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I don't like hospitals, they're not very inviting places. Sure, the waiting rooms and front counter might look cozy, but once you go to the actual facilities it's a bit different. “ER” and “House” aren't like real hospitals. Real hospitals feel more like prisons. The hallways are all illuminated with fading florescent lights. The doors to the patients rooms have tiny viewing windows for doctors and visitors. The worst part however is probably the people: Nobody is happy. Everyone is here because they're sick or trying to help sick people. I am no different.
The door to Chris's room swung closed behind me. It nearly caught my skirt when it closed. “Are you awake Chris?”
I knew Chris was in his late forties/early fifties, but he had a baby face that made him look a decade younger than that. His hair pushed past the bandages on his head, and the rest of his body wasn't faring very well either. There were dried tears on his face, and the expression he wore was of a man who had given up. His body lay very still. If not for his rising stomach, I'd have assumed he was dead.
“Who are you?” He didn't turn to look at me. His voice sounded a little groggy, but I knew that was from the anesthesia.
“Amy Bernstein. But my friends call me Sasha.” I tried to smile.
“Have you ever seen Attack on Titan? It's an anime.”
He shook his head, or at least I thought he did.
“Me neither, but on facebook people parody her love for potatoes. I participated in a baked potato eating contest and won, so now everyone calls me by her name.”
It was hard to get a read on Chris's thoughts. He barely moved his face at all. Not a hint of a smile or frown.
“Where's the shrink?”
“About that...” I locked my hands together behind my back. “ She... Kind of thinks it's too early to start therapy. She was arguing with your wife. I said I'd check in on you to stop them from fighting.”
Chris scoffed. “So the intern is checking me over. What's in it for you, class credits?”
That made me quiet for a bit. I sighed in frustration before pulling a chair up to his bed.
“Yes, I took this internship to get class credits.” I sat in the steel chair. “I want to become a psychotherapist. I want to help people through their emotional problems. The more credits I have, the faster I can join the field.”
“Without the shrink here, you won't be getting any credits.”
“I can still help you though, can't I?”
Now he was quiet. I waited a few seconds before speaking again.
“How about you tell me something about yourself Chris? You know about my dreams and my insatiable hunger for baked potatoes. What's your deal?”
I folded my hands under my chin. With some reluctance, he started to speak.
“I'm not a coward.”
My eyebrows flicked up.
“So you're brave?”
“I bungee jump over solid ground. I work in construction because I get to stand over the earth on a metal girder. I was a stuntman once too. I'm just not afraid to put myself in harms way. But I'm more than just an adrenaline junkie. If someone's trapped in a burning building, if there's a car crash and gas is spilling onto the road, I'll lend a hand.”
I nodded. “The hospital isn't a new place for you is it?”
He shook his head.
“So what makes this time different?”
Chris let out a painful sigh before telling me his story.
“Every day when coming home from work I tell myself I'm going to be a hero. Sometimes I walk an old lady across the street, sometimes I give someone money to buy a soda. I seldom get the opportunity to be a real hero. But then I saw it...”
He lifted up his bandaged hand to point in the distance.
“There was a woman trying to move furniture into her house by using the fire escape. Typically the ladders go up and down, but she had unbolted it and turned it into a ramp. Of course it was held at that angle by a bunch of car tires she had rolled under it. Her setup didn't look very safe, and she was trying to move this huge couch by herself. So I did what any gentleman would do and offered my assistance. Did you know she refused my help?”
The question was rhetorical, but I still shook my head in response.
“Of course I tried to talk some sense into her. I told her how much bigger that couch was than her, how easily it could crush her, how unstable she looked on that ladder, but she refused my help every time. I know she's going to kill herself so I go to help anyway. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but the car tires gave way and the couch fell on top of us. We were both mangled by this thing, so we're both in this hospital somewhere.”
“How is this any different than all those other times?”
Chris scared me a little bit. He actually turned to face me. Really slowly. I almost slid my chair back. I could tell he was going to start shouting.
