– ANGEL IN TRAINING –
By Edward L. Binkley
It was a chance encounter, no planning involved at all. Even though there was and is no romance involved, I will most likely remember this meeting for a long time to come.
There was a show in the mid to late 1990’s called “Touched By An Angel” which I never placed too much stock in. It ran for several seasons and starred a beautiful actress named Roma Downey and, just for good measure, they threw in Della Reese to co-star. Good cast but a hard to believe plot. Hard to believe that is until last week, Monday, September 28, 2009.
It started as a day much like any other, I had coffee with French Vanilla creamer (non-dairy) in the morning with two slices of bacon and three eggs scrambled with minced garlic, chopped white onion, cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese, one slice of toast lightly buttered (margarine, cholesterol free) and a 12oz. glass of ice cold fat free milk to top it off. I love breakfast. Oh yes, and my daily regimen of pills. I can’t afford to forget those or so the doctors say.
I had an appointment with my psychologist that afternoon at 1:00 P.M. which I always look forward to. Dr. H. is an easy person to talk to and she always lets me ramble on about anything that’s on my mind, such as it is. I even caught her yawning once.
This day I happened to tell her about an incident that happened two weeks prior, I had what I thought was a minor episode, what I consider to be a minor heart attack but prefer to call it an episode. It’s less scary that way. She asked if I had gone to the emergency room during or directly after the episode and I told her I had not. She insisted that after our session was over that I go directly to the emergency room for an EKG and blood work up to make sure everything was alright. She was worried. I said I didn’t think that was necessary, she disagreed so I went. She said she would check and I had no reason to doubt her.
At the Veterans Hospital, as I imagine at any emergency room across this great land, if your complaint is chest pains or what you might think is heart related pains, you go to the head of the line regardless of how many people there are in the waiting room. There are exceptions to every rule so gunshots, stabbings and the not so common errant 2×4 falling off a lumber truck, bouncing freely on the freeway, catapulting into the air, piercing a cars windshield and the driver behind it through the chest may rank right up there with your everyday chest pains but, these days, who knows. Even that errant 2×4 may be too common-place to get special notice any more.
I went to the walk up window, showed my veterans I.D. and told them my dilemma. I had no pains right now but my psychologist wanted me to get checked out. Immediately, I was tagged and sent to the admitting nurse for a once over. She was very nice, very cute and very efficient. She hustled me right through and onto a gurney in the emergency room. I kept telling her how silly I felt because I was having no pain at all and that the episode had been over for two weeks or more. She assured me that this was all necessary, just routine. I did as I was told. Something, I guess, left over from my two years in the army or my twenty years of marriage. Take your pick.
I lay there being prepped by two emergency room nurses and the admitting nurse feeling sillier by the second. At first I paid no attention to my doctor as she walked up but that soon changed. This warm and gentle hand touched my left forearm and this beautiful young woman was standing over me with the gentlest of eyes and the warmest most genuine smile I can, in this life, remember. It seemed like I stared at her for an hour before speaking but I’m sure it was less that 30 minutes, I mean seconds.
Her hair was shoulder length and seemed golden brown in the florescent lighting of the emergency room. Her voice was soft and reassuring and her every move was precise yet graceful. She asked me a series of questions which I hopefully answered coherently. I know or at least hope that I apologized for staring at her like I did and I know or at least hope I apologized for occupying a space that could have been used for a real patient. I told her I felt fine, that my psychologist wanted me to stop in here or I wouldn’t have come at all. She assured me, as only she could, that I was just as important as anyone and to just relax.
As she walked back to the nurses station she turned and said that as soon as they had my blood results and the cardiologist checked out my EKG she would be back to go over the results with me. She wore all black scrubs with white gym shoes. She had a wonderful figure which was not completely hidden even under the non-descript medical garments. Hers fit her like they were tailor made which they may have been since her name was embroidered on the front of her tunic.
Hours passed as I waited not so much for the test results but for my doctors’ return. She was attending to other patients in another part of the emergency room and I only got a glimpse of her when she would come back to the nurse’s station for a chart or a printout of some kind or the other. It was during these glimpses that, as I watched her walk to and fro, I thought I could almost detect an aura. It may just have been blurred vision but I prefer to think otherwise. She walked with such a fluid movement it was as if she were supported by gossamer wings which no one could see but He who bestowed them upon her.
I know this sounds like I should have been forwarded directly to the Looney bin in stead of the emergency room but this is how this young woman appeared to me. I’m sixty-two and have three daughters her age and younger so don’t get the wrong idea. My interest in this young woman is, I guess, more of a spiritual thing. It’s hard to nail down completely but that’s how it felt, she was almost ethereal in nature. I guess that would have made more sense if I had been dying but I was no more on my death bed then than I was when I walked in there under my own steam three hours earlier. Every time I saw her or she even smiled in my general direction I felt a warmth that I cannot explain and do not want to over analyze for fear it will go away, forever.
