Recently, my daughter suffered a sudden, unexpected health problem. My husband and I raced out of the house in the dark to the nearby hospital, where doctors and nurses descended on her in the kind of scene that is every parent’s worst nightmare. When she had recovered enough, we were transferred to the bigger hospital twenty minutes away and given a room in the children’s ward. It’s a bright, colorful place where the staff go to enormous trouble to make sure that the children are comfortable and well taken care of.
I am one of the few people in the world who likes hospitals. I find them reassuring, with their mysterious machinery and people who know amazing things about the body and how it functions. We were there for two days, and in those uncertain hours, a parade of nurses and doctors came in to examine my daughter. As I sat beside her, I wished that I were one of them. A sign at the end of the hall read, “What have you done today to help a child?” I found that sign haunting. Why did I choose to be a writer? I wondered. Why didn’t I go into the medical field? Why couldn’t I pick a career that’s useful? Why don’t I have any skills?
That night, I lay on the hospital bed with my daughter while my husband took the fold-out chair beside us. Beyond our door, the nurses’ station hummed with quiet activity. A baby in the room beside ours wailed. The doctors were sure that my daughter would be fine, but she was scheduled for tests the next day. “Mama,” my daughter said in the semi-darkness, “I’m feeling sad. Would you tell me a story?”
That question was the answer I needed to hear. In addition to all of the tests, medicine, and knowledge, what my daughter needed was a story. Because, after all, our spirits need care as much as our bodies do. I do have skills, I realized. My career is useful.
And so of course I told her a story. I am a storyteller, after all. I think I found it even more comforting than she did.