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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer


We are not your inspiration

Five endless stages of a teenage illness


I dread the walk up the white marble stairs, my mother always insists we take them. I think she began noticing that the kids who didn’t make it out of the hospital tended to use the elevator. I snort, as if my using the stairs was going to change anything. 

As I round the second staircase I see him. I get so caught up in him, I don’t even notice. His flaming green eyes are the most color I've ever seen in a hospital. He must catch me staring and I practically faint as his dimple appears with his half-smirk. He is Hot, with a capital “H.”

It isn’t until I catch my breath that I realize he is like me. Most of the people you see below the age of eighteen are visitors to a hospital. Somebody I might see once and will go back to their houses and never come back. So, hate me if you want, but when I notice he has a port in his chest, another form for long-term antibiotics, I kind of get excited. 

I know that’s probably horrible to say, but it's true.

I watch the boy as he walks away. He limps. His pant leg raises with one of his steps and I notice he’s missing a leg. 

I freeze.

 My mother notices and grabs my hand pulling me in the direction of my hospital room.

‘Anger’ (boy’s POV)

“Okay try to take a step,” he says cautiously.  I barely hear his instructions over the pounding of my heart. It doesn’t feel right. It feels like someone kicked my leg out from underneath me, yet somehow, I’m still walking.

I don’t really want to watch what I look like as I take my first steps, but there’s no avoiding it. The room is like a small hallway covered in mirrors. There’s two chairs in opposite corners and a walkway lined with tall bars. I brace them as I try to take my first step. I slowly move my new foot forward by bending my knee and pushing my hip forward. I chant in my head “heel, toe, heel, toe.”

That’s the key to walking with a prosthetic leg — at least that’s what I am told.

I look up at the mirror and cringe. With each step, my hip severely drops. I look weak or injured: it's sad.

I am so over being sad.


F*ck, f*ck, f*ck: if my mother let me curse, I’d be screaming right now. My nurse, this middle-aged woman who always makes sure my breakfast is in the room before I even get here, peels the stickiest clear bandage off my inner forearm. It feels like my skin is peeling off with it. My eyes fill with tears, but I refuse to let them fall.

The number one unspoken rule for sick kids is to never cry. Well, let me amend that: never cry in front of your parents. 

I take a deep breath and squeeze my eyes, hoping the tears will go back to wherever they came from and focus on something else, anything else. I think about all the harder things I’ve gone through. This is nothing in comparison. I think about the time I got my picc line: that f*cking hurt. I had bruises up and down both my arms for days. My nurse at the time stood beside me, held my hand and sang. I kind of thought he might’ve been an angel.

I don’t know, maybe that’s all messed up to say and feel considering I don’t really believe in God, but I do believe in that one angel.

At least, sometimes I like to.


It was as if every time I was left alone, I could feel someone wrapping their hands around my throat and squeezing. As if the feelings I'd buried down for the past eight hour school day rises like a tidal wave crashing so hard, the tears have no option but to fall. 

I let myself sob.

I see my mom walking from the grocery store back towards the car. And everything retracts as fast as it came. The air once restricted by the imaginary strangler leaves, the tidal waves calm to just a rough sea. It still hurts, but I feel it lower, deeper within my gut. I pull down the car mirror, flip open its cover and begin whipping my tears. 

“One deep breath,” I tell myself. “Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.” The car door opens.

“Hey, babe.” She smiles and slides into the driver's seat.

“Hey,” it comes out a little shaky. At the time I thought she didn't know, but she did. I can’t decide how it makes me feel. It doesn't feel right for a mother to force a daughter to take off her mask and be honest, but it also doesn't feel right that she left me that way. 


I cried in front of someone for the first time today. It actually made me feel better and worse at the same time. He knew what I was crying about before I even said anything. Honestly, I was crying about everything. All the years of holding it all in, only realizing that I didn't have to do that: that hurt.

He never asks me how I feel and for once in my life I don't wait for someone to ask. I just tell him. When I start talking I can't stop, “I feel like I can't do anything. I feel like I'm missing out on the best years of our lives. I feel like all people see when they look at me is some sick girl they find inspiring. I feel like no one knows me beyond this stupid f*cking illness. And honestly, I don't even know if I know myself beyond it.” 

I kept talking after that. I’m still crying. It only ever stops when someone walks in. Everytime a door closes or the lights go off, it starts again. Tears fall as if I'm making up for all the years I ever held it in.

Nyla White is junior studying political science and English with a concentration in creative writing. Her life is mostly consumed by Taylor Swift, books and disability advocacy. You can reach her at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.