'Grey's Anatomy' Tearjerker (Warning: Sick Kids Ahead)

A biological side effect of motherhood: You grow heartstrings so soft that a nighttime soap like Grey's Anatomy can pull them for miles. On Grey's last night, the story unfolded on the pediatric ward. Right off the bat, I knew this episode was directed squarely at moms like me, with young kids. Gulp.

From the NICU preemie to the terminally ill 10-year-old, the show's writers covered their sad, sad bases--and the tearjerker construction process got under way early on. Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) gave a little speech about pediatric patients: "These are children. They believe in magic. They play pretend. There is fairy dust in their IV bags. They hope, and they cross their fingers, and they make wishes. And that makes them more resilient than adults…In pediatrics, anything is possible."

If you've spent any time on a pediatric ward, this scene alone might make you cry. Last year, I had to smile and wave good-bye to my four-year-old while they rolled her away on a gurney, headed for eye surgery. At that moment, I would have preferred sticking needles in my own eyes. (She's fine now--maybe because of the fairy dust in the IV bag?) So yes, I'm already crying, 10 minutes in.

But the episode isn't about the wonder and magic of children, and their awesome resilience. It's about the cold, hard reality of hospitals these days. There's a connection between money and quality healthcare--namely, you need one to receive the other. "The episode speaks to the whole idea that money runs the hospital," Capshaw (Arizona) told TV Guide this week. "The chief [James Pickens, Jr.] is having a hard time figuring out how to make the hospital ascend the ranks of the numbers game, [and] money helps make that happen."

Of course, lack of money can also block you from medical care--or shove you into huge debt if your body's wrestling something deadly, like cancer. Izzie (Katherine Heigl) may be MIA, but her unpaid medical bill ($200K!) is still around. Last night, it lands in Alex's (Justin Chambers) lap. Insurance doesn't cover everything. How many times have you heard that one?

Mostly, the story focuses on Arizona and her patient, a precocious 10-year-old who has more or less lived in the hospital for the last seven months, having surgery after surgery. He's sweet and lovable, naturally. This chin-up attitude is not very realistic--he's had 15 surgeries! Isn't he in pain? But the show's writers need us to connect with him early on, so they can wrench our hearts out later. Arizona is under pressure from the hospital suits to save this kid, because his loaded parents have offered to donate millions of dollars to the hospital. Long story short, she's made to put the kid through a risky surgery against her better judgment, and the decision is all about money.

With a healthcare reform bill making its way through Congress right now, the subject is timely. But the story also raises a question: What it is that really heals us? This kid has already lived longer than expected. Was it because of Arizona's multiple surgeries? Or was it because of the loving environment that his mom and Arizona strained to provide for him while he was awake? The room was fully decorated; Mom slept there, too, and performed "magic spells" to chase away his bad dreams. Arizona let him pretend he was a doctor, and he got to accompany her on rounds.

Arizona and the mom worked together to sprinkle this kid with fairy dust. In the end, his parents donated the money, but it wasn't because of the brown-nosing hospital administrators. It was because of Arizona, and her belief that "in pediatrics, anything is possible."

Have you ever had a child in the hospital? Chime in below!

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