Speaking as someone who has worked in few different hospitals in a non-clinical capacity for almost ten years, I would say it is easy to forget you work in a hospital sometimes but that would be a total lie. It is just easier to forget you work in one. I encounter patients on a daily basis but they’re not mine, not really. I do not treat them, I cannot help them in any way other than to be friendly, answer any questions they may have, help them change into a gown, and perhaps crack a stupid joke or two to make them smile. I assist with unit patients and have been urinated on, vomited on and have had to clean up body fluids often enough that I barely even notice it anymore. Hell, most of the time I crack jokes about it. There are some days that no matter what I do I cannot forget, and it hits me like a ton of bricks.
For every forgettable jerk who comes in limping declaring their leg broken and demanding to be seen before an ER patient because they need to get home in time for their stories, there comes in the nicest person I will meet all year. They will come in for back pain, a headache or some other seemingly common and innocent sounding ailment. They do not remember how long they have had it and did not want to be a baby about it or ask for help. Sometimes it turns out to be nothing, but other times – too many times – I hear a muttered a curse word, a frantic call or two, or sometimes I will just get a look from the technologist doing their study: Cancer. My office disappears quickly when I am forced to call a patient’s wife because he has to be admitted to the hospital and cannot stop crying long enough to get the words out himself.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is a book not just about cancer but two teenagers with cancer no less. Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen year-old with thyroid cancer, meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group. He is seventeen, gorgeous, smart and is missing a leg thanks to bone cancer for which he is in remission. Even with her omnipresent oxygen tank and swollen face, he makes her feel like any normal teenage girl would feel meeting such a boy. It is something straight out of a Lifetime movie and normally (even despite my ovaries), I am usually not a sucker for such things. While not wholly original or without its faults, Green managed to suck me in almost immediately. His writing is simple and pretty and makes the story much better than it ought to be. I wanted to know everything I could about Hazel and Augustus, and even though I knew their story would not end well, I still was unprepared for just how hard it hit me.
If there is one minor quibble I have about this book, it is that John Green writes lovely and witty dialogue that is entirely too lovely and witty to be coming out of a teenager’s mouth. At some points it is distracting, and this is coming from somebody who absolutely loves Juno. Most of the time, it is so damn delicate or funny or just heartbreaking that you get so distracted from trying not to cry that you totally forgive it. One of my favorite lines in the book is Hazel declaring, “I fell in love the way you fall out of a tree; slowly and then all at once.” Young love, cancer and lines like that. Call me a sap all you want but sometimes you just have to sit back, have a good cry, and enjoy it.