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Pierre R. Berastaín Headshot

The Death of a Stranger

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I reluctantly walked to my assigned floor at RHD Medical Hospital. The truth is, I did not want to see old people being bathed, fed, or changed by some perfunctory nurse. I wanted action. I wanted to work in the Emergency Room where there existed the possibility of someone dying or of an event changing my views on the medical field, or even life. But it was bound to happen nonetheless, and Mrs. 531 was the chosen one.

On a Friday, I met Mrs. 531 and found it peculiar that an apparently healthy individual would have to visit the fifth floor. Questioning in a jokingly manner I inquired, "Why are you here? You look too healthy to be here." She smiled thankfully and mentioned some rare disease I could not recognize. After ensuring 531 had everything she might need, I carried on with my duties. Every time the nurses said 531 needed a towel, soap, water, a blanket -- something insignificant -- I paid a visit to her. She was a lonesome lady. Yet, something unusual about 531 struck me. She had the desire to live, the desire to smile, and the desire to return to childhood.

In the afternoon, I showed Mrs. 531 the art of origami; she asked me about school, and I inquired about her son Mike and her daughter Susan. We bonded. From that first day, we had more than the patient-healthcare worker relationship. By the end of my shift, Mrs. 531 was my new best friend at RHD Medical Hospital. Sadly, I seemed to be her only friend that day. After all, not a single family member had knocked on her door that Friday to empathize with her pain.

Before I left for home, I hugged my new friend, wished her the best, and waved, "See you Monday!" I do not know if it was a tear or just a stretch of my imagination, but 531 certainly showed emotion.

"Thanks for being my company," she said.

"My pleasure."

On Monday morning, I ran eagerly to Mrs. 531's room. It was empty. I stood cold, not knowing whether to grow impatient or believe that the nurses had taken my friend somewhere for testing. Knowledge in the medical field dissipates fast, however, and the solemnity of the room was broken by a nurse's detached voice. "Can you strip her bed? She's gone." As the professional I was told I needed to be, I complied, nodded, and smiled. I put on my gloves, and slowly began to take my friend's sheets, pick her trash, and return the furniture to its original state.

"But she looked so healthy," I repeated constantly while preparing the room for the new 531, another individual who made his imprint on me. Since then, there has been no other Mrs. 531. She taught me that not everything is as it appears, and that a friend must be appreciated because we never know when we'll lose him. She taught me that everyone has something to share, and that everyone plays an important role in life. I will always remember that lady who changed my stubborn high school views on life, the one who forced me to mature in minutes: Mrs. Johnson, the only 531 that there will ever be.