Pain was her constant companion. Ciara had found herself dismissed, ignored, even accused—though she was a doctor herself—of being a drug addict. She had fought the medical system to have her pain recognized as legitimate. Even if there was no treatment, no recourse, having a name for this thing that plagued her . . . causing her to hurt as if beaten, making her walk through her days exhausted, condemning her to fitful sleep. She had had to have a name for it. It kept her going.
And now she knew. She could reach out to support groups, who knew what this was like. She had resources, now, to make it through the day. Yesterday had gone well. She had managed the pain and fatigue, and no one knew anything was wrong.
Today was harder. So much harder.
“Dr. Goodman?” Ciara looked up from the chart she had been squinting at and dropped her hand from massaging her aching shoulder. The nurse smiled down at her, so she smiled back. At least, her lips smiled. “Room 208 is ready to see you.”
“Thank you, Jenny.” She flipped the chart closed, then braced a moment before standing up and walking across the room. It had to be smooth. I can do this. A moment later and she was opening the door with composure, acting as if her body was not heavy with pain, begging for rest that would never be enough.
“Ms. Williams, how are you doing?” she asked. The woman in the bed could have been her cousin, with the same wide nose, full mouth, and onyx eyes, though she was a little older and had a weave instead of the natural hair Ciara wore. “Can you hold out your arm for me, tell me how it feels?”
The woman obeyed with a wide smile, then moved her arm through its full range of motion. She seemed unable to keep the huge grin off her face. “It worked, doc!” she exclaimed. “I don’t feel any pain at all! Y’all are real miracle workers.” Her eyes shone with pure joy as she put her arm back down. “I can’t thank you enough.”
God is capricious and unjust, she thought. As her patient looked up at her, a familiar dark and ugly feeling rose up within Ciara, coiling through her chest, and wrapping around her throat.
Here this woman had driven drunk into a tree. One nerve ablation later, thanks to her own skill and steady hand, and this woman would never have to feel the pain she deserved.
But I have devoted my life to healing. So why do I hurt every day for no reason? She nodded pleasantly, but soon left, brushing past a nearby nurse as she fled to the bathroom, locking herself into a stall.
With shaking fingers, she googled “Paul thorn flesh,” something the chaplain had mentioned, and clicked 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And he has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Dropping her phone in her lap, Ciara closed her eyes and pressed her face into her trembling hands. She could still feel the jealousy, curling around her body, a restless snake, making her nauseous, prickling down her spine. Stifling a sob sent another tight wave of pain through her aching body. This is not right. I should be happy I could help that woman. She shuddered. I shouldn’t want to snatch that away from her. But she did want it. She wanted people who deserved it to get better.
And didn’t she deserve it?
It was her shameful secret, the dark thing she carried around, wrapped in guilt. Who could she tell? They would know what a bad person she was, deep down inside. They would hate her, like she hated the thing inside her.
How did this Paul boast in his weaknesses? She wished she could.
But she could not.
Maybe not ever.
When she left the bathroom, she moved like anyone else, looked like everyone else. But when she returned to her clipboard, she saw that someone had laid her favorite chocolate bar over the unfinished chart. She glanced up, and Jenny looked back with understanding, her eyes smiling above her mask.
[Cover image | clipboard, Pxhere.com / Candy bars, FightinG FalcoN / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]