When the stretcher appeared at my unit corridor, I got a glimpse of the new patient being admitted, a girl mostly hidden under hospital sheets. Her face was also hiding behind a protection mask, from which only her half opened eyes could be seen. She was quickly brought to our special isolated room. Her fate for the next days was a heartbreaking picture.
I got dressed with all the available protection layers to enter the room and examine her. I felt obese wearing the extra pounds of clothing but there is no risk worthy being taken when so much information about this disease is still unknown. I would rather err wearing too much protection than too little.
I got a detailed report from the professionals that brought her in and a pile of documents and copies of exam results. Our staff doctor was also present to receive the information and pass it on to the specialists when they arrive to examine the girl. The information we received was very vague with no conclusive diagnosis; it would be our job to develop from that on. But even without a specific diagnosis, the nursing team had more than enough work to get done to improve the conditions of our new patient.
The next step was clear to me: to walk in the room and start the care. One step at a time towards whatever risk she posed to me, a practical act of faith in the protection barriers that were keeping me separated from the infecting agents that she carried. Hopefully it would be the beginning of her healing and not the end of my health!
Cautiously I opened the first door to her room, then the next, peeking inside as I moved closer. I wanted first to make her feel accepted and loved, with a warming welcome talk before even starting to prescribe nursing care. I knew the best care is the one that sees the other as a person, and not as a group of organs.
Her hair was spread on the pillow, many curls, dark as her eyes. Her skin, naturally tanned, was pale across her face, except around her eyes where dark circles made her appearance look sad. She kept coughing as I approached, bringing up the hard reality that her inside was probably looking very ugly.
I started the talk bringing up casual facts to sound less like a medical interview and more like meeting a new friend. Her name was Melissa.
"Hi Melissa, you have a very pretty name, you know?! I once heard that Melissa is the name of a beautiful plant with white flowers that calms people down, have you ever heard that"? I asked.
"No, I have not" she whispered back.
"That is what I heard... and I think you are also a beautiful girl as the flower and I am going to guess that you are also very calm."
Melissa, a nine year old girl, coughed and smiled: "Do you think so"? she asked.
"Of course, when I have some time I will try to get a picture of the plant Melissa with the beautiful flowers so you can see it for yourself, ok"? I added. She then kept talking between her coughing.
"My brother is not very calm, but I always listen to what my mom says."
I smiled back: "I am sure your mother is very proud of you"!
I kept the conversation on as I started to examine her, so that she would not feel too tense. I wanted to make sure she would not have any extra unnecessary anxiety to deal with. After I was done, I left her resting. I knew that soon the nurses on my team would start bringing in the medications and implementing direct care. We would do our best to treat her as a person and not as a scary disease.
I went back to my forms trying to describe all the aspects that I had just examined and come up with specific cares that would meet all her needs for the first 24 hours. As a side note I wrote down to remember to bring a picture of the plant Melissa for her to see. A little reminder that she was special and cared for and that we could start a little friendship that would go over all the scary protection gear.
What I told Melissa about her likeness to the plant was not untrue or just a way to make her feel better. Despite the sick look, her face transmitted peace and calm, just like the plant. The paleness on her skin and the shortness of breath saddened her facial expressions, but her eyes were still sending a special look around.
I have always been intrigued by the look inside the eyes of some of the children that I attend. Like if they were transmitting a message without words, that I have been trying to understand better lately. It is not easy to decode the message, but it seems that when I look right inside their eyes I become more connected with them, and they trust me more in response.
Deep inside, deeper than the pupil, there are imprisoned feelings, tied, trying to escape to the real world. Some children, after years of suffering because of a chronic disease, display opaque looks, weakened and conformed to the little light their hearts still carry, with feeble beats. Others, still filled with hope, irradiate an energy that longs to be freed from the disease. However, I can never forget that small percentage of children that do not transmit any look with their eyes. They live inside darkness, blinded by different causes, with eyes shut to light. Yet, even then, as I have learned with my brother, they can irradiate light and energy with their beings.
I wish I could share many more things with you, Dear Diary, but I am exhausted. I still have the energy, though, to thank you for your inspiration helping me to write my brother's story. The previous chapter was a proof of that, I could not stop typing!