Peter’s story: Life lessons from growing up in hospital

Peter was a patient of the RCH for 14 years. Here, he shares what life lessons he learnt from growing up in hospital. 

“The RCH teaches you a lot of things. My name is Peter, and one of the things I learnt, not necessarily from someone telling me but from experience, is to not take life too seriously. This may seem strange because illness and health is very serious. But in the end, there is always something to smile about. The RCH became my second home when I was six. Now I’m 20, and after having my last appointment at the Children’s, I’ve transitioned into the adult system. I’d like to share with you what these 14 years have been like.

Let me start off by saying that writing this goes against my lesson of not taking life seriously. I have to relive memories and emotions I had as I write this, rather than laugh at another old episode of The Simpsons. People talk about the courage of patients, and I do not deny that courage. But I do question my courage. I am not brave or strong. I’m just living with the situation I was given. It’s not like I have a choice. It’s not like I call my friend brave just because he’s short.

But that’s just me.

I was diagnosed with a type of brain tumour called cervicomedullary ganglioglioma when I was six, and one of the earliest memories I have after my first operation is giving my surgeon, Dr Patrick Lo, a picture every time I saw him. Before every follow-up appointment, I’d draw the coolest picture of a Pokémon and give it to him because he apparently liked Pokémon, too. This, and the wall of pictures that other patients gave him, said a lot about the RCH – a place I would always rather not be at but was always glad I was, given the circumstances. The development of the new RCH building several years later did, however, make it an even nicer place to be.

I remember little of my admissions as a child, when I was too young to really know what was going on. An onset of pneumonia, which led to a bronchiectasis diagnosis when I was a little older, meant many more admissions. Hospital stays are never fun. They can have moments of fun, which is good, but you’ll never say that you enjoyed them when finally going home. I think the hospital staff know this because people like the nurses try to make patients’ stays a little more bearable. Patients are lucky in that respect.

My last operation was the hardest. Problem after problem meant pain after pain. Months later, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything like go to school. So I decided to write a novel, and although fictional, I was inspired by a lot of things that happened. I was even lucky enough to recently have it published.

By the time I was at the point where I was supposed to transition over to the adult system, obstacles came up. So I ended up moving there almost two years later, skipping the hospital’s official transition process. And now that I’m here, I’m sad to say that I kind of miss the RCH. The atmosphere, the people I got to know. After all, it did give me a lot to be thankful for.

So why have I learnt not to take life seriously? Because after going through what I have gone through, I learnt that it’s better to focus on the funnier side of life. Not everyone can, but that’s okay too. Again, that might just be me.”

Written by Peter Vu, RCH patient and author of Paper Cranes Don’t Fly. 

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