A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
Orientation Day One, standing behind the Real Triage Nurse, looking at the line of 27 people at the beginning of my first shift as an ER nurse (Trainee, first class).
Absolutely beautiful 19 year old hispanic girl, and her great-looking significant other guyfriend come up to the window, and slide a piece of paper through a slot under the uberthick bullet-proof glass window, legacy of a whackjob who wandered in one day and started cranking off rounds.
It's a lab result printout. She wants to know what it means. My Spanish is good enough to figure that much out.
I look it over, and thankfully, but horribly, it's in English.
What it tersely announces, is that apparently her friend-boy has tested preliminarily positive on the ELISA test. Her boink buddy standing behind her has HIV.
She wants to know what the test means to us here in Big City Mega-Hospital. She's smiling, it's a sunny morning in late summer, the birds are singing. And the guy she's hooked up with has an incurable STD that he's probably also transmitted along to her without bothering to inform her.
How do you say "You've just been royally and supremely hosed in the lottery of life, and all the plans you have for the rest of your life will be overshadowed by the three letters HIV, until, in all probability, it kills you."?
Sure, there's a one in a gazillion chance the Western Blot will show this was a false positive. But it won't be. There's probably some tiny recess of my mind where I can hope that they always used condoms too. But they didn't. Friend-boy, probably very well aware of whatever risky behavior he undertook in the first place, doesn't want to look at her, me, or the paperwork. My Spanish is rusty, but I speak fluent body language, and his is screaming "I'd rather be anywhere else but here."
And there's tons of drug cocktails, and all kinds of other promising treatments, and they're doing tons of great research, so maybe someday...
Sh'yeah. As if.
I feel trapped behind the glass like some zoo animal. I want to scream at how unfair this is to her, me, and the universe. I wish I was 1/10th as fluent in Spanish as I was in English, as if even then I could begin to tell her, standing at the head of the line, what this all means to her, her relationship, her family, life, the universe, and everything.
I've got nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Nothing from 15 years of prehospital medical work, 8 years as an RN, 7 years of college, or 37 nursing textbooks. As if the entire cadre of instructors I've ever had, all lined up on my shoulders, could lean over and say, "We've got this." If aliens from Zoltar had landed with a Cloaking Device right behind me and sucked my brains out my ears silently and invisibly, one minute earlier, I could have felt no less able to come up with one coherrent course of response to answer the question she asked, the question on her face, in her mind, or behind those beautiful and tragically cursed eyes looking up at me as Someone Who Knows What To Tell You than the Infinity of Utter Nothing bubbling up in my head right that minute has left me.
So I heroically punt the ball as hard and far as I can away from me.
In my about to get tons better gabacho Spanglish, I tell her she needs to go across the street to Building 37, whose suitably non-descript name for bystanders is the equivalent of waving a lit road flare to anyone on staff, because it's the AIDS Clinic.
Good luck with the rest of your ruined life, chica. And I'm really sorry, so help me Florence Nightengale, for not having the wherewithal to do one single damned thing for you, say anything helpful, or do much besides feel like a butterfly pinned at the bottom of a kill jar.
Because my soul, in the first 30 seconds of this job, just died a little bit.
God Almighty, I woke up worried about my first day, and we talked about You helping me out on my drive in. Remember? Now I don't know if I'm going to make it to the end of my first hour, and there's still 58 minutes of that to go.
And the memory of that 2 minutes still makes it really hard to see.
Must be something in my eyes.