Their faces push forward through my dreams.
The young man who had been shot, his crooked-fixed stare both hard and scared. The woman who had been assaulted outside her apartment, a bright purple hematoma crowning her head. The hulking man, tattooed, with a wide red gash running vertically down the length of his leg like a sliced tenderloin.
I was rounding patients with the attending trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. In our group, were a 4th-year resident, a half-dozen medical students, and a couple of nurse practitioners – an early-dawn battalion at the only Level One Trauma Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you live in the Bay Area and get in a car crash, or get shot, or confront a medical emergency that rattles you deeply enough – this is where you come.
And on this day I am here, a shadow, watching you, and watching the people who are tasked with caring for you, struggling with my urge to kneel at each of your bedsides. I am learning that GSW means gun-shot wound, and MVC means motor vehicle crash. And I am learning this:
If you are that woman who was pulled from your car after a collision; as you lie flat on the gurney with your neck in a brace worrying frantically for your baby and the daughter who were with you in that car. If you are that woman alone in that room with your shivering heart and your now unfamiliar body – you may, or may not, remember this.
There is a surgeon who stops to listen to you. It’s near the end of her rounds, and the morning has been long, but she lays her hand on your shoulder. She looks you full in the face and says, “I know that you’re scared. This is scary. Your baby and your daughter are going to be OK, and we’re going to take good care of you.”
When the surgeon says these words, I feel a flood of relief and gratitude. I feel that I am you, and I no longer need to kneel at your bedside. I just hope that you will remember. I hope that you will remember that you are in good hands – hands born for this moment to carry you through.
This piece was first recorded and ran as a Perspective on KQED in San Francisco.