July 16th 2009
So there was this delusional time in my life when I was all like
“OMG MED SCHOOL”
And it rested in that contemplative period between
“What the fuck do I want to do with my life
“What the FUCK do I want to do with my life.”
and figured that the world of medicine would serve as a decent back up plan.
Cue in the local hospital.
I signed up as a volunteer research assistant in my hometown to get a taste of this seemingly sterile world. I was given the daily responsibility of interviewing each patient about their breathing difficulties before each one of their doctor appointments.
Sorry, that was potentially the world’s most drag city sentence. Don’t. Stop. Reading. I promise this story gets better.
One day something happened. Something I didn’t expect and something that will probably never happen to me again. And when I tell you you’re going to think it’s so weird, and maybe not not even that crazy. But still, I don’t know. It’s one scene that I replay in my head …a lot, actually. And it did this thing where it totally altered my perspective on life, or whatever. It was kind of like a movie with the exception of these 3 things:
1. No camera
2. Unscripted Conversation
3. It Actually Happened
“Olive, the next patient is ready for you in the next room.”
On it (Nurse) Ricky, thanks.
and approached the heavy door of room 117. Round 9.
I sl-ow-ly opened the door, revealing a figure in the >> right corner of the room.
He was squeezed into a chair that was entirely too small. His head was
Hands in his lap. Button down shirt…b a r e l y buttoned.
His eerie presence matched perfectly with the bleached walls.
I shut the door behind me and obediently recited my given script.
Quiet on the set.
“Good morning Mr. Rich! My name is Olive. I’m a research assistant here at the hospital and I’m just here to ask you a few questions before the doctor steps in.”
He was overweight, pale, fragile and when he lifted his head to put a face to the actress, he exposed an expression that I had never really seen before. It was stoic stare with a contemplative gaze.
>>>> I shuffled over to stage right and continued with my lines.
“Mr. Rich I have these forms for you to fill out when you get the chance”
I extended my arms to offer the forms.
He said nothing. Hands…still in his lap.
I took the hint, placed the forms on the bed, and continued.
“I’m going to put my hands on your chest and do a few breathing exercises with you, is that okay?”
He gave me a slight nod.
I positioned myself next to him and pressed my hand against his chest.
“Alright Mr. Rich, I’m going to need you to take a deep breath and tell me how that feels and if you feel any”
Mr. Rich must have forgotten his lines. He
– – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – –
me off and with his deep, raspy voice… and recited his own.
“What would you do if you were told that you only had 6 months to live?”
What? …That’s not your line. Try again.
“I’m sorry, did you mean to say you felt – ”
“No. Did you not hear what I said? I said: What would you do, if you were told that you only had 6 months to live?
There I was.
Hands on a strange man’s chest.
Stunned by this unexpected inquiry.
Scrambling for any response to appease his not so rhetorical question.
“I um…I’m assuming…that’s what the doctor told you?” I managed to stutter.
He said yes.
In a complete panic, I began to create a cauldron of bullshit from everywhere and anywhere until finally my brain came up with this masterpiece:
“Well maybe if you don’t get worse and um stay this way. Maybe your expectancy could be like extended or something and that could mean um amusement, I MEAN IMPROVEMENT and be…good? Maybe?
…He wasn’t listening to me. I probably wouldn’t listen to me either.
“Olive…that’s your name right?”
I cleared my throat.
“Well, Olive, I researched my disease, and I’m not going to get better. So you don’t have to bullshit me. I know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t like liars, you know.”
Me either, Mr. Rich.
I felt paralyzed in this off script conversation. This isn’t what we rehearsed.
And now suddenly I was this 20-year-old volunteer trapped in a room of honesty, realization and guilt.
I was flustered and at a loss of words (which, really never happens to me). I attempted to change the subject.
Back to the script.
“So…the doctor is going to be in soon so let’s try one more breathing exercise beforehand so that”
“I was a millionaire you know. Twice actually. But both times I lost it to this damn sickness. I was a super successful business man once. You should have seen me Olive, I was on top of the world.
And the second time?
Well, I was the poster boy for…”
II He paused II
“Well actually. I don’t want to tell you. Don’t want you to look up what I used to be. What I used to look like. I was really handsome you know.”
“I’m sure you…”
And you know what else I did? Well, I’ll tell you. I was so angry that this damn disease kept driving me down, that I decided to battle it head on. I joined an organization to come up with experiments that would battle this. This right here. So that people wouldn’t have to go through what I’m going through right now.
But it didn’t work.
But I tried my best.
I promised I did.”
I believe you, Mr. Rich.
Mr. Rich went on for another 10 minutes entrancing me with his life stories. He went to war. He traveled the world. He fell in love
times. And he loved all of them. Very much. He was a model. He went to parties you could only dream of. But that wasn’t even the great part, he said. The great part was that he had the best people in the world by his side. Before and after the fame. But mostly after. They were outside waiting for him you know? During his last days and all. But you know what was better? No, the best?
Anything he would have done in these last 6 months?
He already did them.
He told me that he’s glad he didn’t wait until his last 6 months to live. That he always had a hunger for adventure, and to be careful because this was contagious.
Before I knew it my pen and notebook were abandoned on the floor and I found myself
on the hospital bed
magnetized to this speech in room 117. He told me about his crazy adventures, he told me about the people he met he told me –
The door knob click-ed.
I ^ out off the bed, scrambled for my belongings and acted out the façade of the standard protocol once again.
Quiet on the set.
“Well it was very nice meeting you Mr. Rich. I’ll leave the forms for you to complete before you leave, and I’ll be sure to pick them up after your appointment. Have a wonderful day!”
He looked at me, smiled, and said
“You too, Olive.”
I smiled back.
I closed the door behind me. Leaned up against the wall. Put my face in my hands.
“Next patient’s ready for you in room 119.”
On it Ricky, thanks.
20 minutes later Ricky informed me that room 117 was now available. To clean up. And bring in the next patient.
I approached the door, turned it slow-ly and walked in.
Except this time no one was there.
Just an empty chair.
I took a deep breath and began looking for Rich’s paperwork.
Not on the counter.
Not on the chair.
Not on the floor.
And suddenly out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small hint of paper out from beneath the pillow on the bed.
I reached for his forms and noticed something strange written on the bottom right hand < corner >.
He left a note.
“There is no-“
The door sWUng open.
I cRuMpLeD up the paper and stuffed it into my pocket.
“Olive the next patient is ready for you next door.”
On it Ricky, thanks.
The rest of the day was script perfect.
I followed protocol. Asked my questions. And had them answered.
And later that night I waved bye to Ricky, picked up my belongings, opened my car and just kind of…sat there for a while.
Remembering that one time I spent 20 minutes of my day conversing with a dead man.
And that it went so well.
And after shamefully pondering to Avril Lavigne for an undisclosed amount of time…I sifted through my pockets for my keys…and rediscovered the thin, crushed note Mr. Rich had left behind.
I uNcRuMpLeD the note.
“There is no cure for my disease. And that’s okay. And I can’t live anymore because of my condition. And that’s okay too. Pity can’t cure me either. So don’t worry. But if you’re going to go, you might as well tell a good story on your way out.– Rich”
I smiled. Started my car.
>>>And began to drive.>>>
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I will, Mr. Rich.
And I’ve got the blog to prove it.