Crime and Punishment

My colleagues and I are not well.

I could tell you about all the reasons why. I could rattle off what we’ve handled and what we haven’t. I could tell you all this but instead I will let you in a little. Not the big gaping lot of what we’ve done these past twelve months. Just this:

I saw a good doctor today walking down the hall on his way home. He is a wonderful man — a kind, caring professional with a deep, nice voice and I often make a point of talking to him to hear that voice. I said to him, as he walked down the hall at the end of his hard day, “I heard about your patient. I’m sorry you had to have that happen to you today.”

And he said, “Thank you. That really means a lot to me. It was…”

He couldn’t finish. Because we both knew this good doctor had a terrible thing happen, which was a patient who did something pretty awful to himself, the way our patients have been doing awful things to themselves and each other since the pandemic began. We have had shootings and stabbings and jumpers. Crime is through the roof, and homelessness and just the pure pain of the last year that makes people take out their fear and worry and desperation on each other. When a celebrity dog walker is shot over two bulldogs you know something is very wrong.

So I finished for him, “Hard.”

“Yes,” he said. “Very hard.”

Then he said aloud what I myself have thought many times. “We aren’t heroes,” he said. “We’re human beings. I wish people would stop using that word.”

We talked then in the hall for about ten minutes, this good doctor and me, just talking and listening and telling each other what we can’t really explain to our spouses or our children or our parents. What it’s like to show up every day, how numb we are, and raw too, and what these times have done to our empathy, our compassion, our simple ability to love, to fear, to care. To feel.

In other words, this good doctor and I talked about trauma.

When this is over, and we are truly on the mend, I hope we all understand the collective grief and collective healing we will need, how for so long even the every day moments have been not normal. I hope the health care heroes are given their due, not in the form of a free meal or a gift card, but in the very real acknowledgment that we are people who are injured and in need of help.

This is what I told the good doctor, and what he said in return to me. Then we said “Thank you” to each other, a heartfelt thank you we both heard, and both really needed.

Writer, mother, knitter, nurse — not necessarily in that order.

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