To Hold a Sunbeam

March 29, 2011
By Vespa PLATINUM, Portland, Oregon
Vespa PLATINUM, Portland, Oregon
21 articles 4 photos 18 comments

Favorite Quote:
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
~Leonardo Da Vinci

You spend your days in these two rooms, doing the same thing time after time. You could say it doesn't bother you, this repetitive schedule of monotonous work, but that would be a lie. You went to school to help people, but you never imagined it would lead you here, to a hospital's medical lab where you spend your days drawing blood and labeling samples. That wouldn't be so bad, but the patients themselves are normally so scared; they see you as the big bad doctor with needles who deals in blood. This frustrates you more than anything else because you only cause them a moment of minimal pain in order to help them in the long run, yet they all yelp and cry and wriggle. Even some adults who have had blood drawn dozens of times before still act cold towards you and yelp as the needle goes in. Some days it is all you can do to refrain from handing in your lab coat and giving your two weeks notice. You know you would miss the work, but you just want some appreciation. You wish someone would come in and say thank you, not act afraid of the needle-wielding doctor, and just acknowledge your contribution to medicine. You only want someone to see that you're helping them.

The young woman came in on a Monday evening, cheeks bright from the harsh wind outside, a preteen boy tagging behind her. The two were obviously related but he was too old to be her son, and for some reason that made you happy. You were just finishing up working on an older patient – he flinched and whimpered along with the rest – and heard the rare sound of laughter from the other side of the curtain. It seemed so foreign in this setting, that sound of genuine, unrestrained joy. Once you had finished with the old man you cleaned up and went out to see – discretely – the owner of that mischievous laugh. The woman was sitting with her brother, arguing light-heartedly in a soft voice. Saying something to which her brother replied with an enthusiastic nod, the woman rose gracefully to her feet and talked quietly with the receptionist. You watched them covertly in your peripheral vision, pretending to read a patient's chart. After a minute they both smiled and the woman returned to her brother, gathered up her coat, and left with the lanky boy. You were confused, wishing that the woman would come back, then overheard the receptionists saying how the beautiful polite lady would return in twenty minutes since her test was time sensitive. Your heavy heart lightened when you realized that you would be the one to care for her – everyone else would be on break. For an inexplicable reason you knew she would be different than other patients; she would appreciate your work.

Twenty long minutes and three troublesome patients later the woman and her brother returned, him eating a cookie. You didn't show it, but you had situated yourself in a way that let you see the door, keeping watch for her return. You tried not to act like an over-eager puppy, waiting for the receptionist to call you up to draw her blood. Looking over the woman's chart you realize she has epilepsy and an immediate surge of sympathy washes over you. No one that unique, that pure, should have to deal with the horrors of epilepsy. Incurable, not fully understood, forever changing, the condition was Hell itself. You remember the smile, the laughter, and you can't fathom how an epileptic can be so effervescent. This new piece of the puzzle makes you want to understand her, for it now seems that she's happy even with the weight of the world bearing down upon her.

At last you call the woman into one of the curtained-off rooms with the wide, tall chair with special armrests designed to make drawing blood easier. As she walks in you notice that she doesn't look around curiously; she's been here before. The woman's small frame means that her body is dwarfed by the chair and her feet don't touch the floor. She looks like a child sitting there, frail and innocent in this white sterile room with its pastel curtain. You admit to yourself that this woman's dark-colored clothes appeal more to you than the light floral curtain. Her olive green camisole under the navy cardigan with a plum scarf make you feel warm and comfortable, like the soft caress of autumn mixed with the smell of warm earth. Looking at her face you estimate that the woman is a couple years younger than you – early twenties, probably. You introduce yourself both professionally and politely, then give her a small smile. She returns the favor, then asks what the colors on each tube for blood represent. This simple question floors you – in all your years of drawing blood no one has asked about the actual process. You explain their meaning to her, and she smiles and nods: she is genuinely interested. When it comes time to insert the needle you find yourself unwilling to puncture her porcelain skin and take out her crimson life. You know the thought is irrational – the blood is replenished in a couple hours – but it will not go away. Instead of just thrusting in, you slant the needle to make entry easier and less painful for her (you thank God that this isn't her first time). You still feel guilty, but at least your conscience has been slightly appeased.

She does not wriggle or screech – she doesn't even gasp. The only indication of pain is her unaffected hand, of which the thumb and middle finger are pinching the forefinger. She doesn't even wince as you switch containers. Instead, she murmurs almost inaudibly, “Impressive.” That one word makes it all worth it, for at last someone has recognized your hard work for what it is really worth. So you reply, you let her know how much it means to have someone appreciate your work. She looks at you with penetrating blue-gray eyes and says in a logical way, “Your job is to help me, so why should I make it difficult when in the end I am the one who benefits?” This sentence, spoken so easily, lights a fire inside your chest; part of you wonders if she has a boyfriend. Your more logical side knows it would never work, for she is a patient and you know nothing about her aside from medical facts.

You carefully retract the needle from her alabaster skin, and as you do so you shut away your emotions. She thanks you for your help – another first – and walks out of the room, out of your life. You know you will dream about her, but you also know that she was like a sunbeam: beautiful, but impossible to hold onto.

That happened six months ago. Today you again heard that mischievous laugh, saw that shining face, and once again you had trouble not staring.

The author's comments:
This is based VERY loosely on an experience I had, but most of it has to be credited to my overactive imagination. Thanks for reading!

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