Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rock, Paper, Scissors.

I thought to do what we always did on rounds that morning:

"Rock, Paper, Scissors--SHOOT!"

That always seemed to make him feel better. But today, there was something heavy in the air. I decided to hold off.

"How are you today?"

He looked up at me with tired eyes. Round like big, brown marbles and almost doe-like. "Today is a tired day."

This response gripped my chest, especially since it was coming from someone so young. "I'm sorry," I replied.

"I'm tired," he answered. He laid back in the bed and flipped his cell phone over rhythmically like a flapjack in his hand.

"Tell me. What can I do for you today. To give you a little bit of sunshine today?"

He seemed to like that ambitious offer. Those bright eyes fixed onto my own and widened a bit. The near fluorescent hue of his jaundiced sclerae were like another kind of strange sunshine. Almost like that you'd see on other planets.

"Start me over without this disease. Let me have a do-over. That would make this day better."  I curled up one side of my mouth and furrowed my brow because I didn't have that in my little bag of internal medicine tricks. He seemed to feel bad for me after he said that. "I'm only kidding. It's just one of those days." Again the flapjack cell phone flying higher and higher in the air.

"How is the pain? Is it under control?"

"You know? It's probably like a '5' on a scale of 1 to 10, which for me isn't bad."


He kept tossing that phone and then changed the subject. "Dr. Manning? How did you know you wanted to be a doctor?"

Honestly? I wasn't sure of that answer. I thought about it for a moment and then answered, "I just knew I was good with people. So I guess I decided that something with people would be good for me."

"Damn, you sure aimed high." He let out a weak laugh, but only because his body was weak. It was meant to lighten the mood.

"I guess so, huh?"

"Yeah. You could have been a greeter at WalMart. That's totally a people gig," he mused.

"Hmmm. Never thought about that. You're right." I laughed with him while silencing his IV pump.

"Dr. Manning? Does anybody in your family have sickle cell like me?"

I stopped fussing with the IV and gave him my attention. "No."

"You're lucky. It's not a good disease to have, you know."

"Mmmm."  I started to say I know, but then I realized that I don't really know.

"Do you know what it feels like when it flares? It feels like someone breaking all of your bones at once. In a food processor."


"It's not fun."

"It doesn't sound fun."

This time he threw that phone so high into the air that I feared it would hit the ceiling. It didn't though. Finally he caught it and clasped it in his hands. "But you know? It's such a part of who I am now. As bad as it sounds, I wouldn't be me without it. And I like being me."

Just in that instant those words moved me deep in my soul. I almost felt like crying. "Liking yourself is great. So many people don't."

He shrugged his narrow shoulders and gazed at me with those golden rod-framed brown eyes. "I know my heart is good."

That moved me, too. Especially hearing that coming from someone who wasn't even twenty yet. "How do you know for sure? That your heart is good?"

Once I said that I wondered if it sounded like an insult. Fortunately, he didn't take it that way.

"I know because I can see the good in people. Even when they aren't nice or are acting ugly, I can see the good in them. I see the best in most situations, too. You need a good heart to do that."

"I reckon you do," I agreed. I thought for a moment about my own heart.

He must have read my mind. "What about you? Do you think you have a good heart?"

"I sure hope so," I responded quietly. "I try to."

"I can tell." He smiled at me with the wisdom of someone three times his age.

"You are wise, you know that? You are wise like a village elder."

He pressed his lips together and shrugged again. "I'm just me."

"And you know what? You is good. I like you."

His mouth turned downward feigning a smug expression as he nodded his head up and down. Flipping the phone once again, he raised one eyebrow at me and replied, "And I like me, too."

I smiled for a moment and savored his words. Then with a playful and decidedly more energetic laugh he got down to our daily ritual.

"Rock, Paper, Scissors?" His raised eyebrow went up again. This time even more exaggerated than before.

"Let's do it."

I put those words in my pocket for later realizing that no matter who would win at Rock, Paper, Scissors that I was already the victor just for being there.



  1. Well for me, sitting in a hospital bed waiting for more tests and feeling frustrated with one more way my body fails me, the was a good reminder that I really don't have it so bad. Thank you.

  2. Yep. That's what it's all about. Having a good heart.
    Lovely. Sorry this man (or anyone) has to live through pain like that. I'm glad he has you.

  3. oh, the mouth of babes. he broke it right down. thank you for this inspiration today.

    and i enjoyed his observation that you aimed high. i laughed at his walmart greeter comment. but you know, traveling around the country with your family, seeing all those sights, especially that vegas pool, experiences like THAT probably conditioned you to aim high, and you didn't even know you were being primed. you have awesome parents. and you are pretty darn awesome too.

    wonderful post.

  4. I met my first sickle cell patient just a few weeks ago, and it will always stick with me as well that combination of resigned pain but also that deep sense of loving life and loving themselves, even though they have this disease that is so inextricably part of them. I'm just a medical student that wasn't part of her care team, so I didn't get a chance to see her again, but even that brief experience touched me as well.

  5. Lisa -- Yes.

    Sister Moon -- He brought me the sunshine I was looking to give him.

    Angella -- He was such a wise person. I was lucky to meet him.

    Emily -- There is no such thing as "just a medical student." Never forget that.

  6. From the Deck of the Poop,
    Kimberly, you are truly gifted when you put fingers to keyboard and create a masterpiece. This is one of them. I am just thankful to have played a small part in creating the joy and inspiration that you send out in your blogs. Thanks
    I love you very much...



"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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