Shared Empathy – Chapter Ten

Alan went straight to the hospital from Nola’s place. There was a big board meeting on Monday for which he had to prepare everything. Yes, he was still doing the administrative work. In the few weeks after the first time, he scrubbed into surgeries with other doctors, observed but never took the scalpel in his own hands. There was an invisible string holding him back from stepping into the field and take charge. It was like he was trapped in a dream that started over just when he was about to cross the finish line. Eventually, his initial enthusiasm began to subside and he felt like an outsider – someone unwanted, standing in the O.R doing nothing. To cover up the shame, he engaged himself in the managerial tasks once again. He was lucky that he had a knack for administration and management and the hospital needed a representative who was actually a doctor. Because otherwise, he would have no job. He had thought about it several times. What would happen if they kicked him out? Perhaps he could be a chef? He could be a good chef, right?

Later that evening he received a text from Nola, saying that they would stay with him. Well, at least he was going to do something useful. He finished up his work around 8 and went to Nola’s place to pick them up. He couldn’t let that girl be alone in her condition. Alan didn’t know much about her except that she was living on her own and met her a few times in the coffee shop. Nola talked about her various times and he had become fond of her as well. He just knew that he wanted to help her in any way possible. Hosting, organizing, helping out others, these things came naturally to him. Not many people visited his house except for Nola, his parents and brother. Nola was the most frequent visitor and he was also happy to get more time with his best friend out of this deal.

They reached home, Ivana settled in the living room while Alan and Nola set up the guest room and ordered Chinese food. When the food arrived, they all sat down to eat in the living room, TV running in the background.

“So Ivana, I want you to feel comfortable during your stay here, feel free to use anything you want, eat anything you want, and if you feel threatened by this one over here”, he pointed his fork towards Nola, “come straight to me.”, he said mischievously looking at Nola. Nola made a face at him and continued eating.

“And if I feel threatened by you?” Ivana asked, laughing at the two friends’ antics.

“Please, look at me”, he pointed to himself this time, “I’m an angel.” and looked up towards an imaginary halo around his head.

“You simply go and disarrange his kitchen shelves”, Nola wiggled her eyebrows looking towards Alan.

“Nooo”, Alan whined, which made Ivana laugh even more.

“And if you guys get sick of me?” she asked after a pause, looking towards her plate and moving the fork as if she was looking for something.

Alan and Nola got quiet for a second and then Alan said, “Hey, if I can tolerate her I can definitely tolerate you!”

Nola rolled her eyes. “Don’t think too much. That won’t happen, Ok?” She squeezed her shoulder to make sure she understood and was relieved to see her nod and smile in return.


After the dinner, Ivana retired to the guest room while Nola and Alan cleaned up. Then they sat down on the couch to watch TV. Both of them were too tired to actually see what was coming on. He yawned and rubbed his eyes.

“Tired?” asked Nola.

“Yeah… it was a long day. I had to prepare for that stupid meeting on Monday.”

“It was a long day. Feels like a blur now. Can’t believe what happened to her. Isn’t she going through a lot already?”

Alan nodded, “I’m glad she agreed to come.”

“Yeah”, she smiled, “and thank you for coming right away today. She was really scared.”

“You don’t have to thank me”, he purposelessly pressed the remote button. They were sitting side by side, Alan’s legs were on the table in front and Nola was hugging hers to the chest.

“She was quite impressed. She thinks you are a rock star or something”, she paused for a second and looked towards him to the left, his glasses reflecting the TV colors, “you know… you kind of did surgery today, I mean the tiniest part of it but you did it.”

 

He kept looking ahead but stopped flipping the channels. It hadn’t occurred to him until then. Nola asked and he went. Even after that, he had so much to do that he didn’t have time to think about it. Nola was right. He did it. He did not tremble, make a mistake or forget something. It was only basic sutures but for someone who hadn’t even done that in a long while, it was a big deal. In that moment he felt like a warmth has engulfed him after a long, harsh cold and he could finally succumb to it.

“I agree…”

Nola said something that nudged him from his thoughts. “What?” he focused on her.

“I agree. You are a rock star”, she smiled. She had been wanting to say this since she saw him suturing, hands gliding expertly and not a single furrow on his face because he knew what he was doing. She knew Alan hadn’t thought about it yet and she had to tell him that in order for him to realize.

She got up, almost skipping with joy, ruffled his hair and went to the guest room. Nothing needed to be said anymore, they both knew this was going to last. Alan smiled allowing himself to be happy about this moment. He lied down on the couch, closed his eyes and gave in to the warmth spreading in his bones.

