I recently spent time with dozens of remarkable patients and their families at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. In thinking about the experience, it struck me just how much our human interactions resemble a popcorn explosion in a microwave.
As twenty high school volunteers from the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School filed into the playroom, I noticed that everyone was talking in their "library voices" and looked pretty serious. Of course, it was really early in the morning, not the favored time of day for most teens. As the students got busy setting up the activity stations and patients started coming into the room, the emotional temperature quickly began to get warmer.
First there was five-year-old Ivan who spent three hours being mentored by Andrew and Gabe. They watched the SoaringMuseums video, created artwork and chatted the entire time, as if they had known each other forever. Ivan even taught his new friends his best magic tricks, including his favorite - how to make a crayon disappear. Ivan performed this trick many times that day, each time with glee and twinkling eyes, charming every new volunteer.
Dianosi had been in the hospital for a long time and had a weary smile when Maya came to her room to visit. It was the first visit she'd had since she had come to the hospital, and had managed to pass the time alone by reading books and doing her homework. The girls bonded like sisters. In fact, there were so many coincidences - Maya's brother even shares the same birthday with Dianosi!
As the morning progressed, everywhere I went the patient and volunteers were laughing, talking and creating signs and artwork to donate to hospitalized kids. When afternoon rounds took place, teams of doctors and residents descended onto the floor, like a giant cluster of white lab coats moving room to room. Rounding the corner by the nursing station, they ran into a team of eleven volunteers, each one carrying piles of SoaringQuilts and Pillows to distribute to patients. An impromptu "examination" was held right there. One by one, the doctors broke into smiles, and the nurses came out from behind their command station to take a closer look at the hand-made messages and artwork. All of a sudden, everyone was talking at once. There was so much noise that for a couple of minutes you actually could not hear the normal drone of the beeps and buzzing of hospital equipment. Instead, positive and vibrant energy was reverberating all around the pediatric wing, like kernels of popcorn in a giant microwave, all exploding in a frenzy of camaraderie.
For the students, patients, doctors and nurses, it was clear that life is whole lot more fun when you heat things up with even a few minutes of compassion and laughter.