I was in the surgical ward for the fourth time in my baby’s short life. He had been born with a medical condition There was one detail I had no control overthat required a series of surgeries to fix, and each hospitalization required extensive testing, specialist visits and paperwork, not to mention the myriad mundane preparations at home for Mommy’s absence. But there was one detail I had no control over: who would be our roommate during the difficult post-surgical recovery period.

Hospital rooms have an etiquette all their own. A certain camaraderie exists that only a fellow neighbor in suffering can comprehend—one that bypasses culture and race. Even if details of the hospitalization are not shared between roommates, a shared feeling of joy inevitably comes when one’s neighbor is discharged and able to return to the outside world.

Sharing a hospital room also provides a glimpse into the life of fellow sufferers, which helps to put the trials and tribulations of life into perspective.

After my baby’s first surgery we were placed in a room with Tammy, a 12-year-old girl who had been in a car accident the day before. Among other smaller injuries, she had a bad break in her leg that necessitated emergency surgery. She was in severe pain, screaming out from time to time. The most heartbreaking part was her understandable fear of putting any weight on her leg. She begged the nurses to put a diaper on her so that she shouldn’t have to get up to use the bathroom, but they refused, explaining how important it was for her recovery to slowly try to bear weight on the injured leg. My heart broke for this young girl, who until just the day before was able to run around, carefree, and now had a long recovery ahead of her.

My next roommate was Daniel, a 4-year-old boy who had sudden and severe swelling near his ear with a terribly high fever, clearly some sort of bacterial infection that was treated with high doses of IV antibiotics. The doctors used a laser to make a small perforation in his eardrum to try and drain the pus. The problem was that the antibiotics he was taking were so strong that they were clearly affecting his stomach, as he spent most of the day running to the bathroom. His medication couldn’t be changed, since Daniel was allergic to penicillin. His tearful moans could be heard throughout the ward.

Daniel’s family was an inspiration to me. His five siblings rotated visiting him daily, trying to cheer up their baby brother, pushing him up and down the hallways in a Fisher-Price toy car, with his IV pole following closely behind. His mother, who appeared to be the epitome of calm, confided in me that her oldest son had just been released from the hospital a week before after a difficult illness and surgery. It was hard for me to imagine how she could be so calm and accepting of her lot.

Another time we shared a room with Michelle, a cute little 2-year-old who had stuck a wire hanger inside her mouth when no one was looking. While the wound inside her mouth healed fairly nicely, several days later her mother was horrified to find swelling in her throat and cheek, making her look quite grotesque. An infectious-disease specialist was called in to discuss treatment plans. Michelle was squirmy and uncomfortable, not to mention terribly bored being chained to an IV for hours a day.

Sammy was a rambunctious toddler whose poor mother was due to give birth soon. She kept chasing him around the ward, warning him to be careful lest he fall. Sammy had started developing funny bruises all over his body, which the doctors confirmed was internal bleeding caused by an autoimmune disease. Even a slight bump could cause serious internal bleeding, but try explaining that to an 18-month-old.

Sammy’s mother had no family nearby to help out. With another child at home, I couldn’t imagine what she would do if she actually went into labor while her son was still hospitalized. I was released that time before I found out what happened to them.

Most disturbing to look at was Jason, a 2-year-old with a very large contraption stabilizing his head and neck. It looked almost like an upside-down chair with large iron bars surrounding him—something akin to a medieval instrument of torture. I learned that Jason had suffered a neck trauma and needed to wear this horrible restraining device for many months in the hospital. My hospital stay coincided with his second birthday, and I watched from the sidelines as Jason’s family and the hospital staff celebrated with balloons and cake. Poor Jason could only move his eyes from side to side in order to view the visitors surrounding him.

I am certain that my hospital roommates looked at me with pitying eyes as well. There was no question that I had a heavy burden, with my baby’s medical condition. And indeed, when comparing myself to friends and neighbors, it was hard to not fall into the self-pitying trap.

But when I looked at my life My experiences have made me a more sensitive personthrough the prism of the hospital world, my load felt so much lighter. Yes, my baby needed lots of surgery, but at least he was born at a day and time where his condition is treatable. Had he been born 50 years earlier, that would not have been the case. And when all the surgeries are over, I can walk out and return to everyday life, praying for all those sick children left behind. The Talmud (Shabbat 12b) states, “If someone has a sick person in their family, they should pray for them along with the rest of the sick people of the Jewish nation.” After a glimpse into the lives of my fellow sufferers, it is not difficult to do so.

Had I been given the choice, I would have chosen a normal, healthy child (and I’m sure all my hospital roommates felt the same way). However, there is no denying that my experiences in numerous hospital wards have made me a more sensitive person—a person who recognizes what is worth stressing over and what isn’t; a person who appreciates the mundane experiences of daily routine; a person who recognizes how much blessing I have in my life. For those perspectives, I am immensely grateful.