Last night I met you, but you were far from unfamiliar to me. When I entered the Psych unit where I was to be watching over you for the night, you were lying expressionless on the ground in the hall. I was brought up to date with your condition and within five minutes of my arrival, the charge nurse had me roll you on your side. You moaned as she stuck you in the hip with the needle of a sedative, and guided you back to room 140. For the first five hours of my shift, you slept.
Graveyard shifts have always attracted me, though I only occasionally accept them. At nightfall I develop an odd energy for things to stimulate my mind. I enjoy the surplus of time as patients sleep to catch up on textbook assignments, journal about life’s mysteries and delve into the latest fiction novel. But last night I couldn’t be satisfied by the usual activities. You captured my attention. Maybe it was your blonde hair. Maybe it was that you were hardly a year younger than myself. Maybe it was because you suffered from some of the same diagnoses as me. I couldn’t stop wondering about you. By 3:00 am, curiosity had the best of me. During my many hours of sitting and listening to your breathing, being certain your chest did indeed rise and fall, I opened a Google search on my phone. I did something I’ve never done before. I searched your name.
I never remember learning that Google-ing my patients is illegal, but I definitely felt nosy.
Sure enough there you were, and I scrolled through the small collection of images. You were/are beautiful. And unlike this girl slouching on a plastic mattress in front of me with greasy hair and wearing a sweater that was inside-out, you looked illustrious. Intelligent. Sane… I watched you now and I couldn’t believe the difference. I wanted so much to ask you what happened. Who did this to you? …What did you to yourself?
At last you awoke, no doubt feeling chilled. I offered you socks. You rejected them, but after a few minutes reached for them. You struggled with them a bit and I approached to help. You didn’t say much, except asking for some of your other meds. 30 minutes later however, you were on your feet. I immediately recognized your compulsions: flushing the toilet a specific number of times, tracing the edges of the windows with both hands in perfect synchronicity, squatting against the wall and lowering yourself up and down, crouching to touch the change in tile between the bedroom and bathroom floors – then back again. More time passed and you began talking, taking a clever swipe at my ego here and there. I didn’t mind. I’d heard worse. You became agitated, removing some of your clothing. Bunching them into a ball, you set them in a bundle with all your bedsheets at my feet. Again, nothing new.
When you looked at me is when you broke my heart…
I didn’t remove my gaze from yours. I recognized the resentment, the desperation and the bitterness in your eyes. Suddenly, I didn’t identify with the profession that put me here. I reflected that stare from my peers before. Spinning into a whirlwind of sympathetic memories, I saw the friends I lost earlier this year in your face. As if the room melted away, the events of my past were playing themselves out behind you: when I had to hide the knives and empty the medicine cabinet, drain all the liquor and call the paramedics. I’ve stood in this position before. Oblivious of my flashbacks, you attempted to push past me and out the door. I caught you by the hands.
I tried to remain as gentle as possible, shaking off my unexpected tears. Letting go of our grasp, you unfolded your fingers and pressed your palm against mine. Observing this for a few second, you returned your gaze as a different person. In a moment of calm or perhaps lucidity, you brought your other hand to my cheek and stroked it. I was grateful you didn’t notice the wetness that was there a few minutes ago. You slowly reached for your own cheek, then your mouth. I laughed and dodged when you tried to touch mine too. Like hell was I going to let your dirty fingers close to my lips!
I don’t know how long we were there. When you finally turned around and back to bed, I felt like I was in the company of an old friend. I sat against the wall and held your hand as you drifted back to sleep. So many times I’ve been here – at the bedside – where I have freely poured my emotions to the walls of dark bedrooms that I’ve kept watch over those who can’t hear me. I wanted so badly to tell you to get better, to beg you to get better. I wanted to tell you about my friends who died this year, last year, and a couple years ago. I wanted to tell you how you remind me of them. I wanted to tell you that it’s a miracle I’m still alive myself, that I know your pain. I wanted to tell you to eat better, sleep better, and don’t waste time on people who don’t care for you. I wanted to tell you to take more walks outside. I wanted to tell you people loved you, God loved you, even I loved you…
Tucking the hair behind your ear, I whispered if you wanted your socks back on. You nodded, and I replaced them along with a couple of the thicker blankets from the bundle on the floor. The rest of the night was quiet. I finished my library book.
I didn’t know you, but I didn’t need to.
I’ll be thinking of you. Feel better soon…
your nurse. ❤