Someone catches me in the hallway. “Hey, are you free?”
“I guess?”
“Great. This patient has a telehealth meeting with the GI doctor. Can you sit in and take notes?” She shoves a massive patient chart into my hand.

The patient, it turns out, is a bit hard of hearing. The doctor on the other end speaks too quickly, and coupled with a lagging video feed, the whole thing ends up like a bad Skype call. I’m struggling to restrain myself from cutting in and speaking for both of them.

“Did. The. Antibiotics. Help?” the doctor yells.
“Yes, the gas is better,” the patient yells back, her good ear inclined. He makes some dietary recommendations, and then asks if she drinks.
“Yes,” she admits, “but I’m trying to cut down.
“Hmm,” he says, “it would really help your stomach pain if you stopped drinking.”

She opens her mouth to say something and then stops herself, instead choosing to stare at the table.
The doctor clears his throat awkwardly. “Well then, if there’s nothing else, that’s all for today. Call my office if you’re having more problems.”

She’s still staring a hole in the table when the doctor hangs up. I’m digging through her chart to find the prescription I have to follow up on, when she starts to talk – first slowly, and then it all rushes out.

“My partner and I make a home brew. I really like to drink. My mom was an alcoholic when she was pregnant with me, so I was in withdrawal when I was born. I started drinking when I was twelve. Social services took all my children away. I named my first after my mother…but she’s not even my daughter anymore. I keep reaching out to them, but none of them want to see me. Social services doesn’t want them to see me. My old partner – he’s sick – they flew him out to the hospital. I want to go see him, but his family hates me and they won’t let me see him. I’m not even listed on his chart. His whole family blames it on me that something happened to him.

Everyone here treats me the same. I wish I could leave this small community. And my partner here – he hits me. I try to stay busy with my sewing and Bible study, but it’s all too much sometimes. I love to party. When I drink, it’s the only time I can get away. It’s the only time I can be happy. How do I tell the doctor all that?”

She looks up at me, the tears falling freely now. “I want to be strong, but I can’t. Sometimes I just don’t want to live anymore.”

I have been a fixer my whole life. I am used to people coming to me with the things they can’t figure out and being able to tell them, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” But I sit helplessly in front of this woman as she shares her web of a life that I know I can’t fix, and all I can do is listen and be with her here.


Someone brings her in a few days later, and she’s shaking uncontrollably and completely incoherent. They think she’s overdosed on something. But we count her pills and test her urine – she took a few extra OTC meds, but nothing that will hurt her. We figure out that she’s in the midst of a mental breakdown and arrange for the mental health nurse to see her, and for family members to stay with her tonight.

I let the chaos subside and wait for some people to clear out of the room. I sit down beside her. “Were you trying to kill yourself when you took those pills?” I ask gently. She only looks at me and cries. I don’t think she knows what she wants anymore.


I’m sitting at the entrance of the grocery store the next day, giving out flu shots. I see her walk in, and she looks much better – what wonders some rest and family care can do. She comes up to me and smiles timidly, “I don’t really remember what happened yesterday, but thank you for being there for me.”

I am only now beginning to learn that I’m not in this line of work to save anyone. There are enough fixers around to be the heroes. I’m here to meet people where they are – in the messiness, in the brokenness, in the darkness – and let them know that they are seen. Sometimes, often, there are no easy answers. But maybe there is always a way to hold on to hope.


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