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Coralton, Colorado had just gone through the wettest week in its history. Mother nature had dumped more than a foot and a half of rain over my small mountain town in a matter of five days. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the citizens and tourists of our gregarious town caught a break. It was a bright, sunny day, the kind of day in which a person would feel as if they were destined to succeed. This day also happened to be the day of high school graduation.
Receiving my diploma was a great feeling, but not what everyone says it is cut out to be. I was expecting to be happy to get out of Coralton High School where I had spent the past four years doing practically nothing but complaining. However, the situation struck me as more nerve wracking than anything. The ceremony was simple. Listen to some speeches, get in line, walk across the stage, shake some hands, smile for the crowd, the typical procedure. It was the fact that I was beginning a new portion of my life that got to me. I would no longer have the smiling teachers, the cozy classrooms, or the pointless high school drama. Instead, I was moving over two hundred miles away from my family to go to one of the top medical schools in northern Colorado. It was time to start a new chapter, and although I had been saying I couldn’t wait for this day to come, I was scared out of my mind.
My mom and my older sister had been helping me pack the majority of my room into small, cardboard boxes for over a month. The days of my last summer spent in my hometown were dwindling and my feelings about moving were overwhelming my senses.
As I walked to my first class as a freshman at Rough Rocks University, I looked up to the mountains engulfing the wide spread campus. “Please let this go well” were the words I had been saying over and over again. My mother’s words also replayed in my head, “You’ll be fine. I know you will do great!” Although reassuring at the time, the words meant little now. As I entered the classroom I quickly scanned for an open spot next to someone who I thought could be a potential friend. I spotted a smiling girl with maroon stained hair sitting towards the front of the classroom. I made my way to the front of the room and took the seat next to her. She introduced herself as Ali and the boy sitting next to her as Archie. We made small talk until our Professor, Mr. Topply, announced it was time for class to begin.
An hour and a half later, I found myself with several worksheets, three full pages of notes, and two online assignments, not to mention the massive headache. Luckily, Ali had stopped me before I headed back to my dorm and invited me to eat lunch with her and Archie in the courtyard. I agreed and lethargically walked back to my dorm.
I sat on my bed, staring blankly at the TV, not paying attention to any of the information that was being presented. My roommate, Kelly, would be back from her class in less than fifteen minutes and then the two of us would head to eat lunch. I was happy when I learned that Kelly and I would have both of our afternoon classes together. We had become pretty good friends considering we had only talked a few times before becoming roommates.
Archie and Ali were waiting for us when we arrived in the courtyard. Archie was a junior at Rough Rocks and Ali was a sophomore. Both were interested in entering the medical field as sports trainers. When asked what Kelly and I were here for, I let Kelly go first. She explained that she was interested in becoming a children’s doctor for cancer patients. As Ali and Archie attentively listened to her ramble on, I thought of my response.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be as I was a child growing up. All of the peers in my elementary classes were set on becoming firemen or nurses, but it took me a long time to decide exactly which career I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. When I was presented with the idea of becoming a trauma surgeon, I didn’t even hesitate. I had always been somewhat interested in the medical field, but I wasn’t sure which specific job I wanted to work.
However, the way in which the career was introduced to me, was one that I wished I didn’t have to go through. I was twelve when my father was killed in a car accident. I had come to the emergency room with my mother, not knowing what to expect. We sat nervously in the waiting room for what seemed like forever. My mother sat in a chair next to me, one hand on top of her bulging, pregnant stomach, the other tightly gripping my hand. Finally, a doctor came out and gave us the dreaded news. My father hadn’t come through the surgery. His liver had failed and a broken rib had punctured his right lung. The doctors and surgeons on staff had done everything they could to save him, but things just didn’t work out.
It wasn’t that night that I had decided on my career. Losing my dad was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. A few days after the funeral had taken place was the first time the occupation had crossed my mind. I was helping my mom go through sympathy cards and send out new cards to the families who had supported us. Her face was stained with tear streaks and her shoulders slumped. I looked deep into her saddened eyes and that’s when something inside me triggered. Something told me that it was my job to make a difference. For some reason, the difference that called out to me was to be someone who could have attempted to saved a great person like my dad the night he was killed by a drunk driver.
