During my last year of medical school, I had a chance to visit San francisco as a student. I stayed at 16th and Mission which was about 20 minute walk to San Francisco General.
For two weeks I woke up at 5 am and walked thru the cool November bay air listening to Ginsberg. Work was pretty grueling, but it was really cool to see how medicine was practiced differently from the East Coast.
This one morning, like other mornings, I showed up to the third floor and made rounds with the residents and other students. I was gathering patient data on the fourth floor nursing desk.
“Can I have a Popsicle?” asked a little, old black patient from the bench facing the station. In her left hand, she was holding the skeletal remains of what was a red Popsicle just few minutes ago. An old Asian lady next to this black lady was just finishing her own Popsicle.
“No, ma’am,” replied the male Asian nurse sitting next to me.
Her unkempt hair reminded me of the homeless just outside the hospital. Her eyes, the white of it being yellow, fixed pleadingly at the nurse, who avoided eye contact with her. Soon, her toothless smile slowly turned gray as she slowly began to realize no more Popsicles will be given. Her yellow eyes started glistening saffron yellow from the tears, “I want another Popsicle!”
“No, you cannot have another popcicle, Mrs. Bonnie,” the nurse set the tone of conversation and also gave Mrs. Bonnie’s tear glands the “go” signal. “You just had one. We can’t give you another shot of insulin just so you can have another Popsicle.”
Tears came forth and down her cheeks, which left trails as it washed away the street make up of dirt and dust. It was clear in her expression that she was neither willing nor capable of accepting the fact that she cannot have what she wants. Her mind was like a child. She wanted another Popsicle.
She started bawling. And the nurses began to chuckle. I began to chuckle, too. It was funny.
We also felt bad inside. I wished I could give her another Popsicle, but that would require another insulin shot and maybe a longer hospital stay. I wished she could understand, but innocent as her mind was, it was probably no longer pliable like that of a child. We wished a lot of things.
As we sat there behind the nursing station, chuckling and feeling bad about ourselves, the unthinkable happened. The Asian lady put her arms around the black lady and began to console the poor woman.
She patted the diabetic patient on the back. Her consoling words were incomprehensible to all of us, including the crying woman.
How human was it to try to console a hopeless, albeit funny, situation. Her gesture was purely from compassion, her wish for the woman to be well.
The woman stopped crying. She wiped the tears from her face, which left her skin face look as if camouflaged.
It was a fleeting effort on the part of Guan Yin, disguised as the Chinese lady without teeth. I am not sure; the black lady will probably be begging and crying again. To the end of her days, she will be unsatisfied in her condition.
Yet, for some reason, I felt better inside. It seemed as if the world was not such a bad place. I had witnessed a human miracle, which transcended language, culture, and time. Though I am not sure how, I am a better person for the brief, nameless company of those two patients in my life.