Toes tapped and heads bobbed to the groove of electric guitar, keyboard, and drums. The lead vocalist serenaded the audience. As he sang, I searched the tables for familiar faces.
Wrapped in her black coat, she sat quietly, hands folded in her lap.
“Jum reap sua (hello),” I pressed my palms together, raised them to my nose, and bowed my head in a formal Khmer greeting.
Maybe she didn’t recognize me without the scrubs. Or maybe she couldn’t hear me, with the Khmer rock band blasting on the stage. The band was the highlight of the fundraising dinner for the Khmer community.
“Oh, it’s you!” her stoic expression transformed into a toothy grin. She patted my hand.
How far we have come…
I remembered when we first met.
She walked into the clinic, tired from treading ice on heavy snow days. She had to walk, because she couldn’t drive. Even if she could, she couldn’t afford a car. She often joked around with witty, sarcastic remarks that caught me off guard in the mornings. Sometimes quiet, but always feisty. Back then, she rejected her diagnosis. “My mom… she died with this same disease. From those medications. So I won’t take them,” she insisted, giving me the cold shoulder.
I still pleaded and prodded anyway, trying to teach her the importance of her medications.
She didn’t like me very much.
As time passed, seasons changed, but I remained. Slowly but surely, she began to warm up to me.
“Sok sabay (how are you)?” She asked.
“Jas, sabay (Yes, I’m good),” I answered.
On the other side of the ballroom, I spotted another one of my patients. Usually, in clinic, her hair was pulled back in a pony tail, revealing puffy eyes from sleepless nights.
Tonight, she was glowing. Her hair flowed in soft curls, her cheeks and lips rosy pink, her neck adorned by a pearl necklace. “Soapie?!” she exclaimed. “Soapie is a nurse at the clinic,” she introduced me to her friends seated at the table.
My palms pressed together, I bowed to her and also to all her friends. “Wow… you look gorgeous. I didn’t recognize you,” I said.
She blushed. “For just one evening, I will try to enjoy myself.” Then, she paused. Sadness swept in, filling in the pupils of her eyes. “I will forget who I am, forget the suffering I bear,” she sniffed back tears.
I sighed. Others didn’t know, but I did. I knew about her illness. How it had stolen her independence. How it left behind gaping wounds. How the gnawing pain would shake her to her core. How it wasn’t that easy, to fall, and learn to get back up again. Nothing I could have said would lessen her pain…
She cleared her throat. “Ah .. ah.. did you eat yet?”
I nodded, understanding her cue for me to return to my table.
It was getting late. Before leaving, I turned around for a quick glimpse, hoping to say goodbye to my patients.
But none of them were seated at their tables. The nostalgic songs of Khmer rock and roll lured them onto the dance floor.
I watched in awe. Hands extended gracefully, essential to Khmer dance.
All your pain.
Hips swayed, sashaying from side to side.
All your trauma.
Belly deep laughs filled the air.
All your heartache.
Wide smiles stretched from ear to ear.
Come what may…
To earn someone’s trust, over several years,
to meet my patients where they are,
to feel the gravity of their sorrow,
to delight in their celebration…
it is such a beautiful gift, that reveals to me, yet again, of why I became a nurse.
Keep on dancin’…
~ ~ ~
This post is a response to Yeah Write.Me’s Challenge #158