Monday, February 6, 2012


This morning we slept in twenty minutes because we could. Claire is getting a cold, so she woke herself up snorting on snot every two hours last night. So, when she woke up this morning and didn't mind snuggling a little longer, we obliged. Then, we were rushing to get everything together and get out the door for work. I decided to compromise while getting ready because I wanted to start a transfer of files from my home computer to work, but I also kind of wanted to put some make up on. I decided to start the file transfer, then put on a dab of mascara (this little action helps me feel like I'm not a total zombie when I go into work after a sleepless night). As I was dabbing the mascara, I was struck, because I noticed the whites of my eyes and was transported, in my memory, almost a decade ago.

I was working as a Nurse Assistant (which I still miss some days). One of the benefits of being at a small hospital was that I could help with nearly everything, and got to learn a lot, and meet all sorts of people. I have many memories of working there. I worked nights and weekends for three years during college. It's been so long ago, that I don't think I'll be violating any privacy policies by sharing this with you.

Each shift I would come in, get report, along with the real nurses, and then proceed to go to each of my patients' rooms, checking their blood pressure, temperature, changing linens and assisting with anything else they might need. I walked to one room and saw a tall, slender woman with close-cropped brown hair in a hospital gown, standing over the sink, looking at her eyes in the mirror. Her skin was slightly yellow, but when she turned to look at me, I realized she must have been examining the whites of her eyes. Because they weren't white. They were orange.

She had liver failure. I know (or remember) surprisingly little about this woman. I don't know how long she lived. I don't know anything about her family. But this first image always stuck with me because it spoke volumes to me of how short and unexpected life is. She was attractive, engaging, and dying before my eyes.

I only saw her one other time, but couldn't shake that first image. Our bodies are so frustratingly human. We are susceptible to infections, cancers, and accidents. I'd like to say I made some life-changing decision after seeing this woman, or even after working in the hospital, but it wasn't nearly so dramatic (I definitely made more than my share of mistakes after that experience). I find that she, and other people who have marked me throughout my life, often come back in small doses when I least expect it. Like this morning, reminding me how lucky I am to be rushing out of the house, to love my family, to get frustrated when my dog wants me to pet him instead of doing work, and to be afraid when my daughter has a spectacular fall (ending up with a bright purple bruise, but no lasting damage.

Thank you.

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