced pills down the boy’s throat with his calloused mechanic’s finger.

This time, Shaun almost knew what to expect. This time, they said they were going to fix him, so he could play with the other children without turning that color which scared adults so badly. Sometimes he was relieved when they forced him to stop and rest, feeling tired without knowing why. Maybe his mother would stop worrying so much when this was over.

Through the doors he walked, holding his mother’s hand and staring open-mouthed at the vast lobby. Somehow he never remembered the staggering size of the hospital, only the smaller rooms and hallways he’d traveled so many times before. Groups of nurses and doctors and patients stalked purposefully through the turbulence to futures and stories he could only imagine.

Maybe his condition was more obvious this morning than others; a nurse pushed a wheelchair up to Shaun and urged him to sit.

You’re going into surgery today, aren’t you?” she asked, a question meant more to engage him, since she already knew the answer. “My name is nurse Anne, and I’m here just for you!” She hoped to excite the boy, maybe chip away at the fear he probably felt.

He nodded, shyly stepping behind his mother. Shaun never spoke much, and engaged even less. Familiar or not, this situation was too much stimulation, and someone he didn’t know just talked to him!

“It’s O.K.” Nurse Anne smiled. Looks like I’ve got a timid one on my hands. “I love wheelchairs, myself. They’re like cars even kids can drive!” she chanted. “And if you get tired, you can rest without stopping.” She winked then, knowing she had him. Shy kids hated being a burden or being noticed, but like any child, hated being idle.

Shaun dodged around his mother and plopped down into the thinly disguised conveyance. It would be several days before he would once again walk under his own power, but Anne was cleverly silent on that point.

“So, what are you going to do after we fix your heart?” queried Anne while pushing him toward an elivator.

He shook his head and looked down as the floor-tiles sped past. “I don’t know,” Shaun muttered.

“I’m sure you’ll find something fun,” assured nurse Anne. The shy ones were always hardest, and a heart patient was sometimes worse. The poor kids couldn’t really play; he’d probably just sit and read. “Do you know how to ride a bike?”

Another head-wag in the negative. Not yet. “I still need training-wheels,” clarified the boy.

The nurse allowed a small giggle. “That’s great! You’ll be much stronger after the surgery! You should ask your parents to let you try without the trainers a few months after you go home–after you’ve healed.”

Ah yes, the healing. Shaun frowned, then smiled, mulling the possibilities.

Nurse Anne nodded silently to herself; it was a start. She knew Shaun had weeks ahead to consider his new future.

If There are Stories
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