When finally my test results came in she walked over to where I was with her beautiful smile in perfect working order. As she explained what I already knew that I had no symptoms of a heart problem, she said she wanted me to come in for a stress test. I told her it would show her nothing more than she knows right now. She assured me that it, like everything else, was necessary and just the next step in the process. I relented and agreed to do the stress test. I would have climbed Everest if she thought it was necessary.
All the time she was talking to me, or I at least would like to think so, she had her hand on my left forearm. Not shrink wrapped in one of those purple and impersonal latex gloves but her bare skin touching mine. Every once in a while she would rub her hand back and forth on my arm as a soothing gesture, a personal touch that makes the touch all that more personal.
Just a thought but other doctors should take lessons from this young woman, her bedside manner is perfection. It doesn’t take that much longer to be pleasant and share a smile. This is something that is sorely lacking in many physicians these days. Medicine today is too impersonal, too regimented. Many doctors and nurses don’t even look up from the patients chart except to find their way out of the room. I wonder if they wear those latex gloves in the super markets or restaurants, while they’re playing with their kids or during the more intimate times of their lives.
This young woman seemed to me to be a very competent doctor in all respects yet down to earth. I feel she has not a pretentious bone in her body, that to her the world is equal to all and that all that inhabit it may share it equally. She merely has a talent and the aptitude that goes with it that others do not and is glad she has the opportunity to share it and herself with the world. This is, at least, how she appeared to me.
She made me promise that if I had another episode (A word she used first, by-the-way, I hadn’t told her that was how I referred to a heart thing.) that I would come in immediately during or right after so they could run tests right away. I asked her when she would be on duty so I could schedule my next episode to coincide with her hours. She simply smiled that wonderful smile and said, “I’m a resident, I’m always here.” With that she rubbed my arm, smiled again and walked off to do more wondrous things for other patients in need of her singular skills.
When I left the emergency room I looked back in hopes of catching a glimpse of her once more. It didn’t happen. I really didn’t think that it would. I just had this feeling of separation and loss. Like something had passed through me, through my life that I couldn’t explain and now, except for the warm afterglow of memory, it was gone not to be forgotten but neither to be revisited.
I went for my stress test and the preliminary results were as I had expected, I was fine. Before I left the office where I had taken the test, I mentioned this wonderful resident I had encountered in the emergency room a week or so before. Neither of the ladies I talked to had ever heard of her. It’s a big hospital so I didn’t think much of it.
I walked through the huge lobby of the Portland V.A. hospital with all of its’ separate goings on. The place was packed and there were things happening everywhere. The flu shot clinic was set up by the left side of the main entry doors for any veteran needing his annual shot. There were free cup cakes, rolls and cookies with Kool-aide or whatever next to the grand piano and its’ keyboard wizard of the day playing 1940’s tunes or requests of any kind. The designer coffee stand on the order of Starbucks across from the piano serving special brewed coffee, lattes, cappuccino and bottled water at an expensive yet lower rate than that of Starbucks. The information stand was in the middle and all of the comfortably cushioned chairs for those waiting for appointments, transportation home or pharmaceuticals occupied the rest of the space. This was all for the comfort and enjoyment of the veterans, their family and friends and, of course, the doctors, nurses and techs that attend them.
As I approached the main entry doors, I walked out to the smaller entry lobby where if you turn left you go to the elevators that take you down to the parking garages or, if you turn right it takes you to the emergency room entrance. I hesitated. I wanted to turn right and go into the emergency room to see if Dr. Christie Horak was on duty but I was actually afraid of what I might find out.
I could just hear the responses to my inquiries about her, “Dr. who?” “Christie Horak, never heard of her.” “You say she works in this E.R.?”
I didn’t know, right at that moment, how I would have reacted to those answers. Would I have been glad to the point of enchantment to think that I might have been right and not crazy or would the sadness have been overwhelming for the same reason? I wasn’t sure and I wasn’t ready to take the chance either way. Not yet, anyway.
I decided to write this story about that afternoon and the following appointment for the stress test and then, hopefully, deliver this to her in person as a thank-you for all she had done and to reaffirm that she really did exist. The affirmation was for me personally, the thank-you, however, was not. The thank-you was for the countless others that she has treated and will continue treat in the future. Although there will be many who will enter her theater of expertise I still consider us the fortunate few.
My personal thoughts of Dr. Christie Horak are of those wonderful hands and the warm personal touch that goes with them, may the heart and the soul that guides them forever remain as pure of spirit and as full of love as they are today. May her beautiful eyes that know just how to look into another’s and those most perfect of lips that form the most perfect of smiles, just right for each particular moment, may they too remain unchanged by time and circumstance.
Should I ever be cast in the roll of the emergency room patient again, which I undoubtedly will be at some point, I sincerely hope that she is cast as my physician. No pills, no shots, no I.V.’s, no surgeries required. Just her wonderful smile, her beautiful eyes and her warm and gentle touch will do nicely.
That show that I mentioned at the beginning, “Touched By An Angel”. I didn’t put much stock in it then, like I said, but I do now. For if my Dr. Christie Horak is not now an angel in this life, she most certainly will be in her next. Of that I am certain.