People say that time flies when you’re having a good time. Well, college had taught me that this statement is most definitely true. Of course, I had tough times, grew extremely frustrated more times than I could, and certainly had my struggles. I had been tortured with never ending assignments, late night cramming for tests, and virtually no time to connect with my friends or family. I had, however, grown extremely fond of Ali and Archie and we continued to stay in touch even after they graduated. Kelly remained my roommate and had become my best friend. We shared so many memories over the past eight years, none of which I would soon forget.
The day we were graduating from medical school had finally arrived. Although I still had five years of residency and two years of fellowship to follow, I felt as if I was making a big accomplishment. Kelly’s alarm went off early in the morning, allowing us plenty of time to get ready for the graduation ceremony. My mom and sister had driven up the previous night and would be meeting us at the graduation. Although I had carried on a few short phone conversations, I hadn’t seen them since last Christmas and I was exceedingly excited to be able to hug both of them.
At noon, Kelly and I made our way to the auditorium. Rough Rocks usually had their ceremony outdoors, but unlike my high school gradation, I was graduating in dreary, wet weather. As we sat in the chairs located at the front, I turned around to attempt to spot my mom and sister in the huge mass of people. I found them towards the outside of the auditorium, several rows up, smiling and waving down at me. I shot a smile back and shyly waved, then turned to the front as the first speaker walked on stage.
Before long, my seventy-seven classmates formed a single-file line backstage. One by one, we were called onto the stage to receive our diplomas. When I finally heard the name “Tessa Anne Klente” I found myself with a huge smile, one that I planned on keeping for quite sometime. I shook the hands of seven different people, grabbed my diploma, and quickly returned to my seat to watch the rest of my classmates complete the same procedure. After all was said and done, we threw our caps into the air and quickly left to find our families.
My mom greeted me with a hug, just as I had imagined, and told me how proud she was of me. “If only your father could see you,” I heard her say as I hugged my sister. I turned around to see her eyes were filled with tears, many already streaming down her cheeks. I wasn’t one to cry, so I told her that he was watching, and the three of us headed outside for pictures.
I was lucky enough to be able to complete my residency in Tucker City, only 40 miles from my hometown of Coralton. I was completely psyched to be able to work at the hospital I had been going to since the day I was born and couldn’t wait to be employed in one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation. The fact that I would get to see my family more often was also incredible. However, I was very disappointed to have to leave Kelly, as she traveled to Michigan to complete her training. I made her promise to stay in touch.
My first day of residency definitely got the best of me. I was working under the hand of Dr. Drayt, who I wasn’t very fond of. He was a great doctor, always kind to his patients and diligent in his work. He just had a very specific way of doing things and I think he often forgot that I was learning for the first time how to complete many of the tasks we were working on. He quickly grew frustrated with me and I also came to find out that he had a very low tolerance for any kind of mistake. In addition, I found it very difficult to ask him questions without getting a lecture in return. I knew the basics, but when it came to physically performing tasks and procedures, I needed a little guidance, as most students do.
As time went on, Dr. Drayt wasn’t afraid to express his feelings towards me, none of which were good. He often told me I wouldn’t amount to much of anything, especially a surgeon. He told me because I was a girl, I was meant to be a nurse, nothing more. Once, after losing a patient who suffered a heart attack, I became a little emotional, flashing back to the night I was told that my dad was gone. Dr. Drayt followed up by telling me that he wasn’t sorry at all that I lost my dad. “That kind of stuff happens here everyday,” he said, “get used to it or get out.” Little did he know I wasn’t looking for his sympathy, nor was I going to take anymore of his snide comments.
“You know what?” I said in a stern voice as I looked him in the eye. “I’m tired of dodging your insults and walking around on pins and needles whenever I’m around you. I know I have a serious job, but I should be allowed to at least partially enjoy it. So far, you have made this experience completely miserable!”
“Ha!” he shot back, “well don’t expect anything from me in the future!”
As I drove home that night, I thought about his words, and mine for that matter. Nothing in the future? Did that mean that I wouldn’t complete my final year of residency? Had I come all this way only to fail? Was this really happening?
