That Brave Face Of Yours

June 26th 2008

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“I shouldn’t be here, Dr. Williams.”

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“It’s okay, Olive. You…you need to see this. If you’re planning on being a doctor someday…you need to see what you’re getting yourself into.”

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“…Are you sure I’m allowed to be in here, Dr. Williams? Even…even as an intern? Are you sure this is okay?”

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“Yes. It’s okay. Stay in this room and I’ll be right back.”

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“Okay.”

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Thing is. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be a doctor. I was just a perplexed 19-year-old exploring career paths.

That’s all.

But somehow I found myself sitting in this small, confined room.

By myself.

Staring at the floors. Speckled with uniform dots

And then the windows. Stained with passing hand prints. Walls freshly painted in a crisp white.  Blank in color. And in emotion too.

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I didn’t want to do this.

It didn’t feel right.

He was going to bring them in here. Both of them. Together. And then it would just be the

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2

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4 of us.

Sitting in this one confined room. With the speckled floors. And emotionless walls…But I guess that’s how hospitals were designed to be anyway. Speckled and emotionless….I wondered if they knew what was coming…I wondered if –

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The door knob clicKed.

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The door                                             opened.

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It was Dr. Williams.

And the two girls as well.

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I had never seen them before. Just their dad. They were dark-skinned. Youthful in age, but grey with worry. You could  see it in their eyes. In their face too. Late twenties. Good shape. One wore a purple shirt. And the other wore maroon.

Dr. Williams didn’t introduce me.

And I was happy about this.

He told them to take a seat, motioning his hands towards two chairs on the

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far right hand

corner of

the table.

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Dr. Williams sat in the middle

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And I sat across on the left.

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And then he began to speak. He said.

“Thank you for waiting patiently in the waiting room. I…apologize for the delay. I um…”

II He paused II

Then continued. >

“As you know…your father isn’t in excellent condition. He is very old and very weak. We’ve been exhausting every option to try to keep him alive but…his body isn’t taking to the medication anymore and any chance of revival would leave him in a very poor living state. I…I know this isn’t easy but…we are offering the option of letting him go peacefully. This of course, is up to you.”

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No one said anything.

Not until a few long moments later when the girl in the purple shirt managed an elevated whisper, as she stared down at the speckle-stained floor.

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“Are you telling us that we need to…pull the plug? On our own father?”

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“Well. You have the option of removing him from the machine. Or…removing him from the feeding tubes.”

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“…Starvation or pulling him off the machine?”

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“I assure you he will go peacefully either way.”

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“…Doctor…Isn’t there anything you can do? Anything…at all?”

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“I’m so sorry. But I’ve done everything I can.”

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Their faces.

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Completely candid.

Genuine in shock.

Unedited.

Unrecorded.

Real.

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And I was there to see it.

Me.

Not their family. Not their friends.

Me.

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The face I knew would never been seen again

By anyone else. The face they genuinely made due to unpredicted shock and heart string emotions that wouldn’t let them look any other way.

An instantaneous vulnerability that lived beneath the mask that we reach for daily.

But was temporarily unavailable.

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I knew she’d never let her children see this face. Not her friends. Not her husband. Never her fellow employees.

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In fact.

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I’m sure the next day when she went to buy stamps at the postal office and the cashier asked her how she was, she would tell them she was great! Thanks for asking. Half smile. And walk out with her purchase.

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Kind of like my friend in New York who told me that she never really cried. But when she did. It was on the subway. Only because it felt so anonymous. And only because pretending like her job didn’t make her feel like she was drowning every day. All the time. Wasn’t so easy to do. At least not all the time. But when she got to her stop. She’d swipe her sleeve across her dampened face. And meet her friends for drinks. Evidence erased.

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And then there’s my friend Jeff who worked two jobs in college. One at a dining hall and the other as a tutor. Just so he could pay his way through school. And also to give his girlfriend everything she ever wanted. And felt bad when he couldn’t. He didn’t like working the night shifts. And he got embarrassed when he couldn’t afford a third drink. But no one really knew that. Because his checkbook was the only one who knew he felt that way.

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Or what it felt like to sit across the brunch table from Carrie, knowing full well her heartbreak happened just a few days before.  He didn’t think she was “the one”, you see. And as it turns out, it didn’t make her feel so good.

Even though she knew he was right.

But you’d never know that she was sad. Or feeling anything less than great. That her heart dropped every time she witnessed a hand hold. Or when a conversation topic revolved around long-lasting love.

Only because…well, because we were brainstorming about lemon bar recipes instead.

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The girl in the purple shirt and her sister in maroon told Dr. Williams that they would in fact, pull the plug on their father.