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Shared Empathy – Chapter Seven

Luna’s coffee shop – Nola looked up just before pushing the door to enter her workplace. She did that daily, unconsciously checked if she was entering the right place. Maybe it was because she hated working there, or after working there for a while now, she still didn’t feel that she belonged. She walked towards the staff entrance not looking around at all. As she reached the small locker room and put her bag inside her locker, Dan came from the kitchen back door.

“Good. You are here. There is a new girl. Boss says you have to guide her around.”

She nodded and took off her jacket, wondering who she’d have to deal with. She wasn’t in the mood. Well, she was never in the mood lately. She entered the kitchen and found the girl standing near a shelf looking around. It wasn’t a big kitchen, but housed all the baking equipment and utensils. The boss was a middle-aged lady, who loved baking and this business had worked for her. The only reason Nola was still surviving this job was because the lady was kind, straight forward and didn’t fuss around for nothing.

As she came closer to the girl, she realized it was the same girl who came in some time ago. The nervous teenager. She got the job.

“Hey, you got the job”, Nola smiled at her and was a little surprised that it came out genuine.

“Hi”, she looked less nervous than the previous day. She was wearing a blue hoodie and jeans, black today.

“I am Nola and I’ll guide you around. It isn’t very difficult to work once you get the hang of it”, she handed her a red Apron printed with the shop’s name and gestured her to come towards the main counter separated by a glass partition.

“Thanks, I’m Ivana”

It was afternoon and there wasn’t much rush. Dan looked up from his phone when he saw her coming and went away, handing over the shift with a nod. One more girl was working the evening shift with her.

“This is Sophie and that was Dan. Just observe me for today and ask anything you want. Ok? You’ll be doing the evening shifts mostly I suppose?”

“Ahh, no I can do mornings too.”

“Ahan, no school?”

“Um, no, no I am not going to school,” she looked away and Nola could see the hesitance in her eyes, “for now”, she added.

“Ok. That’s Ok”, she smiled and tried to make her feel comfortable. Stupid question Nola. She could see it wasn’t an easy question for the girl. She regretted bringing it up because she knew how bad it felt to be asked the questions you didn’t want to answer.

They spent the rest of the day like that with Ivana observing her. It got busier in the evening. Ivana was good at learning that she could tell and she seemed much more at ease now. As they packed up their stuff to leave, Nola felt that she should ask her how she would be going home. After all, she was a kid.

“Uh my friend is picking me up”, she put on her jacket. “We can drop you home or something?”

“No, I mean it’s fine. I’ll walk. It is not that far. Plus, I wanna catch some air”

“Ok, if you are Ok”, she smiled and started walking outside. The boss always closed up the shop half an hour after it was closed to the public so she just walked out of the door with Ivana by her side. Alan’s car was parked outside, she waved her goodbye and went towards the car.

“Hey”, she said, buckling her seat belt.

“Heya, kid. Who was that?”

“New girl. First day. Ok, so what was so important that couldn’t wait till tomorrow?”

Alan put the car into drive and moved towards their usual restaurant. The place that had the best lasagna and not many people for this kind of unplanned talk out sessions. Alan had texted her earlier in the day that he wanted to meet up.

“I’m going for it tomorrow. I talked to the chief and he said I could come and observe. You know, to get into the whole thing. I’m just so nervous.”

“The great Neurosurgeon Alan Miro, nervous!”, she imitated an incredulous look and tried to match a voice too but she wasn’t much of an actor.

“Ok, that just made me more nervous”, he said and Nola chuckled.

They arrived at the restaurant and went inside. They actually had a table and the waiters knew them. Nola really liked it. They sat at their table which just got free and ordered the usual.

“It’s gonna be fine”, she said what Alan wanted to hear trying to make it look as natural as possible. She didn’t think her words would do anything. If it was going to be bad, it was going to be bad. But she tried to be a good friend. Maybe her words did help him somehow.

“You think?” he said and didn’t wait for her to answer, “it’s just I know it won’t be bad. I’m just observing. It’s not like I’ll be doing any actual work. But still, it’s been ages. It’s just overwhelming I guess and a little embarrassing too. I was an attending and now it feels like I am an intern all over again”

“I know what you mean”, Nola responded. Most of the time she was good at giving positive advice to other people. All it took was some good energy and she usually had it for other people, especially for Alan. Today, she was just down herself. Their food arrived and they dug in.

“Did you look for something?” She was dreading this question.

“Don’t ruin my diner please”. She made a face. It’s been two weeks since they made that promise. Alan has been keeping up with it. Hence, the emergency meeting. She had been keeping up too and looking for jobs. Online, on the newspaper, but every ad made her feel like she couldn’t do it.

