I am not so naive or so bigoted to believe all doctors are assholes or all nurses are saints. I know both groups have their fair share of both. But when my stepfather was in the hospital, it was the doctors who were the challenge and the nurses who helped to get us through. It was the nurses and the other family members of patients on the floor. There is something that happens between strangers sitting together in a room when each of you faces losing a loved one. I remember sitting in the little alcove on the eastern side of the oncology floor in the Newport Beach hospital. And I remember a short blonde-haired woman whose husband was dying. I remember seeing recognition when our eyes would meet across the small space. I think we came to love each other a little bit sitting in that room together.
I was sitting there one afternoon, slouched against the blue fabric chairs, when I heard her voice and looked up. She was standing in the hallway, head tilted up toward the oncologist. “You want to understand?” his voice now, loud against the white tiles. “Then you go back ten years,” he growled at her, “and go to medical school.” I don’t remember what came next, only the way the bottom fell out of me for her in that terrible moment. I knew it had already been almost impossible to remain upright, to keep limbs and torso stitched together, and here she was bludgeoned now by his mean, defensive arrogance. I wanted to scream at him on her behalf. I may very well have gone after him, spoken my mind. I was 24 and had a habit of doing so. But I hope I went to her instead. I hope I offered comfort when she needed it. And I hope my eyes spoke those same volumes to hers whenever we met in the alcove or passed each other in the hallway. Brave, kind stranger—que le vaya bien.