Memory in a Coat
I have written of the babies that have passed away throughout my 25 years of nursing. Whether you are the first responder, or involved in the acute treatment like I was, these cases never get easier. Pushing the memories of these kids into the back of my mind became nearly impossible. I began seeing the faces of these children for brief moments in my everyday life. I would open the cupboard and have a flash memory of a child that we simply could not save. I would see the faces of children I’ve put into body bags in magazines and on the streets. They haunted me.
The parents of these innocent fatalities were, by virtue of their extreme reactions, potential for instant admission into my care. This happened far less than I would have imagined. I don’t have as vivid of a recollection of the mourning parents as I do the children I cared for. I always wondered why. I mean, the parents were the majority of the work. I held them while they screamed, begged, gnashed their teeth and pleaded with God to let them take their child’s place on the stretcher. If absolutely necessary, we would admit the parents and medicate them.
The other day, I was reading a book in my car while I waited for my son to finish shopping. As I scanned the parking lot, I caught a brief glimpse of a man walking nearby. It was only a moment before I set my book down for a second look. This time, I studied him. He seemed so familiar. His coat was of quality wool. It dropped just below his knees, and although dusty, it was in fair shape. He wore a hat that gave him a 1950’s aura. His coat collar was popped upward and a cashmere scarf wrapped around his neck. His look almost worked, but the bottle of cheap liquor in his side-pocket and the sleeping bag he toted told a tragic story - a story I knew I was once a part of.
He eventually walked directly in front of my car, and for a moment, he caught my glance. His eyes were vacant and lifeless. He was essentially a dead man walking, but there was enough of him left that allowed me to instantly remember where I knew him from. I was one of the nurses that worked on his daughter before she passed away. He died too that day, just not in the physical sense. I squeezed my eyes shut until I was sure he would be gone when I opened them. I felt shaken, I could almost envision the room that held her corpse. The smell of blood lingered in the air, making me sick.
A cool breeze washed over me, cleansing the air and allowing me to breath again. My son got in the car and slapped the dashboard, giving me the “affirmative” to go. A feeling of happiness mixed with guilt swept over me as I started the engine and slowly pulled out of the parking lot. I remember you, sir, and I see your daughter often. May we both find peace.
Tell the people closest to you just how much you love them today. I will do the same. I hope everyone is having a great week. Let’s talk again tomorrow, I’ll bring the coffee. -R.