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Hello! I Love You! MAG
On a spring evening in mid-April, a young woman riding a motorcycle with her friend was struck by a car traveling at 40 miles-per-hour. Some distance away, I was at home, admiring the holes in my neighbor’s siding from a recent hailstorm, wondering why the birds weren’t flying straight and the clouds seemed oddly shaped.
I sat in teal scrub pants whose color caused me to cringe, but I had to wear them at the hospital so I was easily identifiable among actual staff. Let me assure you: in teal, no one mistakes you for someone of importance. I job shadow at a local hospital. I do it partly for my resumé, partly for something to do, and partly because I enjoy the hands-on learning you don’t find in high school.
That night I met a friend in the lobby before we made our way to the emergency room, where we would become shy and quiet for the next few hours. We quickly wandered the halls in our teal scrubs until we found the E.R. We checked in, received briefing about what not to touch and what not to talk about, and were escorted to the nursing station. Eventually a staff member, who was probably sick of emptying bedpans, showed us around and explained all of the things that he may or may not have actually known.
This was the first evening that took a toll on me emotionally. It began when we entered a room across from the nurse’s station. Here was a pile of shredded clothes and blood - blood on the sheets and on the gown wrapped around the young patient’s body.
“Has your mother ever told you not to ride a motorcycle?”
The medical tech I was following, a young man hardly older than me, spoke casually. He spoke as casually as if he were watching this scene on television and waiting to get a soda at the commercial break. But here, amongst the blood and the teary-eyed family, there wasn’t going to be a commercial break. His actions bothered me, and I didn’t look at him.
“Was this from a motorcycle?” My words felt forced and fearful. I wasn’t watching television.
“When you get hit by a car at 40 miles-an-hour and you’re in another car, you have plenty to keep you safe. If you’re on a motorcycle,” he said, and paused for a moment, “you end up here.” “Here” was a broken ankle, a broken pelvis, road rash, and a lot more luck than most of us would have been allowed.
I remember the room clearly - the young girl, about my age, bloody, with her arm delicately positioned above the blankets. I remember her hands, dirtied with ballpoint pen writings, “Hello!” scrawled in large letters across the backs. The hands were familiar, and I feared that I knew the patient. Rather, it was worse. I had a memory of the same “Hello!” accompanying an “I love you!” written across the hands of two girls in my second-block class. I had watched them doodle, draw, compose ... leave their mark on the hands of their best friend. And here I was now, looking at the hands of someone’s best friend. Maybe not my own, but perhaps even more frightening, this stranger gave me no time for anything to feel surreal.
My friend and I silently followed the patient’s rolling bed to the pediatric ward - the only ward with open beds. At eight p.m. the halls were dimmed so there was just enough light to read door numbers.
When we entered the girl’s room, my friend pointed out the window and said, “Look at the sunset, it’s beautiful.” It was. It was a painful beautiful, though. Painful in that it was the most amazing Midwest sunset I’d ever seen, but it was only a backdrop to four nurses, faces taut, huddling around a sterile bed. I couldn’t look at the sunset. I couldn’t look at the sunset or the nurses or my friend’s eyes or my own scrubs or the new tennis shoes I had spent my paycheck on. All I could look at was the “Hello!” on the girl’s hand. I thought of how many times my friends had asked to write on my hands, and on this evening I could not help but think that maybe I had escaped something by less than an inch.