“Be brave,” he said, and closed his eyes to ward off at least the pain of seeing his skin pierced by sharpness.
“Just a scratch,” the nurse stated in rote-like monotone, forgetting that for this boy nothing at this point was ‘just a scratch,’ especially not with veins well worn from prodding, let alone in a child who must struggle to understand why any of this was necessary.
“Be brave,” he said again, and his voice shook, and a tear slid under his lids and traveled down the small cheek to settle on his ear like a tiny sorrow-diamond.
“I’m sorry,” the nurse pressed her lips together when the third poke failed and another scarred blood vessel rolled under her needle. She’ll have to try another site. How on earth did someone not put a port in this child yet?
“Be brave,” the boy clenched his eyes to slits but more tears fled. “Be brave.”
The nurse looked up, distressed by his determined resignation. She paused and placed her gloved hand on his cheek. “You are,” she said. “Very.”
Eyes still shut, he shuddered and she wasn’t sure if he understood. She pulled a chair to his gurney and smoothed his hair. Someone from the Children’s Home had brought him to the hospital with another flareup, but the orphanage was too short-staffed to have anyone stay with him, especially when the boy wasn’t fussy and reportedly “used to” the hospital.
As if there could be such a thing as a child being “used to” being alone in a hospital.
“You are brave,” she repeated. Her eyes stung and perhaps the emotion in her voice more than her words filtered through his bracing because his eyes opened to meet hers.
“You don’t deserve any of this,” she said. “No one does. What you do deserve is to get better, and for people to really see and understand how brave you are. You are so so brave.”
Another tear rolled toward his ear. She hoped this one wasn’t from fear but from recognizing a connection.
“I’ll be as gentle as I can,” she promised. “I know this must be awful, but I need to get a line in for your medicine. Can you be brave for me just a bit longer?”
He held her eyes before he nodded.
“Good boy. So let’s just get this over with?”
He nodded again and this time did not close his eyes but hung them on her face. He did not look away or make a sound as she flicked and poked and needled.
“Good lad,” she praised, relieved, as she finally placed the clear bandage over the IV.
He took in a long breath.
“Can I get you anything?” she lingered, wanting to do something for this boy, so small and pale and alone.
“Some juice or crackers, maybe? It’ll do you good to get some of these in you,” she chattered. “I bet we have some toys I can borrow from the playroom for you.”
He held her gaze.
“Can I go home with you?” he asked. “I promise to be brave for you. I’ll be brave every day.”
(*Based on a true story.)