“...I don't like being in a hospital, but I understand that people like me end up in here a lot more often than others. The problem is that this time I got someone else hurt too. If that wasn't bad enough, they have absolutely no respect for what I was trying to do! As soon as I'm able to stand, I have to defend myself in court because she's suing! She's going to cut into my savings, my child's collage education, their future! I lend a hand, it gets bit, and they still want more blood! How messed up is that!?”
I was at a loss for words. On TV the therapists are always so cool and collected. Chris's shouting forced me to stand up. I couldn't keep a straight face anymore. I was starting to sweat, and my knees felt weak. I couldn't think.
“What? Can't fix me now!?”
I didn't bother responding. I turned away from him and walked to the door. My goal was to get out before I started crying... But I stopped myself. My hand hovered inches away from the door handle's cool surface. That was when my pendulum of emotion started to swing the other way. I was so close to tears, but now I couldn't help but laugh.
“What's so funny?”
I turned to face Chris.
“It's just that I'm facing your dilemma. Do I help someone who doesn't want my assistance, but clearly needs it?”
Chris sat up a little taller. Clearly he saw it too.
“Well Amy, what's you decision?”
Chris knew my choice. I wasn't going to waste his time or mine telling it to him. Instead I decided to tell him why I made my choice. I started making my way back over towards Chris's bed.
“When I was a little girl, I would go ice skating with my boyfriend Tom on the lake. You could skate whenever you wanted, but the rule was that you had to stay within the boundary marked by flags. This was done to ensure no one skated on thin ice or too far away from the edge of the lake. Well, there were always boys that didn't like to heed the rules, and they would skate outside the border. One time Tom actually yelled at them to move back inside the boundary. They just retorted by calling him chicken and dared him to come drag them off the ice. He would have to, but I stopped him and we decided to spend our evening somewhere else. Well, the next day the paper's cover story was about a child who drowned in the frozen lake. He was in the very same group that Tom was trying to save. When he read the news, he kept telling me over and over about how I shouldn't have stopped him. He should have taken those kids off the ice. My response?”
I leaned in close to Chris, looking directly into his baffled eyes.
“What if you only became a victim yourself?”
I swiftly stood up and placed my hands on my hips.
“And what about you Chris? What would have happened if you had died? Who would take care of your family while you were pushing up daises? What if that woman had figured out that the stack of tires wouldn't topple over so long as she was the only one moving the couch? What if she thought you were a rapist and decided to throw the couch on you and blast your eyes with pepper spray? What if she had help on the way? What if she really didn't need you?”
“She needed my help!”
“Do I look like I can eat twelve baked potatoes in three minutes?”
Chris's eyes just about jumped out of his head. My grin just kept growing.
“Chris, you didn't take everything into account. You jumped to conclusions and made a mistake with the best intentions. When we see guys rescue people from burning buildings, we'd all like to think we would do the same thing, but life isn't that simple. We have our own lives and the lives we're suppose to take care of to also think about. You may not think it, but you get to be a real hero every day you work and provide for your family.”
I started to make my way for the door.
“Hindsight is 20/20. When the outcome we've selected looks bad, we naturally wish we had opted for the other choice. Sometimes there are no correct choices. I'd like to think that with your particular case.”
I took hold of the door handle and looked back at Chris one last time.
“Well, I'm sure the therapist is waiting for me. I know I'm not going to get any credits out of this, but it was still nice to meet you Chris. I hope your life gets back to normal soon. Who knows, maybe that woman would be willing to settle things outside of court?”
And with that, I left the room. Chris's wife saw an immediate improvement in his mood after our little intervention. In the months afterward I can safely say that we were both right. I was correct when I said that the woman who was suing him would settle out of court. She had very good medical and hadn't been hurt nearly as badly as Chris had been. She was okay having Chris pay her five-hundred dollar deductible. That was a lot less than the legal fees Chris expected to pay alone. Though I was a bit bummed that I didn't get any credits. Chris's wife did cook me up a few baked potatoes. So that was nice. I'm just happy that Chris's story ended on a sweet note. I hope when I become a psychotherapist I can do the same for many others.