Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The boy with the fedora

Christopher J. Schayer
New Haven, Connecticut (Fall 2016)

Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Photo submitted.

One of the many wonderful things about going to school in New Haven, Connecticut is its proximity to New York City.  From the Metro North ride into the opulent Grand Central Station, to window shopping on 5th Avenue, or ice skating in Bryant Park, the charms of New York City never cease to mend the frayed nerves of mid-semester nurse practitioner students.  It has always been a place of solace, where students can re-group and become reacquainted with their own dreams and desires.  For many, the city triggers inspiration, whether it is the architecture, the prowess of Broadway actresses, or the appeal of city living.  For me, I found inspiration in the oddest of New York City places – Radio City Music Hall just before the Christmas Spectacular Show.

The infamous Radio City Rockettes have been dazzling viewers with their precision choreography for decades.  Set in the historic Radio City Music Hall, built during the Great Depression as a way to “elevate and inspire,” the show exemplifies this mission by providing joy to all who come to see it.  From the smiling faces of children, to the loving exchanges between their parents, it is clear to see the sheer magical effect that this show, and this theater, has on people. It was in the lobby of this magnificent building that I was touched by some of its magic.  While reveling in the rich history of the hall, my eyes happened to notice a boy and his family waiting in line to take a photo with a Rockette.

There were five of them all together: a mother and father and their three children, two boys and one girl.  The girl was dressed in a velvety green Christmas dress and the two boys, who seemed similar in age, were wearing light gray suits and crisp red dress shirts.  One boy wore a patterned gray fedora and the other had neatly combed light brown hair that barely reached the top of his ears.  It is hard for me to say why I noticed this family in particular, from the hundreds of seemingly similar families that frolicked through the hall, but for some reason my eyes locked onto them.  The parents seemed to be in their mid thirties. The father was around six feet tall, slender with a slight amount of muscle, and blonde, well-groomed hair.  The mother was shorter, barely over five feet tall and heavyset.  Upon initial glance they seemed like a typical family, vacationing here to experience Christmas time in New York City.  But for some reason I kept staring.

As the family made their way through the line, getting nearer to the front, the little girl and one of the boys began jumping around and smiling.  Two young kids, giddy with the holiday spirit, enclosed within this decades-old, famous theatre.  The other boy, the one with the fedora, remained by his mother, one arm wrapped around her leg, and the other limply dangling by his side.  He seemed sullen.  Was he just bored? Overtired? Or was he a child who just did not show much emotion?  His mysterious affect was intriguing.

The other two children were now playfully chasing each other in a circle around their parents. The girl was trying to catch the boy.  Amidst their giggling, the boy in the fedora remained unaffected.  He maintained his eye contact with the Rockette, his face sullen, his arm remaining around his mother’s leg. The father told his other two children to stop running around and grabbed the boy to straighten his shirt and comb back his hair.  The father then turned to the daughter, straightened her hair, andled them both forward toward the front of the line.  They were almost there, only one family left to take a picture before them.  The mom leaned down to the boy attached to her leg, and whispered something into his ear.  He grabbed the fedora and took it off, revealing his bald head.  My heart sank.  Without the hat I could see his facial features more clearly.  His face was ashen, his eyes sad and sunken, and he had a distinct lack of eyebrows.  He was clearly battling cancer and the chemo was ravaging his system.

The family had finally made it to the front of the line and began arranging themselves around the tall and slender five foot, eleven inch tall, brunette, Rockette.  A girl whose dreams had arguably come true, as she is now, and will forever be, a Rockette.  But would this little boy, whom she was now hugging close to her leg, ever have the chance to make his dreams come true?  The photographer held up three fingers and quickly counted down to zero, at which point the camera flashed, and the memory became etched into history.  They had all smiled…except the boy.

I have thought a lot about this family since that day.  What their life must be like, where they could be from, what hospital they bring their son to.  Are they receiving the best care possible? Are the nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians pleasant?  Do the siblings understand the totality of what is happening? Are the parents able to work while their son is in the hospital? Will he survive and live a long, vivacious, and healthy life?

And so while I was supposed to be on break from school, supposed to be recuperating from weeks of torturous studying, I discovered that my love for nursing could not be suspended for even a few hours.  My love for nursing is engrained into every depth of my being.  I look for signs, I ask about symptoms, I diagnose the condition, find the source and I treat it.  But I have been taught to do more than that.  I learn about the family and the siblings. I determine the effect the situation is having on everyone, not just on the patient.  I care about all of them…because they are all my patients, and I am their nurse.



CHRISTOPHER J. SCHAYER, MA, RN, is currently a registered nurse and is completing his MSN and acute care/oncology nurse practitioner program at Yale University. Prior to nursing, he spent seven years as a middle school science teacher.

Winter 2021  |  Sections  |  Nursing

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