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.