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And the 4 of us walked out of the confined room together

> > > >

And walked over to room 382 to let them say their final goodbyes.

I shouldn’t be here, Dr. Williams,” I whispered as the girls embraced around their Father’s bedside. Curtains slightly drawn. Machine rhythmically beeping with his final breaths.

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“It’s okay, Olive. You…you need to see this. If you’re planning on being a doctor someday…you need to see what you’re getting yourself into.”

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The nurse told the two girls she would go out to the lobby to get everyone else. And the girls told them thank you. And the girl in the purple shirt looked at the girl in the maroon and said

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“Stay strong. For the kids. Let’s not upset them”

“Of course.”

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A few minutes later their children pushed open the door to room 382. Their husbands trailed in after. And one or 2 friends walked in too. The girls hugged each of them tightly.

And I remembered that they looked so different.

And they looked so brave.

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And later that night, as I was walking through the hospital parking lot, unraveling my thoughts from the unintentional day. White coat resting over my arms.

I got thinking.

That if you thought about it, if you  really really thought about it. We share the sidewalks, grocery aisles, apartments, relations and rooms with emotional heroes.

Everyday.

All the time.

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Ourselves included.

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And how incredible that really is.

That every significant stress or life altering event is sandwiched between a yesterday and tomorrow. One yielding higher level bravery and a higher level of stress.

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And how mandatory we feel it is to dilute these feelings in the first place.

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But it makes sense. It does. Can’t be openly crying our hearts in public and to our friends. Every day. All the time. Being an emotional hero is a well-respected talent by others and to yourself as well.

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But.

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Just so you know.

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My favorite heroes?

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Are the ones that aren’t heroes all the time.

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The ones who can say without a shred of embarrassment that “Hey, this is hard.” And “Hey, I’m struggling a little bit.” And “Hey, this isn’t so easy. At least not today.”

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Because the thing is.

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That brave face of yours?

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Looks pretty damn brave when you mask it so beautifully well.

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But it looks even braver when you don’t.

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apple

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22 responses

    • You know truth be told I think that going into medicine wasn’t a natural path for me anyway. I knew that I had a stronger passion for writing and I think I also knew that I probably couldn’t emotionally handle situations like this on a regular basis. A career much better suited for others!

      And thank you so much. That means a lot to me (:

      • I looked into being a speech therapist, I glamourised it into helping people make dramatic recoveries. It was only when confronted with crippling, deteriorating conditions that I felt 100% out of my depth. For the more hardy people I think. Like you, I have found my niche.

  1. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally — putting on the brave face is so exhausting when you’re going through turmoil internally.

    Thanks for sharing (and reminding me why I could never, ever be a doctor)!

    • Hey!

      Absolutely. I feel like we’re all fighting some kind of internal battle all the time. And it’s so polite and brave of us to brush it under the rug for most hours of the day, but sometimes it’s just as brave to get it out of your system as well. Thanks for reading!

  2. Everyone has a story. And unfortunately everyone wears a mask – whether as a defense mechanism or a coping mechanism or to be brave. I think being genuine and honest is always better than the mask. But sometimes you don’t even know the mask is there because you haven’t been honest with YOURSELF. Because we are always “diluting” our feelings.

    Thanks for this post, Olive! You’ve given me much to think about.

    • Hey Rachel!

      I absolutely couldn’t agree more. In fact, what you said really enlightened me. You’re right. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re wearing a mask because we’re so used to brushing things under the rug that the mask almost feels more natural than how we really feel underneath it. Fantastic point.

      Happy to spark some inspiration today. Thanks for reading (:

  3. Pingback: That Brave Face Of Yours by olivethepeople | Moxie-Style

  4. I loved this post. I have worn a mask for a long time before until I realised it wasn’t doing my inner self any favours. Once I started admitting to my vulnerabilities and allowing myself to talk about moments that were difficult or that I was struggling with I felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders. And it encouraged others to open up to their true selves as well.

    • This is so wonderful. It is so hard for us to really reach that point of not only admitting it to others, but admitting it to ourselves as well. I’m so happy you’ve found peace with your burdens. Thank you for sharing, and for reading!

  5. I’m planning to go to medical school after i graduate with my Microbiology course… but I;m having second thoughts due to the staggering cost …. it’s almost impossible.

    • Absolutely. Med school is so incredibly expensive. My advice would be to follow your heart rather than your wallet. Emotional debt feels worse than financial debt. I think. Who knows, maybe this is exactly the path you need to take, or maybe you’ll find something better (:

      Sent from my iPhone

  6. Pingback: The People | olivethepeople

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