The nurse began a long tale about her boyfriend. I was tempted to ask what a boyfriend is, but realized I was probably not supposed to know the answer. At the grand age of six, I already knew many important things. One: doctors like poking people. Two: parents don’t like explaining things. 

It had been a long year, filled with overweight, balding doctors, starting with that eye doctor in a pink shirt who looked into my eye and gasped, and ending with this meeting: six doctors in one room. With six pairs of eyes staring at me, I was happy to escape the room with Tracy, who informed me that she was a student nurse. I happily told her I was a student too. 

She kept shoving toys at me. I wanted to tell her I was way too old for toys, but finally I consented to taking a battered doll. The doll was missing an eye, and her cold stiffness made me nervous. I wished there was a teddy there. Teddies are way friendlier than dolls.

I was already a good eavesdropper. I knew that many people asked my parents why I was so thin and delicate, usually ending the conversation with a recommendation for a diet of potatoes. Now I tried hard to listen through the door to the conversation that was definitely about me. ButTracywas on guard and I couldn’t get close enough to hear. I distracted myself by wondering if the doctor could fix this poor doll’s eye and by analyzing the scribbles onTracy’s hand. “It’s just blue pen, I like to work out math problems on my hand,” she reassured me. I informed her that in my school, they gave us paper to scribble on. 

My parents finally emerged from the room. Their eyes were red and they frowned, not saying anything as they packed up my bag of treats. The treats were great; we never got this stuff at home, even on Shabbos. I figured for all the poking I allowed the doctors to do, I deserved some good candy.

On our way out of the hospital, I caught the eye of a big teddy bear in the gift shop window. The teddy had two eyes and a small smile that made me feel it understood me. I pointed at it through the window. To my shock, two minutes later, the teddy was in my arms. The doctors and my parents had frowned at me all morning. I was beginning to think that I must have done something bad. But if I had the teddy bear, I must be a good girl, after all.