By Bob Comeans
They told me I was more popular than Santa Claus, and that was saying something because they had three Santa Claus.
I am an artist, a caricature artist. Have been since ninth grade, just never knew it until about seven years ago. Since then I’ve drawn thousands of pictures of kids, teens, adults, elderly, babies, pets, and everyone in-between.
I’ve drawn none more important than in the last four years, where I’ve worked, twice a month, at the local children’s hospital, drawing kid’s who were patients.
I started out in the lobby by the cafeteria. Kids would be brought down to me and I would draw them. I’d sometimes have 30 kids lined up on the bench outside the Starbucks coffee bar.
The volunteer coordinator then asked me if I’d be willing to go to patient rooms. Go see the kids who couldn’t get out for one reason or another. I’ve visited rooms for the past three years now.
It isn’t easy. When I started I’d have to sit in the parking garage and give myself a pep talk for what I was about to do. “It’s not about me, it’s about them. It’s about the kids. You can do this.”
Then I’d head up and start drawing. I’d visit with kids who had received organ transplants, were on dialysis treatments, in pediatric intensive care or long term cancer care. Kids with no hair and kids whose hospital rooms looked like their bedrooms from home. Kids recovering from accidents, babies in parents arms, very sick children, and children who looked like nothing could ever be wrong with them.
I have drawn in gloves, gown, and a mask. I have also drawn in rooms where parents were distraught, discussing bankruptcy, or dealing with insurance problems. Parents worried sick about their babies. You never knew what was going on behind that door you just knocked on.
I was always made welcome. I learned it wasn’t about me. It was about them. It was about their brothers and sisters. It was about their grandparents. It was about their best friends. It was about their moms and dads.
Somehow, I was able to be the one that they wanted to come in and stay for awhile. They would trust me with their most precious things, their children, and I would never betray their trust.
I learned quickly how to share conversations with them. What questions to ask, or not ask. When to respect their privacy, and when to dive right in with them.
You see, I’ve been where they are.
I never told anyone my story. I never told anyone that my son had received two kidney transplants in this same hospital. I never told anyone that he’d sat in the same dialysis treatment chair that they were sitting in. I never told anyone they were in the same room where my son spent two weeks recovering after a medical procedure. I never told anyone I knew exactly what they were going through.
Christmas day the hospital has three Santa Claus come in and pass out presents to every child who is in the hospital. They distribute hundreds of gift bags and try to make the day special for everyone.
The volunteer coordinator took me aside that Christmas season and told me, “You know what, I think you’re more popular than Santa Claus, and we’ve got three of them.”
I just smiled, said thanks, and kept drawing.
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