I slammed the door of my old Buick shut at the tiny run-down gas station, about fifteen miles out of Coralton. I walked inside, grabbed a cappuccino and a bag of lifesavers and started up to the cash register. That’s when I saw him. He walked swiftly and quietly up to the door, fully masked in black, carrying a large gun. I let out a holler, but quickly clamped my mouth shut, dove into the nearest aisle, and reached into my back pocket to locate my phone. As I pulled it out, I could hear the man arguing with the cashier. I peeked my head around the corner of the shelf, just far enough to see a terrified teenage brunette working behind the counter. Without looking, I dialed 9-1-1 into my phone and held it up to my ear. Suddenly, with the echoing sound of a gunshot, the cashier collapsed to the ground.
I suppose it was natural instincts to scream. Besides that, I was scared out of my mind. The man with the gun whirled around just as I dodged back behind the shelving once again. My heart raced as the operator spoke on the other end of the phone. I was terrified beyond all words and without saying a word, sat on the floor, listening to the approaching footsteps. As the man came into my vision, I screamed louder than I ever had and watched my phone fall to the floor as the bullet entered my abdomen.
I don’t remember anything after that. Actually, I don’t remember anything for a long time. However, my first memory after the accident is distinctly engraved in my mind. I woke up in a hospital bed, on a floor towards the top of the hospital overlooking the busiest part of Tucker. I found myself to be surrounded by balloons of every color, flowers lined every table of the room, and cards and letters stuck to the small bulletin board next to my bed. IV lines were stabbed into my arm and machines lined my entire left side. The thing that I will never forget though, was sitting in a chair at the end of my bed, his face in his hands, sobbing.
“Dr. Drayt?” I said with question in my voice.
He looked up, immediately stopped crying, and I heard him whisper, “Oh my God,” under his breath. Tears continued to stream down his cheeks and a smile grew on his face. “Oh my God, you’re alive. It’s a miracle!”
Looking back now, I’m not sure that I would have ever made it though without Dr. Drayt. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. He had repaired my spleen after the bullet ripped through the outer edge of it. I had also suffered a gunshot wound to the head, just grazing my temporal lobe. I wasn’t expected to live. In fact, there was so small of a chance that I would make it, doctors had suggested that my family visited in the few moments I had left and they had all made special arrangements to come see me. All of the doctors seemed to have such little hope, except for Dr. Drayt. He spent every extra hour sitting in my hospital room, waiting for me to come around. His expression the first time I saw him after the accident, said all of his apologizes, all of his regrets, and all of his sorrows. I knew right then and there that I had to forgive him for the past.
We sat in my hospital room for a long time, neither of us speaking. Finally, Dr. Drayt broke the silence. He began to apologize for the past, but I cut him off by saying not to worry about it. After all, he had saved my life. He concluded by telling me he appreciated receiving a second chance. He also mentioned that he had learned a lot from me, and then walked out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.
As I gathered with my former high school classmates ten years after the accident, I couldn’t believe it had already been twenty-five years since I had walked across the stage in my little school to receive my diploma. I had been through so much since then, both good and bad.
As I went to find a place to sit, I spotted Allison, my best friend from high school. We had promised to stay in touch after graduating, but she went on a mission trip to Uganda for several months and we had lost touch after that. She greeted me with a hug, her baby belly partially interfering with the connection. I introduced her to my husband, Tate, and my twins, Jamie and Kale. In return, she introduced me to her two kids, Alex and Olivia. She continued by pointing out the obvious, announcing they also had one on the way. She smiled and pointed down the sidewalk saying she would introduce me to her husband as soon as he got near us. That’s when I saw him, once again. Yes, Allison was married to Dr. Drayt and I was shocked.
I shook his hand, both of us smiling widely. Allison asked if we had met before and I explained to her my story, from the very beginning. She listened, nodding her head occasionally and laughing at many of my college experiences. I told her about the shooting at the gas station that night and went on to tell her how great of a surgeon Dr. Drayt had been. I continued on to tell her that I was now also employed in the Tucker City Emergency Room, working as a full-time trauma surgeon. I had experienced a second chance at life, and I wasn’t about to waste it.