Kira Moolman is a University of Toronto student entering her final year of the Master of Divinity degree at Wycliffe College. She enjoys rooibos tea, Peter Pan, and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershøi. If she were an animal she would probably be an otter but has not quite committed to it yet.
As medical professionals, my parents are used to
being first on scene to help. Paramedic mother.
Doctor father. The babysitter would sleep over
on the nights that they were both on call.
On these nights my mother was the first to answer
the phone and get out of bed, the house quiet and dark,
us children sleeping a few rooms over.
She would pick up the patients and
bring them to the hospital for my father to treat,
leaving their bed in the middle of the night,
so as to not wake him,
knowing that he would soon have to wake up
to take care of whoever she could patch up
and place on a stretcher, drive through
the flatness of the Prairies in the still dark night,
and bring to the hospital, the only building
with the lights still on in the small sleeping town.
The paramedic chief used to say that he hated
working with my father, because he was too calm
in the face of emergency. Perhaps that stillness
was a bit unsettling to those who had just been
driving in the blowing snow, sirens wailing,
to find broken bodies, the noise of being first
on scene, the rush and the quick commands:
the ABCs I learned as quickly as I could speak,
potty-trained and first-aid trained,
then get to work with rescue breathing,
next elbows locked and hands in place to pump back circulation:
one one thousand
two one thousand
three one thousand
and then after this clatter to meet my father,
ready to take care of the situation, his voice soft,
his hands so much softer
than that of the tough prairie folk he treated,
their hands gnarled and calloused
by frostbitten winters and drought-dry summers.
All those years in Manitoba,
where my parents worked together
to save lives for a living. Now they have moved
to other ways of saving.
But when my mother leaves my father’s side
at night because his snoring is too loud,
or the room is too hot,
or he is tossing too much, he still wakes up after
a while, following her path, still seeking
to treat those emergencies she has started to fix.
Father doctor, whose patients treat him as priest,
pouring out confession, steeping him in saline.
His job is to manage pain,
rather than cure,
sometimes with ketamine,
or other drugs I am not certain
how to spell or pronounce,
sometimes by listening and lingering and waiting.
our fridge magnet reads, the fridge full of leftovers
of my mother’s cooking and small glass bowls containing
the spicy sauces my father concocts, making every
dinner a tearful affair for him, though he smiles at us
through the sweat, making small noises of satisfaction.
I don’t understand why anyone
would deliberately do something
that causes that kind of pain.
The fridge magnet giving the reminder of why,
sometimes, though it occurs rarely,
there is little patience left over for us.
I understand. It is a hard job, and after all,
he is just one man, full of stories that would turn me
in reaction to the bruising and battering
that comes with caring,
if I had to hear those stories every day,
if I had to watch people
every day. I don’t know how he does it.
It takes a special person to do that kind of job,
people tell me, and I nod and know it is true.
He comes home full of their stories and fears,
but does not empty them on us. Patient confidentiality,
you understand. He is known for his bedside manner
at the hospital, his sense of humour, his care, the accent
that makes everything he says sound more legitimate.
(Which is why the church ladies believed him when he
casually described a fictional tattoo, placed on his left buttock.)
My whole life, I have been in the habit of
confessing my cuts and scrapes to my father,
showing the bruises, describing aches and pains,
(where does it hurt? on a scale of 1 to 10?
does it stab, throb, or come in waves?),
with the utmost confidence in his prognosis,
his ability to prescribe and treat,
trusting his dismissal or concern.
He continues asking about the pain
long after the symptoms have subsided,
remembering my hurts, fearing the worst.
For a doctor that treats terminal patients,
every pain could mean the end. We are all
he reminds us.
When my father makes confession to me, I turn
complacent in the role of counsellor, in my
opportunity to manage pain
without the training or the ketamine,
or the listening.
I find him sitting with head bent, back bowed,
hands cupping the hollows under cheekbones,
paralyzed with the helplessness that comes
from being unable to manage our pain,
our family doctor,
this father doctor.
I kneel beside him in the dark
with words of would-be comfort,
telling him that we are only human,
we are all only human.
Only now do I realize that sometimes
the only cure is patience,
the listening and lingering and waiting.