Release that Dam

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Whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh

Hearing the baby’s heartbeat from outside the door, I stepped into the exam room to check the patient on the monitor.

Hola, soy Soapie, una enfermera (Hello I’m Soapie, a nurse),” I introduced myself, while looking at the curvy lines on the gridded paper.

“AHH!!!!! Soy yo! (It’s me!)” she exclaimed. Her eyes widened above her mask and grinned in the corners.

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No Turkey, but Tombstones

When the sun rose on Thanksgiving morning, I inhaled a deep breath.

It was a holiday like never before.

As a family with a baby and toddler, no relatives nearby, no help with childcare, and both of us as healthcare workers, we had been running on empty since March. How our chests ached, yearned to see our family! But we chose not to travel, and told our family not to visit us, for everyone’s safety during the pandemic.

Despite our sheer exhaustion, I was still thankful. We’re still alive, thanks be to God. (As I write this, there have been 1425 healthcare workers who have died in the U.S. from fighting COVID.)

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Unraveling

She frowned and kicked her feet in frustration.

“We have to be apart right now.”

“But I miss Baba!!!” she wailed.

A few months ago, my husband decided to quarantine in a separate room, just in case. He had some symptoms, and we didn’t want to risk getting me sick (since I have asthma), nor our young kids.

Ring…. Ring….

“BABA!” my daughter exclaimed. Her eyes lit up as she looked at the screen.

Then, a pair of brown ears and an animal face appeared.

“You’re a monkey?!?!” she giggled. We had never used the animoji setting on Facetime before.

Her laughter was a fresh breath of air; it gave me the boost I needed to get through the longest, most exhausting days.

~ ~ ~

A few weeks ago

Bright sun light poured into the room. But it didn’t wake him. He probably arrived home around 4 or 5 a.m.

I took one glance at him, then ushered my baby and toddler towards the stairs. “Let him sleep. We have to stay far for now. Just in case.”

He was wearing a mask… while sleeping.

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When There’s No Room

photo of a hospital hallway

“Did you eat today?” In Asian culture, asking did you eat yet is another way of asking how are you?

He tossed his dirty scrubs in the hamper. It was part of our decontamination routine. “For once, I actually ate. I had a short moment to run to the caf.”

I grinned. “Remember at our old hospital, how we would get pizza in the caf before I worked a night shift, and before you went home from your day shift?”

“Those were good memories,” he smiled, like it had been a past lifetime, pre-covid era.

I remembered the sounds of plates and chatter, and I envisioned the people buzzing to and from the cafeteria.

Then I remembered walking those long basement hallways and turning a corner. My brows narrowed and my grin faded.

~ ~ ~

Suddenly I was transported back in time, and I felt this heavy weight upon my shoulders. It was a crushing pressure that drained every last ounce of my strength, after all my energy had already been emptied from working so hard to NOT go there. Pushing the stretcher up the hall was the most impossible task, like pushing towards Mount Everest.

It was the task I dreaded the most.

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Departures and Reunions

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Riding his bike, an elderly man approached the intersection. His military green cadet hat and faded jacket looked familiar.

Pbu! Jum reap sua! (Uncle! Hello!)” I crossed the street to meet him, placed my palms together, under my chin, and bowed my head. In Khmer, we call our friends, and our patients, family.

But he didn’t always feel the same way about me.

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Sinking Sand

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are sunny days ahead?

“I threatened to walk out unless they gave me a real mask… it’s a tourniquet stapled to the mask. I barely pulled and the staples tore away.”

“That’s totally unacceptable!” My jaw dropped open, reading the text from my former classmate, the maternity nurse. “Did you get a real mask?!?” Anger filled my throat; I swallowed it to try to calm down.  My breakfast sat on the table untouched. Continue reading

What is That Sound?

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Rays of hope shining through gray skies.

Over a month ago

Thump, thump!  Staccato steps hurried down the hall.

“She is wearing a mask,” my coworker whispered.  Seeing the patient in the hallway, she ducked into our office to distance herself.

In the setting of a pandemic, I thought it’d be normal to see people wearing masks.

But I understood. We were all a little scared.

~ ~ ~

Clink. 

Forks dropped against porcelain plates in the sink, as my husband washed dishes at home.  “What if one of us gets sick? Who will care for our kids?” He worked in the hospital, and they were preparing for the worst. Continue reading

Why Do I Like Ramen So Much?

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I’ve been contemplating why I like ramen so much…

My husband’s theory is that people love certain foods because of nostalgia; when they eat a particular food, it brings back happy or fond memories. For example, he and my sis in law reminisce about Black Forest Cake, but not just any Black Forest cake, but Black Forest Cake purchased from Sam’s Club. “Whenever we had a birthday, that’s where our family got our cake, and it always stood out to me as the best. That is my cake standard.”

I don’t have that kind of history with ramen; I tried my first bowl of “authentic” Japanese ramen after I graduated from college, married, moved to a new city. Honestly, the first time I tried it, I wasn’t even that impressed.

Gradually, my tastes began to change. The meaty but creamy broth, the chewy noodles, the half boiled egg… ramen had become one of the foods I always crave.

But why?
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Bright Reds and Flashing Sirens

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A different view of the inner city. Spring 2019.

A whirlwind of colors whizzed outside my desk window. They were the bright reds of fire trucks and the dizzying, flashing sirens of ambulances.

Is it safe to walk to my car? 

Usually I don’t feel anxious about my commute, despite working in the “rough” side of town.  But those emergency vehicles had lingered for quite some time.

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