It’s like it never happened, like she never was here. I see one patient after another and we talk of their exercise routine. I ask about their sex life. We discuss their vaginal discharge. I am transported back to a year ago, when I was actually pregnant, but didn’t know it yet. My life hadn’t changed. I went to work each day and helped women figure out their birth control and navigate through abnormal pap smears. Fastforward to right now and when I’m at work, and it is the same. There is a sign with my daughter’s photo and her life summed up in a short paragraph, but otherwise, no difference. I sit across from these women and for a moment I am distracted, thinking of their lives instead of mine. They don’t ask, because the visit is about them (as it should be).
At lunch time I say to one of my nurses who has been especially helpful in the past few months, “maybe I should take the sign down?” She asks why. “Because no one says anything, so it feels a little pointless.” We decide to keep it up longer, at least until I start seeing OB patients.
Then I am seeing my last patient of the day- a young woman who I have never met before. As we say our introductions and I ask how I can help her, she pauses and says, “I just want to express my condolences…” and says a few more kind words. She read the sign. I was so resigned to the fact that though my daughter’s absence is a constant presence for me, it might not belong in the workplace that I became a little teary eyed when she spoke her words.
I raised my eyes from her chart and looked at her. “You are the first person to say something all day. Thank you. That is so kind.”
I know people don’t know see the sign. Others don’t what to say and I don’t blame them. I used to not know either. But then every now and then I have an interaction like this one. It amazes me how some people can figure it out. Is it something they are born with, this deep-rooted compassion and fearlessness to say something? Was it taught to her as a child, raised by parents who showed her the grace in saying something, anything? Has she learned her empathy the hard way, having lost something or someone she loved?