What follows is my ice breaker speech, project #1 in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator guide. I delivered it today at the Red Hat Open Voice Toastmasters chapter in Raleigh, NC.
Memories are curious things.
Scientifically speaking, memory is the process of encoding, storing and retrieving information. We’re all doing this constantly – creating new memories, some of which are transient and some of which are stored forever.
A few months ago, I stood in a darkened room next to a white metal hospital crib, looking at my then 9-week-old son, Zander, who had no fewer than 5 tubes and wires connected to him. I could make out his fragile infant form almost perfectly in the glow of a large vital information monitor that drenched that side of the room. He’d arrived that morning via ambulance from his pediatrician who decided that his respiratory virus was bad enough that he needed monitoring in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus — RSV — or a chest cold to you and me, is possibly the most common reason kids of this age are admitted to the hospital and once they’re under good care, it’s not a cause for serious worry. But that didn’t matter at the time. It didn’t untie the knot in my stomach caused by the sight of my little boy lying there constrained by electronic connections — utterly helpless, but finally getting what looked like restful sleep. I’ll never forget that scene, nor the terror on my wife’s face as she held him on the stretcher, paramedics rushing him toward the waiting ambulance.
My son, of course, will have no recollection of any of this. As traumatic as the experience was for him, those memories will be long gone by the time his brain is ready to start storing information for more than a few hours.
The event underscored one of the core duties of a parent – the ability to cope with stressful situations while remaining in control and able to care for a child.
My parents didn’t have it so easy. At the age of four, doctors discovered that I had cancer. Needless to say everything worked out in the long run but it took five surgeries, a kidney, chemotherapy, radiation and somewhere around a year in and out of Jackson Memorial Hospital before we could claim victory.
I remember the moment it all started. I ran out onto my preschool playground as I did every day, and jumped onto this small spinning saucer-shaped playground *thing* and almost immediately felt sharp pains in my stomach. They didn’t subside, so the teacher called my mom who promptly left work and came to pick me up.I don’t remember the first visit to the doctor’s office but I remember clearly the one that came weeks later. We saw an oncologist in Miami who told us that I had a tumor in my belly the size of a softball. I remember how he held his fist up so matter-of-factly demonstrating the size and shape of what we now know was a Wilms’ Tumor on my left kidney.
I remember spending a lot of time admitted in hospital rooms. I remember trying to walk up and down the hallway, pulling my IV pole along behind me or — if I was having a particularly good day — riding it like a skateboard.
I remember the horrid, nauseating smell of one of the cafeterias on the hospital campus that we occasionally ate at. I’d ask for a bagel with cream cheese which was always chewy because there wasn’t a toaster, only a microwave.
I remember that my mother spent every single night with me in those hospital rooms, no matter how small or uncomfortable the sleeping arrangements were.
I remember a roommate named Jose who had open heart surgery and thinking to myself how much worse off Jose must have been, having had his heart operated on.
I remember endless trips to the Radiology ward and having to sit still over and over while the nurse walked out of the room to snap the picture. One of them called me “Christo” because the hospital bracelet had chopped off the last four letters of my first name.
But I’m hard-pressed to remember any pain.
I remember being scared quite a lot; mostly during doctor visits that might have resulted in yet another surgery followed by more days in the hospital.
But no pain.
Thinking of the 48 hours I spent in the hospital with my relatively healthy son, I can’t begin to imagine what my parents must have felt during the weeks and months their little boy was sick. I’m certain their recollection of the whole affair is far more painful than mine.
Memories are curious things.