Victor Rivas – College of Arts and Sciences
Another Saturday night falls upon me. I pull into the parking lot of the hospital. I shut off the engine as I finally manage to fit my pickup truck into a tight space. The roar and hum of the small block eight cylinder engine gives way to the quiet sounds on a cold night. I look at my watch, 6:45 p.m. I get out and lock the doors. I begin to walk under the street lamps that guide my way to the main entrance of the hospital. The sounds of the traffic are drowned out as I enter the revolving doors.
The revolving doors take some time to pass through, patiently I wait. Once inside, I make my way to the front desk. I am not looking for a friend or relative, nor am I even a staff member. I am a volunteer; a volunteer in the emergency room. I grasp the faded white log book and write my name, department, and my check-in and check-out time. 7:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Four hours to spend in an emergency room, I can never predict what I might see in those four hours. I close the folder and begin to make my way down a long hall to the elevators. I enter the elevator and press S1- sublevel one. The doors close and slowly I begin my descent into the unknown.
The doors open, I turn down another corridor and turn left. There the double doors to the emergency room wait. I take my I.D. badge with my unflattering picture and swipe the scanner. The doors open. The medical staff at the nurses’ station look up, they see me dressed in my bright red polo khaki cargo pants and my I.D. badge to complete the image. They return to finishing their final reports- the shift change always happens at 7:00 p.m. I then take in the sight, and what a sight it is. Doctors, nurses, emergency techs, physician assistants, patients, family members- all moving about in what seems to be orchestrated chaos. These people come here due to work, family, or treatment. As for me, I have no reason to be there, so why do I come back to this place every Saturday night that most people try to avoid?
I am not interested in going into a health related profession such as nursing, medicine, or anything related to that line of work. My focus is on health management, policy, and public health education, not patient care. Yet I still keep coming back every Saturday to clean rooms, change sheets, bring snacks and water to patients and their families, clean spills and messes, restock supplies and linens, and run errands for nurses. Amidst the chaos, my mind wanders back to a point in time when there was someone I should have been there for…my grandmother.
The week that my grandmother was in the intensive care unit is one of the few periods I can recount clearly in my life. I remember that week; it was the week of Martin Luther King Day and there was a three week holiday. I could’ve made the trip back home to see her, but I was just so scared to think of my grandmother in intensive care and that those were my grandmother’s last days that I didn’t go. I only wanted to remember her as the strong independent woman with the calming demeanor that I had known and cared for since I could remember. I couldn’t bear seeing her attached to a ventilator in an induced state weak and frail for that was not the woman who she was in life. A few days later she passed away, that was the day my father turned fifty. I never forgave myself for not saying my goodbyes, but my grandmother never did believe in them. After I had received the news over the phone from my father, I buried my head in my arms on my desk in my dorm room and began to cry. Fortunately I didn’t have any roommates living with me at the time that would’ve interrupted me in my moment of grief and sorrow. Just then, a bird flew up and began tapping at the window. It was a mourning dove, and it just stood there perched looking at me for what seemed to be an eternity before flying off. Though I am not spiritual or devoutly religious, to me it was a sign that my grandmother was now at peace and that I needn’t worry anymore. It was at that moment I felt a sense of calm overtake me; a sense that everything would be alright without my grandmother, though life would never be quite the same.
The sound of the monitor producing its rhythmic sounds brings me back to the emergency room. I carry on with my assigned tasks, passing those four hours without a moment’s rest. My time for the evening is almost up. I’ve seen a great variety of people pass through the doors from the very young to the frail and elderly. Each one evokes a certain emotion ranging from joy and hope one has as they begin their life, to bitter-sweet sorrow as one nears the end of their life. These are private moments that people hardly ever see in public, yet these are moments that are special in the power that each one possesses and the emotions they invoke.
11:00 p.m., my time is up for the evening. I throw away my latex gloves and washed my hands with the medical disinfectant and use hand sanitizer for good effect. After disposing of bed pans and cleaning human bio-matter from the beds and floor, it’s always best to be safe than sorry. Tired and sore from being on my feet, I grab my jacket and make my way through the double doors toward the elevator. The elevator comes quickly at this time, visiting hours are over. The doors open and I press the button for the main lobby; it begins its ascent from the chaos below. I walk out of the elevator towards the main entrance of the lobby and out the revolving door into the cold quiet night.
The street lamps light my way back to my truck that shimmers brightly with the night sky reflecting off its silver coat of paint. I get in but I do not start the engine, I just sit there for a moment. The sound I hear is that of silence and the calm that the night air brings. It is in these nights of calm that peace and solace are enjoyed and where atonement is felt but for a brief moment.