Alan kept looking at her, so she spoke, “I looked up, I am looking. Ok.”

“Good”, Alan knew when to not put pressure on her and she was grateful for that. They continued eating in silence for a while. She didn’t have anything to fill in the silence today. She was running low on positivity. Very low.

“Promise not to laugh at me if I call you tomorrow to tell you that I passed out in the O.R or something”, Alan said with such seriousness that she started laughing.

“You are laughing already”, He couldn’t help but smile and turned a little red.

She controlled her laughter and took a sip of her drink, “I won’t. I promise”

“That just means you believe I will pass out. Damn it. You are the worst. I came here looking for support”, Alan had his sheepish face on and tried to sound mad but failed.

“What do you want me to say? I’m a bigger loser than you are. I don’t think I have a right to laugh at you. At least you are trying. You’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll come back smiling. And the next time you’ll even start doing the actual thing. You just need to go back”

Alan took a long sigh and put down his fork. He was nervous but a part of him wanted to go so maybe it won’t be that bad. He tried to tell himself repeatedly that he was sober now and he wasn’t going back in that hell hole again. That much he was sure of. He reminded himself that he didn’t actually kill the kid and he should give himself a chance. You never know if you never try, they say. What could go wrong? But the fear was still there, telling him he wasn’t trustworthy enough.

“We are losers, aren’t we?”

“We are”

 

 

 

 

 

Separate Dinners

We make separate dinners

side by side

on the same stove every night

Carefully navigating through

our pots and pans

It’s amazing how flawlessly

our utensils never come in each other’s way

I can smell the aroma of your dish

You can hear the sizzle of mine

We use the same ingredients from different packets

The pile of dishes is always bigger than it should be

it’s funny they get washed together, though

At least at the end of the day there is a clean kitchen

Who knew?

We could co-exist like that

Shared Empathy- Chapter Six

They all settled in the living room once the guests were gone. Sarah and Nola sat on the couch, Peter took the armchair on their right while Alan perched comfortably on a big cushion on the floor. They talked and caught up on each other’s lives now that they were alone.

“Stay the night, Nola. We get to meet for so little time”, said Sarah.

“Oh no, Sarah. I can’t. I have an early shift tomorrow. In fact, I should get going if I have to catch the 11 o’clock sub”, Nola replied getting off the couch.

Alan quickly got up too and said, “You are not staying but that doesn’t mean you are going alone at this hour. I’ll drop you.”, and went into the kitchen.

Nola opened her mouth to argue, but chose not to because there was no winning here. She looked at Sarah and shook her head, smiling.

“Well, I did one thing right with this son of mine. He’s right, you should go with him. It’s late”, said Sarah.

“You did most of it right”

“Hey! I did my part too”, Peter chimed in.

They all laughed at this and Nola picked up her bag hanging it across the body. Alan came carrying two bags which she knew contained packed food from the dinner. “I’m gonna put these in the car”, he said, and went out the main door.

“Okay, guys I had a lovely time. You should visit more often. It’s always great to have you here”, she said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. They had really become like her parents now and she always missed them after their visits.

“Honey, you should come to us sometime. I’ll ask Alan to bring you”. Peter put an arm around her shoulders and walked her towards the door. Sarah walked right beside them.

“Yes, Nola when will you come?” asked Sarah and her eyes lit up at the thought of having her children over.

“Probably never”, said Alan as he shut the car door, parked on the front porch, and came towards them.

“I’d love to come. Well, if your son brings me!”, she shoved Alan in the side.

“Oh great, put that on me”. They all laughed and their voices echoed in the lobby.

“Promise me you’ll come”, Sarah hugged her tight.

“Okay, I promise. Someday”, Nola said, hugging her back.

“Careful Ma, she is isn’t as innocent as she looks”

“Don’t you tease our daughter, young lad”, Peter said as he put an arm across Nola’s back for his goodbye hug.

“And promise me you’ll find him a nice girl before he loses all his charm”, said Sarah.

“I can find myself a nice girl, Ma!”

“Can you?”, Nola laughed, “He has already lost his charm, Sarah. There is no hope.”

“Oh please”, he rolled his eyes, “Let’s go before you ladies get more humiliating”

“I love you, bye”, she waved at them as Alan dragged her out of the house.

“We love you too. Take care.”, they said in unison and watched the car roll out of the porch.

xxx

“Dad asked me today if I would ever go back to surgery.”

They were in the car now. There was no heavy traffic but the roads weren’t completely empty either. The car was moving smoothly on the main road matching the mood outside.

