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Frozen Concrete

By Daniel Foster17 Apr 2023

“Eyes?” she said again, and I could hear her breath almost crackle in the icy air.

I’d gone out the back of the hospital, as I often did. I wasn’t trying to make a quick getaway, but it did help me avoid awkward questions from curious onlookers. But, since she’d caught me out the backdoor of the ER, she had to be staff. I turned to face her. She was a nurse, judging by the scrubs and her kind but tired smile. She was pulling cigarettes from her scrub’s pocket.

“Corneas for transplant,” I confirmed. “Long shift?” I asked.

The quick but weary smile again. “Double,” she said. “You?”

“Going on 18 hours… I think.”

She nodded and sat slowly on the frozen concrete steps. My tissue recovery was complete, so I wasn’t racing the clock anymore, so I climbed back up the steps and sat with her. We stared into the inky blackness of 3AM winter.

“Long night?” I said facetiously.

“But a good night,” she replied.

Her face was lined with exhaustion, but solid with satisfaction.

“We saved the baby,” she said.

“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, and I didn’t have to pretend to sound relieved.

She’d lit the cigarette at some point, but she wasn’t smoking it, just sitting there on the step, holding it between her fingers. “How’s your night?” she asked.

I laughed tiredly. “I’ve been in my scrubs so long that they’re getting that waxy feel.”

She chuckled and nodded. “Thank you for what you do,” she said.

“You’ve done a lot more than I have tonight,” I said.

She didn’t act like she’d heard me. We sat for a while. She still wasn’t smoking, just holding the cigarette, letting the little red end burn slowly away.

“My daughter was a donor,” she said, looking out into the dark. “She was fourteen.”

She turned to me. “I know what you do is hard but thank you for doing it.”

I felt an inch tall. “You save lives,” I said. “I just do… this.” I held up the cooler. I fumbled out something about how great nurses are, and how I didn’t have a fraction of what it would take to do her job, but she didn’t seem to hear me.

“Every time I think about her,” she said, “It helps me to know she that she helped somebody else. You did too.”

I wanted to ask her what happened, but I didn’t. “I’m… I’m glad it helped,” I said stupidly.

We sat.

Eventually I said, “I have to get these corneas back.”

She came to herself again, nodded and smiled at me.

I held her gaze for a moment. “Thank you for what you do,” I said with utmost sincerity.

I took the corneas and went. I felt steadier than I had before. She did that for me, and for people I would never know. I drove safely all three hours back home. I never saw her again.

It’s National Nurses Week, but I can’t properly thank her, or any of you nurses, and that bothers me. You spend your days pulling us back from the brink, one at a time. You find ways to help us laugh when you’re as discouraged as we are. You help us hold on when we want to give up.

I think the idea of angels comes from people who give, and give, and give. I know being a nurse is rewarding, but I also know it comes at a high price.

When you need to be comforted, you still manage to comfort others—like an exhausted little eye bank tech, sitting beside you on a frozen concrete step.

You give hope. And no more precious gift was ever given.

Thank you for all that you do.


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