I stacked the charts in the rack for the nursing staff to complete.
I sat still for a minute at the nurses’ station amidst the beeps and buzzes and voices, enjoying the fact that I could finally breath. I was in no hurry to go home. Nothing was waiting for me there. Not tonight.
Still. I could not stay at the hospital all night. I was just a med student, tagging along. Unimportant. A nuisance.
I grabbed my bag and headed out.
Walking down the hallway, I stole a glimpse of my reflection in its short white student coat. I looked tired. My hair needed a brush. As I neared the elevators, I heard crying. Actually, it was more like whimpering.
I slowed, then stopped just outside the room.
An elderly woman was sitting up in the bed. I did not recognize her as one of the patients we were following.
The TV was blaring loudly. Her dinner tray was on the table in front of her but she could not reach it as her thin wrists were bound in soft restraints. Gray hair was tangled around her face. She needed a hairbrush much more than me.
I walked into the room.
“Do you need help?”
“Is it OK if I turn the television off?”
She grimaced a bit. I took that to mean “yes”.
I searched for the TV control and found it dangling off the side of the bed by the cord. Unreachable to her.
“Are you hungry?”
“Please let me go,” she pleaded, her voice hoarse and gravelly. Maybe she had spent a few days here yelling? I weighed the situation.
“Let me help you eat. We can talk.”
I sat there beside her, sinking down slowly on the squashy mattress.
I lifted the plastic dome over her plate. Condensation cascaded off the inside, leaving a small puddle in the plate. Puréed diet. Blech. Still, she ate with gusto as I fed her.
How much of what she said was true, I did not know. She was demented and confused, jumping around from one subject to another. Kids. Husband. The nurses were trying to kill her. After hours and hours of super loud TV that she could not control, anyone else would have been a bit crazy, too. Isn’t that a torture technique, anyway?
This felt good. My heart soared, full of self satisfaction.
As I was finishing up with her last few bites of vanilla pudding, the aid showed up, the smell of tobacco from her smoking break hanging heavy in the air about her. She glared at me, her gaze full of animosity as she realized I had done her job. Did she see it as an indictment? Did she feel guilty that she had not done it herself sooner? I smiled at her, hoping it would show that I was on the same side. I was not judging, just trying to help.
“You students are all same,” she snarled. “Go home. You can’t save the world.”
My heart sank. I wasn’t special.