“What did you say?”

“I said I don’t know”

“You don’t?”

“A part of me wants to go back but I don’t really know how”

“You know it, Alan. You just have to trust yourself for that”

He took a left turn. The car slowed down a little as they passed a busy street. After a few seconds of silence, he said, “I don’t though. I don’t Nola. I don’t trust myself. You know I don’t have a bad childhood or a particular incident to blame this on. It was all me. And I know, I know this is a wrong thing to say. But, I guess it gets easier if you have something to blame. I started taking drugs because I wanted to try them. I was fascinated by the idea of them. I thought I had it under control until I lost It.”, his face was flushed and he gripped the steering tighter, “I got dependent. Started making mistakes in the O.R, missed steps in examinations and then that day…”

He was called in for an emergency on his day off. A 14-year-old had come in with a head trauma. There was a brain bleed that needed to be clipped immediately. Alan always took calculated doses during work hours, he only splurged when he could. That day he just rushed to the surgery, his daily intake forgotten. Four hours into the surgery, he started getting irritable. He started losing the steadiness in his hands and snapping at the nurses. He lost his focus and nicked the wrong place which caused another bleed.

Alan froze. He knew what to do but he was too numb with fear and more than that the reason for his behavior. The assistant doctor and nurses asked him what to do and shouted the boys dropping vital levels at him, but he was unable to shake off the realization that it was happening because he didn’t take the drugs.Thankfully, the assistant snapped him out of his trance, adrenaline kicked in and he stopped the bleed. The patient survived but he could have died.

He took pride in what he did and the fact that a child could have died because of his folly became his regret. He started fearing surgery. Drugs were the reason for his downfall but now they became his solace. Instead of getting help, he used more to forget. The thoughts that the boy could have died didn’t leave him except when he stuffed his body with drugs. He was the spinner of his own cycle and he couldn’t stop spinning. Three years after that he was still struggling between wallowing and failing at rehab, then he met Nola.

Nola knew this story. He talked about it just once before. She let him be. They drove in silence for the next five minutes.

“That patient didn’t die”

“He could have”

She looked out the window. She didn’t know the right words to make him believe. She knew his condition. She was living it herself. When the regrets are haunting you, nothing makes sense. The night grew quieter and so did the car. They drove like that until they reached her apartment building. He parked the car on the side of the road and looked towards her. She looked back and turned towards him, folding one leg underneath her.

“It’s in you, Alan. Surgery is a part of you, you didn’t lose it. You lost control for a while but you have it now. You’ve been sober for more than six months. That’s the longest you’ve gone. You know you want it. Give it a try.”, she uttered every word with force making another attempt before she pushed too hard.

“Will you give it a try?”

“Give what a try?”, she asked back and straightened up again to face the windshield.

“A job. Not a lousy job at the coffee bar. One that’s worth your potential.”

She laughed loudly and looked away, doubt evident in her eyes. “I can try to find you a nice girl. At least your mom would be happy”

“That’s the best you could come up with for deflecting”, Alan shook his head, easing up a bit.

Nola opened her mouth to reply but Alan cut in, “Let’s make a promise”

“What promise?”, she looked at him incredulously.

“That we will both do it. You’ll look for a job and I’ll start surgery”

Nola started laughing.

“Why are you laughing?”

“For a second I thought you were gonna go – Let’s make a promise to marry each other if we reach forty and are still single”

Alan couldn’t help laughing himself and shook his head.

“What?!”

“You watch those cheesy romantic movies all the time. Who knows what you might say”

“I do not!”

Nola raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, I do, but that is not happening. I will find a nice girl, okay! Or… my mother will.” They both burst out laughing again.

Alan took a long sigh. “So you promise?”

“Okay, I promise. Maybe it is the only way we’ll move forward”, Nola said it before she could stop herself. She felt a butterfly of fear flutter in her stomach but ignored it.

“Good. Now take your food and get out of my car.”

She took the bags from the back seat and got out of the car. “Thank you, what would I do without you.”

“Probably starve to death”, he said and watched her walk towards the building.

 

 

Even Today

Even today
When my skin tingles
The voice in my mind gets
too loud or too silent
My heart boards the turbo train
and threatens to get off track
I look for you
Miles of time
Sore truths
Salt lines dried out
Smiling old memories
A closure too late
Hanging between us
Even today
I look for you

Light one in your heart

Tonight as you blow the candle

light one in your heart

of love and laughter

courage and warmth

flickering compassion

let it catch fire

in the years to come

let it be

your Bright, filling the dark

let a lonely soul

stand in your glow

shower

burn out

light one, again