The Art of Becoming a Necessary Evil

donoharm

In medicine, professionals walk into people’s lives when we are needed. Our patients are usually not happy we’re there, that we’re needed at all. We try to help them through the darkest and scariest, sometimes the last, days of their lives – and we’re asked not to form a relationship with them. When they leave our care, we are highly discouraged from maintaining contact – most times with the hint of termination hanging in the air.

Some people are angry at their diagnosis and they focus that anger onto us – unconsciously placing a faint sense of blame onto our impersonally clothed shoulders. We’re viewed as rude, ‘too busy to care’ and only in it for the money, as if our pockets are growing fat with every 10 dollar aspirin. We are often understaffed and sleep deprived, rushing to do all the necessary procedures and dressing changes, evaluations and so on. We scarf down half of a dry sandwich for lunch to get back to our patients, where we’re met with their anger for their wait. A wait they perceive has been prolonged by a lengthy coffee break, full of laughs and joviality. Sleep deprivation is mistaken for apathy. I found this thing I identified so strongly with myself, a love for my fellow man, a desire to help, was being lost. It was invisible to the very people I was trying to care for. I was becoming ‘a necessary evil’ and I couldn’t handle it.

The beauty in life became muted. My coworkers, the hardened veterans of the field who’d seen, heard and smelled it all, told me to soldier on. “You get used to it,” or “It gets better.” The same shit they tell you in high school. I would think about the brevity of life often and I would panic, thinking about spending the better part of mine ‘muted.’

As a creative individual I feared losing that creativity. I spend most nights pestered by insomnia, my faithful friend. Passing the hours reading, drawing, painting, sewing, knitting or writing. I bleed with a desire to share something with the world, something beautiful and worthwhile, pure in a way I could never be. Something that touches someone. At the time, I wasn’t making any progress toward that.

I couldn’t continue. I am not made of the same enduring and devoted stuff that composed my coworkers, the longer I waited the more apparent it became. I want to see all the good that I can in every person and situation around me, and when I find it I want to hold on to it.

The Library

Finishing a book is more bitter than it is sweet. Especially when it’s a book that you only get to read once, a book that when picked up again is never the same. The feeling isn’t there, and there’s dust on the paintings. There are some books that can be revisited, though. And instead of finding dust, you find the paintings with more detail than before, brighter and more alive. These books are very rare, I only know of 3.

I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house growing up – where I was afforded a lot of free time. I’m a natural loner, so that time was spent in solitude. By 11 I had my own bike and I was a nearly permanent resident of the library at the end of the street.

There was a small teen section situated near the front. The only thing that said “Teen” about it were the red and yellow bean bags, and candy colored spines of young adult literature. But it was comfortable and usually empty, and it became something like my solitary summer clubhouse. The summer I turned 12 my grandfather took me to get my very own library card, meaning I could use the computers and take the books home with me. Before then I had simply read as far as I could and bookmarked it before placing it back in its place, hoping no one came along to check it out. Usually they didn’t, sometimes they did.

Books remained a huge part of my life from there on out. That library, over the course of 6 or better school vacations, heavily shaped the person I became. I experienced so many emotions for the first time inside those walls, with those books and the people that coursed around me unlocking them. I dreamed and imagined, learned and experienced loss. I discovered comic books and Isaac Asimov, I felt the sadness of Hemingway and the light of Ray Bradbury.

After coming back to Michigan I went to find the library vacant and alone, with plywood pressed against its windows and the book return slot taped shut, a poorly bandaged wound. It was closed after the construction of a new, gaudy multimillion dollar library a mile or so away. All good things must come to end, and some endings are particularly bitter – especially when you can never open the book again.

In One Nostril and Out the Other

In the last couple of months I’ve added to my collection of piercings, jumping in with an industrial and then my nipples, two piercings that a lot of people say are very painful. In my opinion, neither one’s got shit on a septum piercing, which I got today. I’ve wanted one for years, and my decision was made for me when I was introduced to jewelry like this:

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A Case for Sunflowers

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh

There’s something about arriving in a new city at night if you’ve never been there before. The darkness swallows up all the big details, leaving some outlines, and mostly shading. The outlines and shading of most U.S. cities are eerily similar. They all have the same lonely 7-11, on the same poorly lit corner. It’s the same pile of gray and green and pink trash laying there, next to the trashcan outside the doors. In every city there’s something faintly different about them.

In California they have neat little plants by the doors, with trash shoved into the planters. In Nevada, Arizona, and all those “Old West” states there’s a moat of jagged rocks, which also usually holds a lot of trash. In Denver they’re more weathered, smoothed by winter winds and bleached in July’s blaze. They’re friendlier too. In Texas they’re bigger, and in New York they’re louder – and so on and so on.

Last July I found myself in Denver airport sometime after 10 pm, with a nearly 24 hour layover. Initially I had resolved to spend that time in the airport, then the reality of spending 24 hours in a truly massive airport set in.

Tired, sore and wanting nothing more than to lay in a real bed for the first time in 2 weeks I called a shuttle to The Fairmount Inn and waited impatiently for the 5 minutes it took to arrive. The city was dark, and felt faintly familiar and at once totally alien. Then I was on the shuttle, speeding down the highway with those same green and white road signs, the same alerts of what could be found off of the next exit. A McDonald’s, a BP, maybe the elusive Arby’s.

Before I knew it was stretched out on the bed, with what little I could scavenge for something of a meal from the hotel’s small selection. Spicy shrimp Ramen and Twix, a feast of kings. But I lay there feeling better than I had in a long time. Free, deliciously alone, comfortable. I soaked in my independence thirstily. I talked to my husband on skype, and I went to bed.

I woke up and had to think for a moment where I was.

Smooth sheets, heavy blanket, blue armchair. Denver. Yes, Denver.

I pulled on clothes and padded outside to have a smoke on the back patio area that I had been directed to the night before. Then it had been dark. The only light was the yellowed and dim sconce clinging to the wall near the entrance. It’s light didn’t even make it to the parking lot. Now it was 9 am, and the sky was that perfect sky you see in every picturesque painting. A pale, creamy blue with 3 or 4 white clouds fluffed right in. Below that sky lay a miles long field of sunflowers in full bloom.
I dropped my phone, and I cried. This might sound silly, or incredibly melodramatic – but it was one of those “I needed it” cries that feels so good to have freed. It made a 24 hour layover, the 150 dollar hotel room, and all the hassle feel like a good deal.

They owned the horizon, an expanse all trimmed in yellow. Back dropped by a mountain range to the left and a red and white barn to the right. In that moment I felt some small connection with Van Gogh, I saw some little glimmer of what made these flowers a fixture of his. These flowers were special. Tall and strong and dominating. They couldn’t just be pulled from the yard, or trampled by careless feet. In a world of frail and delicate flowers, easily broken by circumstances and change, the sunflower is different. It can weather the storm, adapt to change, and stand through the winds. I wanted to be a bit more like the sunflower.