“How did it go?” he asked, not looking up. His face was half hidden leaning on his hand as he studied the screen. The luminescence seemed to give his hair and forehead a pallid glow.
She watched him from the doorway at first, then dropped her clipboard on the side table, and shut the door behind her. Another doctor was pouring coffee, and several others sat in a far corner, folding chairs pulled up close in a heated debate.
“No, you can’t do that,” one raised her voice. “A family member has to be involved.” The others turned to the speaker and seemed to reason in even quiet tones while she shook her head with such vigor it made her tied-back braids bounce.
She flinched as she watched the argument, then registered inner surprise. Really? A technical debate was making her twitchy? But she laced her fingers together to still the tremble riding up her wrists and making her legs feel weak. She moved towards him and sat down to look at his screen together.
“Not that great,” she said in a low voice.
Now he looked over at her, his eyebrows up, and took his hand from the keyboard.
“What always happens. The mother started to cry, the father asked me if there was anything more I could do.” So why had it affected her so badly? This was the ICU. She should be used to this by now. He shook his head and looked back at his screen.
“I don’t think mine’s going to make it much longer, either.”
She could feel the tremble become a shudder.
“Hey,” he said softly, “Easy,” and gave her shoulder a gentle pat. “This is the work. You signed up for this. We save everyone we can.”
She nodded, but clenched her teeth. The room seemed to grow dim, as though someone had lowered the lights and muffled the sounds. She needed to go—somewhere else, anywhere else—so she got back up and walked out the door.
But there was nowhere to go. She seemed to walk endless acres of shining linoleum, past green and white walls and the curtained rooms of patients. As she walked, a Code Blue sounded a hall away and again she flinched. Her throat was beginning to close. She was finding it hard to take a breath.
Breathe in, she said to herself. Okay, now breathe out. Slowly, through your lips . . . Her breath was getting more ragged. She pressed her hand against her chest as she walked, until she found the family restroom, single occupant. Fumbling for the handle, her hands now shaking badly, she managed to open it without someone calling out to her, then shut it as quietly as she could behind her.
She slumped down on the stool and closed her eyes, pressing the heels of her hands against them. When she could open them again, she wrapped her arms around herself in a tight embrace. Activate the parasympathetic nervous system, she thought. After a long moment, she felt something under her arm, in her pocket. What was that?
Reaching inside, she found the card the chaplain had given her days ago. She’d never opened it. She tore the envelope and looked for a long while at the depiction of Hagar, dark-skinned, weeping in the wilderness, then remembered. Yes, the chaplain had said something about this, about being overwhelmed and overcome. Inside it simply said, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Genesis 16:13
She smiled. How about that, she thought, a Black woman saw God and gave God a name. She compared her dark hand with Hagar’s and said I see you, too. She didn’t really believe in God. But the chaplain had been right, this was a good story. She tucked it back in her coat, feeling steadier, unlatched the door, mentally squared her shoulders, and walked out.
As she did the rest of her rounds, checked charts, modified prescriptions, consulted with the nurses on the progress of her patients, she gradually noticed a strange sensation. What was it? At one point her signature was needed, and as she lifted the pen dangling from its chain it was then she realized her hand was steady. And the phrase drifted into her mind at that moment, I am the God who sees you.
[Hands | Pickpik.com]