You are a patient. Just one of many in an already-overwhelmed system, following the protocols, ticking the little boxes on crisp white paper. And I am a healthcare professional, submerged in the same system, following the same protocols, ticking a corresponding row of little boxes on crisp white paper.
You are my patient. Walking through the pharmacy’s brightly lit shelving, clutching your bag, offering only a curt nod towards the chirpy pharmacy assistant. And I am your pharmacist, watching you choose the seat you always do, watching you check your cracked fingernails the way you always do, seeing you in here most days when I’m at work.
You are a long-term recovering addict. Searching for a better way forward than a destructive life on heroin. And I am your provider now. I give you a controlled drug, a daily drug, a safer drug to help hold you steady on your rocky path.
You are a woman. At a guess I would say you might be a similar age to me. I am a woman, too. But life has treated us very differently, the choices we have each faced have been poles apart. And these differences are now etched into our faces, and into our eyes.
Today, like so many yesterdays, you are these things. Today, like so many yesterdays, I am these things. But today we are both something else.
Today, after you finish taking your regulated dose, after I’ve checked your mouth and ticked the appropriate box, and after you’ve signed your sheet besides the little ‘x’, you don’t grab for your bag and head for the door without ever really looking at me. Instead you pause a moment, and I think you have something you want to say. Something you need to tell another. So I wait.
And then you begin to tell me about your daughter.
She is preparing for an MRI scan the next day and you are sick with worry. A scan of the brain can surely only mean one thing, you say. And when I gently ask, you tell me about her behavioural changes and her pain, you tell me about her faltering vision and your pain.
You can’t think of anything but the worst possible scenario for your fourteen year old girl.
I have no words for you just yet, so I put down my crisp white sheet, and I put down my strict black pen.
Today, instead of hurrying back to the busy dispensary, I sit down next you. And today, I am right here with you feeling your angst. Because today, we are both just mothers, sharing the pain, the distress, and the uncertainty of having a sick child.
You talk of your adolescent daughter, but all I can see is my own eight year old daughter, growing up right before my eyes. You talk of your fears for your child, but all I can think of is when my own cousin, barely out of her teens, received the worst news that you’re speaking of.
Today, it doesn’t matter that we’ve walked such different paths. It doesn’t matter that we have different boxes to tick. Today, we sit together as women, as mothers.
Finally, when we stand, ready to continue with the normality of just an average day, you stop and you really look at me.
And then you thank me, on this day that is anything but average.
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