Author Topic: Written on Air 5  (Read 4069 times)

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Offline Soft Words

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Written on Air 5
« on: September 13, 2009, 03:01 AM »
It is a bright sunny day outside, and the grassflowers have just been mown and lain on the sidewalk, tugging at my eyes. I have always thought a grassflower too holy a being to be killed – how can you bear to destroy a colorful, pretty creature that asks nothing of you, and springs from the ground on its own for a short life? Today, I want to gather these fallen warriors of the roadside and hold them close, keep them alive. I don’t want to let them die, as is the wont of nature.

I’m watching them dehydrate on the sidewalk without their roots and stems from the air-conditioned plexiglass window of a children’s clinic in a public hospital. The walls here are lined with standard green-yellow tiles, the floors are covered in linoleum of a no-longer-definable color, and the furniture is lichen-gray.  My séance with the grassflowers is interrupted by reality,  our team nurse in the white coat. She gives me a shake and rolls her eyes, “Our first patient is here.”

“Oh, thanks! Can I peek at the file before I go in?”

“They’re having trouble getting the vitals – do you think you could help?”

“Uh, sure. Anything I should know about this kid?”

“He’s four.”

Yikes. Four-year olds fight like no other fighters in the universe.

“Sure, I’ll try. What’s his name?”

The nurse raises her beautifully worked eyebrows. “I told you its Jon.”

Double yikes. I need to stay away from the grassflowers.

I flash her a half-apologetic, half-conspiratorial smile. “Sorry, I missed that part.”

Tugging my stethoscope out of a crammed pocket of my white coat, I head to the back area where other nurses take temperatures, heights, weights, etc.  There’s two kids there, a little boy and a little girl. The girl has big brown deer-in-the-headlights eyes, brutally short dark hair, and shrinks further into a wheelchair. Obviously, this isn’t Jon. But my heart does that painful double take thing when I notice the portacath and the giant central line poking out of the thin neck. This is a kid with cancer, and she is in an abuse follow-up clinic.

The other kid, obviously, is Jon. He is a thin little creature curled into a tight little ball in the arms of a middle-aged gentleman who is holding him as though he were a crystal ball, breakable and very, very fragile. This is how most of the kids we see here are – fragile. This is the Child Abuse clinic, where kids who have been rescued from abusive situations or are in situations where abuse is suspected are seen weekly, monthly, bimonthly, biannually or annually. They are scarred at various levels, and each time I come here, I find myself heartsore by the end of the day. Perhaps, I feel too much.

The nurse is crooning over Jon with a thermometer in her hands, which she needs to poke in his ear. He is refusing to be touched. He is mumbling in his throat, a bunch of garbled sounds that makes me want to go find whoever hurt him this bad. I pull off my gloves and reach for the alcohol antiseptic rub I detest and walk over to them. The nurse looks over at me, critically sizes me up.

“Hhmph. So they sent a student. I told Karen I need Dr.X to deal with this kid.”

“Well, Dr. X isn’t here yet. I’m the only one here.”

“How about any residents?”

“I’m the only one here.”

“Isn’t there any one else here?”

I want to roll my eyes at her. Instead, I look her in the eyes, and slowly say each word, “I am the only one here. Can I try to help?”

“Hmph. I can’t get through to him no how, so I suppose, yeah. But mind, he’s fragile and you cannot poke and prod him too much, he might break or something, he’s high-strung.”

I want to tell her I’m high-strung too. But I smile and pull up a short kiddie stool to sit before Jon so he can look into my eyes without having to lift his own. I’m just a stranger in a white coat, yet.



“is it okay if I sit here?”


“I want someone to talk to. Will you be my friend and listen to me?”

Finally. He peeks out from between his fingers.

I do the same thing.

Rule 1: Two must needs play at peekaboo.

Soon we’re engaged in a furious game of peekaboo. Finally, I give up, and he wins. I laugh softly. I’ve always sucked at peekaboo, but this is one of those times I’m glad about it.

“My name is Arti. Can you tell me your name?”

Slight nod.

I wait for him to continue. I need to know if he can maintain eye contact, engage in slight conversation. A hundred and nineteen seconds later, I’m rewarded.

Mumble. Whisper. Mumble.

I smile at him. “I didn’t quite catch that, sweetie. You’ll have to say it again.”

He stares at me, his eyes wide, pupils dilating for a second before a softer whisper. Jon.

“You’re so smart! Look, I have this guy here, whats his name? I don’t know, can you tell me?” I pull out a random soft toy from the pile behind me. I catch sight of the nurse’s face, and she is incredulous. I don’t know what it means.

Another weensy whisper: “Em-mo.”

“Is Elmo your friend?”


“Does Elmo ever feel scared?”


“Do you know when he gets scared?”

Nod. Swallow. “Pokie-pokie.”

I look at the gentleman holding him for help. He smiles and says, “Needles.”

