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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Spirit

I walk into the first floor of Alta Bates medical center.  It’s the fifth day in a row.  I walk up to the front desk.  “Hi, Zack Bein, I have a 1:00.”

“Okay, you’re getting labs and treatment today.  Take a seat and we’ll call you.”  Big smile.

I take the pager and go sit down.  Around me is a room full of patients, like myself, needing treatment.  Many are here for chemotherapy.  Some are here for platelets.  But me, I’m here for fresh frozen plasma.  They don’t see many of us.  To my left, an older white woman sits quietly with a bandana on her head to cover her bald scalp.  She stares at the posters on the wall and drinks the complimentary tea.  “We love our clinical research team.  Feel free to ask questions to our helpful staff.  We care about your comfort.” To my right, an old Asian woman sits, a hat covering her bald scalp.  The nurse exits the treatment room and enters the waiting room.  All of the patients anxiously watch their pagers, hoping for vibration.  It’s the Asian woman next to me.  “Hi Tina,” she says to the nurse.

“Hello… Come with me.”  The Asian woman gets up and follows Tina into the treatment room.  I exhale, look at the clock, and then back down at the tiled floor.  Soon it’s my turn.  I see Tina come out and she’s looking right at me.  “You must be Zack.  I knew I could find you by just looking for the youngest one in here.”
“Yup.”

“Follow me sweetie.” I do as I’m told. “What are you getting treatment for in here?  You’re so young!”

“Umm, I have a plasminogen deficiency.”  Stop talking to me.

“A what?  What’s that mean?”

“I don’t really know.”  She laughs.  I laugh.  The other nurse enters the room.

“I could recognize that laugh anywhere.  How you doin’ baby?”

“I’m alright,” I respond.  Get me out of here.

“You so handsome, ain’t he Tina.  Bet you got all the girls stoppin’ to look at you.”

“I don’t think so,” I reply.

“You got a girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah you do.  She brunette?”

“Blonde.”

“She talk to you first?”

“No.  I talked to her first.”

“Well, keep smilin’ baby.  We just need your vital signs and your weight.”  The blood pressure cuff squeezes my arm.  I put my school books down and hop on the scale.  I follow them to the treatment room.  The treatment room is one of the more interesting environments I’ve ever been exposed to.  And, as a writer, it’s one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  In the treatment room, two very different and distinct worlds exist.  There is the world of the patient, forced to relinquish their sense of identity and sense of self, to be attached to machines, to be poked with needles, squeezed with cuffs, injected with medicines, transfused with blood, exposed to radiation, forced to talk to nurses, sequestered and subdued in a treatment chair, in a treatment room, full of patients, like myself.  Then there’s the world of the nurse practitioner.  These people are forced to watch, to participate, to do the sequestering, to do the subduing, to stick the needles, to inject the medicine, to talk to us patients.  We are the objects.  They are the dissociated and unknowing hands of doctor’s orders.  The most interesting ones are the ones who dissociate completely.  They come in, talking to their fellow nurse about the Halloween outfit they are going to wear this weekend, whether they are going to drink or not, how so and so usually gets all dressed up and I wonder if they’ll get dressed up this year.  Meanwhile they busily attach lines to patients, complete paperwork, monitor vital signs, paying seemingly no attention whatsoever to what they are doing or who they are doing it to.  These type are always the most interesting for us patients.  I look at the guy next to me, all hooked up to machines like I am, and we have a simple moment of acknowledgment, as two people living through the same experience, knowing what each other is feeling.  That five seconds of looking at each other communicates more than any words could.  And we both know that… and decide to keep quiet.

“Okay… Name and birth date please,” the nurse says, holding a bag of frozen plasma.

“Zachary Bein, 6/27/83.”  I’m automatic.  Those words mean nothing.

Okay… donor number 85K4909, patient number 1323343, donor type O +, patient type O +, this is thawed frozen plasma.  We’re going to give you your premeds first Zack because of your reaction last time.  25 mg of Benadryl through the IV and 20 mg of Decadron.  The Benadryl is gonna make you feel really sleepy and the Decadron usually gives people headaches.”  So much for studying.  So much for schoolwork.  So much for grad school applications.

“Okay,” I reply.  Get your fucking needles out of my arm.

“What’s that say?  On your arm?” the nurse asks.

“It says spirit.”

“Oh really?  How cool.”  I wait for her to ask me what it means.  She doesn’t.  The nurse leaves the room.  I hear a faint voice from across the room.

“What does it mean?” one of the patients asks.

“It means a lot of different things,” I reply.  “But mostly, it reminds me that whatever happened before, and whatever is going to happen in here, it can’t break my spirit.  My spirit never left me, and it never will.”

“That’s beautiful.  Thank you.”

“Thank you.”  And I sat there and thought about that for awhile.  I thought about the last two months of my life, wondering how I’ve been able to show up… for meetings, for school, for my internship, for my friends, for grad school, to go to the gym 5 days a week, to run the bleachers on the track, to come to this hospital for 4 hours a day, to have two surgeries, to have chronic severe pain, … and still show up.  And I looked down at the tattoo on my arm.  Something’s been carrying me.  I can’t do this shit on my own.  I’m exhausted.  I’m absolutely drained.  But somehow, tonight, when I got home from the hospital, I went to the gym and worked out.  Then I came home and made dinner.  Then I finished my personal statement for the doctoral programs I’m applying to.  Then I ordered official sealed transcripts from Santa Monica College to send to all the grad schools I’m applying to, then completed my recommendation packets, filled with my resume and personal statement and detailed instructions with deadlines and thank you notes, and sent my GRE scores to grad schools.  Then I returned phone calls, talked to somebody about their struggle with applying to college, agreed to revise their college essays, returned more phone calls, talked to my father about what happened today in the hospital, talked to Enrique about spirit, and how, right now, that’s all that’s carrying me.  Plus the love and support of the people in my life.  It ain’t me.  I’m fucking exhausted.  I’m done.  Running on reserves.  And tomorrow, I’ll wake up at 8:00 am, make my breakfast, and go see the doctor to talk about the reaction I had to the transfusion.  They’ll run their labs, I’ll talk to the nurses.  Then I’ll go to the gym and work out.  I’ll go to the track and do the bleachers, letting out a bellow when I reach the top.  The track runners will look at me, and I’ll smile.  Then I’ll go back to Alta Bates and get my treatment, see the patients, see the nurses, answer the questions, surrender, surrender to the machines and the blood and the drugs.  And everything is going to be okay.  I don’t know how long this is the way my life is going to be.  But I sense the end of these hospital visits is near.  And my tattoo on my arm will carry me.  You may be thinking that I’m dramatic.  And I don’t care.  Because I’d rather live fully, I’d rather feel passionately, I’d rather express myself entirely, than do anything else at all.

“It says spirit,” I say.  “It means a lot of different things.  But mostly, it carries me when I’m exhausted.  It reminds me of my grandmother’s hands when I need support.  It’s the one word that my mother thinks of when she thinks of me.”  And it’s going to pick me up, out of this treatment chair, down the fluorescent lit hallway of cold tiled floors, and walk me out of this hospital,  straight into another day.