Saturday, January 12, 2019


Instant tears. The ones that spring up, uncontrollably, with no warning. Tears that are triggered by the deepest of emotions. Have you ever felt those tears?

Taking care of little old grannies in the ER for vomiting or weakness is a daily routine for me. Start an IV, get an in-and-out cath urine, gently rehydrate, and repeat everything you say at least twice because a hearing aid battery is inevitably not working well. I feel for these patients for so many reasons. The stretchers are uncomfortable. I deny them water at first because they might have a small bowel obstruction. We're out of sandwich trays. The blankets are never warm enough. It's four in the morning and their children went home for the night, and now they're all alone in the room in a strange place. Each little incident wears on them.

I do this so often that while it wears on me too, it's just a routine.

Until it isn't.

It ceased to be a routine the moment I turned her arm over to place an IV and saw a row of old, faded numbers tattooed there. I froze. I couldn't think of anything to say or do. After a long, uncomfortable pause, I dumbly looked up at her and asked "are those...?" Her daughter nodded, and the tears were instant. I managed to apologize for losing it, and after a few minutes was able to compose myself enough to place the IV. The patient was sweetly oblivious to the entire interaction.

At the end of the ER visit, I apologized again to the woman's daughter. "It's okay," she said. "If she were feeling better, she'd tell you about it all."

Auschwitz saw an estimated 1.3 million people during the years its camps were in use. Around 1.1 million of those people were murdered or died in other horrible ways. Of those 200,000 survivors, even fewer are alive today. I am so incredibly humbled to have met and cared for just one of them.

There are moments in life that irrevocably change you, and this was one.


Old FoolRN said...

Shedding tears in the OR required special precautions when scrubbed. I learned to tilt my head back so the tears ran down my cheeks into the mask rather than onto the sterile field. Nursing and sadness are closely linked when the reality of how desperately some patients have to fight for a fleeting period of wellness.

Joan said...


jono said...

It wasn't until later adulthood that I noticed that my aunt, who lives in London on the other side of the pond, also had numbers on her forearm. She is very petite and the only survivor in her family. She is now 85 and said that the older people gave her their rations. I offer you a hug and I will wipe away your tears.

shash said...

Witness it to all, as many young people have never seen the numbers, don't know much about WWII and haven't felt the possibility of genocide. This is why immigration is a dear issue for me. Because refugees, because losing all you know, because torture.

I am older. I have heard the stories, seen the tattoos. It is important to never forget.

Hugs to you.

Aesop said...

Yeah, that.
My last one was 2001. About 85 or so, then.
Same instant dawning: looking for a vein, find the old blue tattoo instead.
Treblinka, she said.

I couldn't even.

Her quote:
"Every day since then has been a gift. I live my life a little bit for the ones who didn't make it out."