Rule number 2: to be a parent or a doctor, you need to be able to smile. It is recommended that practice must be begun early in life.

“Okay.” I take a deep breath. Time for the plunge.

Rule number 3: Trust is best interpreted by a child. And it is totally and wholly personal. Never let anyone fool you otherwise.

“Jon?” I spread my hands before me where he can see them and wait till his eyes meet mine from between his fingers. There is an old scar on his fingers, as though the skin was cut open by a large knife. His dark eyes peer at me at exactly the point where the scar leaves off on one finger and takes up on the next. “Jon, do you know what place this is, where we are?”

Tiny nod, big swallow.

“Tell me.”

“Doctor. Pokie pokie.”

“You’re such a smartie. Yes, this is a doctor’s office. I’m a doctor too.”

Whisper, mumble mumble.

“I’m your friend, Jon. Are you scared of being here?”


“Look, Elmo is here too. Elmo dosen’t look scared, does he?”

Rigid silence. Not-yet-yikes.


His eyes are firmly behind his fingers and I can see his heart racing by the throb in his neck. The silence is so thick I think I couldn’t dissolve it with the antiseptic alcohol scrub.
"Jon, honey, they need to check you out and make sure you're doing okay, love. Let the nice girl take your temperature and weight, Grandpa is right here holding your hand."
"No." its a little, tiny voice, louder than the whispers - edging toward shrill.

Rule number 4: Never push your luck. Step away from boggy ground or when the ice starts to melt under your skates.

"Jon," I breathe softly, wait for him to look up at me. Ten thrumming seconds later, he looks up at me, raw terror in his dark eyes. A part of me tries to figure out, detachedly, whether they're brown or black. "Jon, I'm sorry. Would you like to hold on to Elmo while we get you into a room?"

If I'd been looking elsewhere, I'd have missed it. The tiny movement of his hands toward the bright red stuffed toy, a splash of color in the room. Instantly he pulls back his hands and stuffs them into the pockets of his hoodie. He is beginning to become a child in a small way. Yay for foster homes that make a difference.
"Here, honey," I smile at him, "I think Elmo wants to hold on to you. He wants to be your friend."

The little boy, small for his age, big red bald spot on his head from a healing burn, looks up at me with liquid eyes. I hold out Elmo, and three minutes later, as the nurse whisks him away to a room to be settled he is clutching the familiar toy. I feel my eyes pricking and the start of that familiar ache in the pit of my belly that precedes the onslaught of tears.

I sit down on the undersized stool and close my eyes, breathing deeply for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the little girl in the room starts fighting as soon as she catches sight of a thermometer. It is a soundless battle - almost soundless. The sounds are one sided, coming from the clinical assistant trying to soothe the child with warm words.

I open one eye and catch sight of the orange and blue band on her wheelchair, it must have slid off her wrist. In this hospital in this town, that can only mean one thing - that she is a deaf-mute. That, in my humbly human opinion, sucks.

"Ann, that kid isn't hearing a single word you say," I hear my own voice. When will I learn to keep my nose out of other people's battles?
"You're telling me, honey, nothing I say seems to be working," she replies, her voice rich with exasperation and irony.
"Ann, I mean that literally. She's a double band - orange and blue. Its stuck on her wheelchair."
"Oh. Thanks. That would explain it."

We manage to get the only nurse in the facility that day who knew sign language and by some stroke of luck, knew how to handle a sick, battered and terrified kid.

I see a couple more kids that day, one was a baby with the worst case of diaper rash I have ever seen. Second child of a fifteen year old mother who "was confused for a moment" about how to change a diaper and couldn't tell me if the baby was crying out of hunger or needed a nappy change. ChildWoman, as I think of that mother - you know, CatWoman and BatWoman - is worried that her baby cries everytime she pees, and all I want to say is, "No shit, Sherlock!"

At the end of the day, I walk home. It takes me forty minutes with my meandering feet. I really should take the train or the bus, but I want to be alone for a while. I pick up a bright purple grassflower from the sidewalk. My heart is heavy and burdened with grief - I've promised myself a good long cry in the bath. There is little else I can do for now.

Factoid: My heart will never be the same again.

{The characters in the the above tale are fictional. The inspirations and reactions within the tale are real, but any resemblance to a living or dead person is totally coincidental.}
Life isn't about waiting for the storms to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

Offline Halo

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Re: Written on Air 5
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2009, 10:06 PM »

Dear God, keep Arti safe. In this world of ugliness perpetrated on children, she's going to need strength outside herself, help her to cope with being more than a doctor...a woman with heart.

Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment.  ~  Ira Gassen

Offline Soft Words

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Re: Written on Air 5
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2009, 01:07 PM »
Thanks, Halo. I missed seeing your comment here, I've had work-related stuff on my mind.

Life isn't about waiting for the storms to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.