From the Hospital Play Lady: An Open Letter to My Young Asian Patients

“You may not see or care about my Asian features, since my face is covered behind my mask and goggles. You may not even remember meeting me, but only remember the fact that I helped you play while you were sick.”

“You may not see or care about my Asian features, since my face is covered behind my mask and goggles. You may not even remember meeting me, but only remember the fact that I helped you play while you were sick.”

by Jane Ngo
May 10, 2021




It’s another day of work at the hospital. My hospital goggles are hiding my drained eyes after a night of crying. Tears flooded my face after reading about another anti-Asian hate crime.

I am a Certified Child Life Specialist, and my role is dedicated to helping kids and families cope with the hospital environment through play and preparation.

I wish to write a letter to all of the young patients at children’s hospitals who come from Asian ancestry.

I knock on your doors and meet your courageous faces. I explain my role as someone who can make the hospital feel more comfortable through play. Some of you may refer to me as the “play lady”.

This “play lady” also identifies as an Asian female healthcare worker. You may not see or care about my Asian features, since my face is covered behind my mask and goggles. You may not even remember meeting me, but only remember the fact that I helped you play while you were sick.

I help you understand your medical journey in a simple and non-threatening way. I try to ease your fears about scary medical equipment or invasive procedures. My job is to help you feel prepared for the intimidating unknowns that you have to confront in your medical world.

My heart feels heavy writing this letter to you because I’m not sure how I would prepare someone for the pain inflicted by racism that even the most agonizing procedures couldn’t parallel.

It perplexes me that your isolated world in the hospital might act as a reprieve from learning about the onslaught of Asian hate during the pandemic. However, I feel comforted when I see the TV in your room playing Paw Patrol, rather than the news broadcasting the latest Asian hate event.

Still, I know that you can’t be protected by the cruel impact of racism forever. Our elderly Asian family members escaped war torn countries for a chance of survival and a better life.

I look at your parents and wonder if they consider anti-Asian racism to be a high price paid for being in a country that offers universal healthcare. Healthcare that is now helping you overcome the most unfathomable medical afflictions. Medical conditions that are largely unknown to the world because they don’t receive as much airtime as COVID-19. COVID-19, the disease that is now being heinously used as rationale for senseless racism and hate.

Hate associated with being Asian, dirty, and disease carrying is far from new.

Our “Model Minority” status perpetuates stereotypes and misguided expectations that we should stay low, silent, and cooperative, even in the face of crimes against us, as to not disrupt the peace our ancestors craved after living in chaos for so long.

Unfortunately, we are not at peace. We are facing the same pandemic as the rest of the world yet being blamed for the irreparable damage and loss that this virus has caused. Our parents, aunties, uncles, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and all our friends who share our features are being brutalized, killed, and targeted.

It disturbs me to consider that Asian children may leave the hospital after recovering from strenuous medical experiences to find another obstacle to overcome in racism.

I consider this fact, then I remember how you kept playing, smiling, and laughing even though the world was completely oblivious to your pain inside hospital walls. You are examples of how to surpass adversity to become kinder and stronger, not hateful and racist.

I do my best to ease your fears and worries from the knocks on your door that might signal something scary. Now, I think of you to help me feel brave when I walk down the street, fearing that someone may target me for the Asian eyes that they see above my mask.

I have never told you this during our countless play sessions, but you are some of the greatest teachers in my life.

You have inspired me to write this love letter even though I feel the heaviness of hate. I write to you, hoping to shed light into the unique pain of feeling ignored while suffering. I often used my skills in language to try to soften and translate medical terms for you. Your strength and resilience show me how I can use the power of my voice to change the language that has always been against us.

We are up against a fight that may not have a remedy, but you are unbeatable allies.

If only our enemies could see how you overcame fear, uncertainty, and anguish in the hospital. I wonder if it could give some perspective into how you can keep playing, living, and loving even through the most devastating moments in life, instead of resorting to violence.  


Jane Mai Ngo is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada. She is also a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at a children’s hospital, and is on her way to becoming a Registered Clinical Counsellor. She is an endlessly curious person with a hopeful desire to create a space for people to be their true selves. She always keeps her journal close by as a canvas to splatter all of her scrambled thoughts and emotions.

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