Weak Heart

Nitz Tan

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I finish another day of facing my greatest fears. A part of me should be used to the fact that I’m dealing with a pandemic. The enemy is invisible and I have to treat even the untreatable. This time I’m not allowed to make mistakes. I should be able to think of others before I think of myself—even when the majority have lost all hope. Sometimes I wonder what really kills the patient: the virus, or the negativity that comes with it.

I remove my sweat-soaked PPE when my shift ends and proceed to the sanitation area from the ICU. Since most of my patients are in critical condition, staying there has become common. It’s a good thing that I’m not thirsty and have an empty bladder before suiting up the PPE. 

As I walk along the corridors, I can already imagine how my apartment would smell when I cook instant noodles. That had been my routine for the past couple of months. Go home, instant noodles for dinner, then sleep. I wake up the following day to prepare for another shift and do the same routine all over again. 

I drop by the counter to get a drink before I gather my things and go home. 

“Liv,” somebody calls my name. I turn, and it’s Rebecca, a nurse from the pediatric section.

A pang of irritation hits me. What is it this time?

“What?” I respond, trying to conceal my impatience.

“Another rough day, huh?” she asks. I shrug. “I need a favor. Can you stay here behind the counter for a while? I really have to check on a patient,” she said.

I nod and wave my hand while I drink my water. Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stay for a while.

She hurries away as soon as she gets the go signal. The swivel chair creaks as I settle behind the counter. I’m exhausted and I want to go home. There are three people in this area including me, whom I’m sure want the same thing as I do. I mean, we all deserve a break. 

“Hello?” A small voice suddenly calls out from the other side of the counter.

I sit up, but couldn’t see anyone. So, I stand up to check who it is. A little girl in a hospital gown was looking up at me. 

“Oh no, a COVID patient,” was my first thought.

“Oh my God, how d’you get out?” I ask her. I can hear the fear in my voice.

“I’m looking for Mommy,” she replies.

Mommy? Does she know that she’s not allowed to have visitors? Even her mommy?

“Your mommy is not here and you’re not allowed to have visitors,” I admonish.

I reach for a pair of gloves and face mask. After putting them on, I take another set for the patient.

“Wait, Miss Nurse. Is that why she hasn’t visited me for a long time?” she asks, probably noticing my panicked movements.

Miss Nurse?

“Yes. And I am a doctor. Wear this,” I instruct as I help her wear the protective gears. Has security become lax? She shouldn’t have been able to go out. I have to return her to her room immediately.

“Is it because I have a weak heart?” Her words make me stop.

“Wait, hold up. You have a… you’re not a…,“ I stammer, lost for words.

“They sent me here because the doctors said I have a weak heart. I have to be away from Mommy for a while. Well, it has been a while and I’m still not seeing her.”

Poor kid. I try looking for records above the counter. The computer is password protected and the records are not there. Rebecca must have taken them with her.

If she’s not a COVID patient, she might get infected if she doesn’t go back to her room soon. Her weak heart puts her at a higher risk to acquire the virus.

“What room are you in? We have to go back.” 

She looks up from playing with a pen. “I don’t know. Isn’t that on that paper you have all the time?” 

“I don’t know who is in charge of you. It might be Rebecca. So, you’ve got to help me out here.” 

“I don’t know where I came from. I just saw a light. I followed it and here I am.”

Oh no. A kid lost in a hospital. There has to be a record here somewhere. 

The emergency signal blares, making the kid jump. The doctors jump to their feet, emptying their coffee cups as they hasten to respond to the emergency call.

“Where are the records of the pediatrics?” I call out to them.

“Ask Rebecca,” one of them answers before running towards the ICU.

Where the hell is Rebecca?

Almost a minute pass before the alarm becomes quiet. I look at the child. There’s only the two of us left in the area.

“What was that?” she asks.

“That means a patient needs emergency medical attention,” I reply. 

“What does that mean?”

I sigh. How do I explain it without scaring this child?

“It means that it’s medicine time. You take them too, right? They call the doctors and nurses when it’s time to give the medicine to you.”

“I don’t like the medicine here,” she pouts.

I am trying to be patient, but I snap at her, annoyed. 

“Do you have any idea how much the treatments here cost? They’re expensive. Even someone who has a life-threatening illness takes risks just to get well. People pay a lot of money to get cured. And you don’t want to take your medicine?” I admonish her.

She looks like she wanted to cry. “But they poke me a lot! I don’t like that. Mommy doesn’t do that when she takes care of me. I don’t want that medicine. I want my mommy,” the child wails.

That hit me. It’s not the virus or the disease that will kill you. Sadness will. Maybe if this kid can see her mother, it would motivate her to get well. Her weak heart becomes weaker because no one gives her strength. No amount of medicine can do that. 

“I’ll tell you what. If you take your medicine—”

“But I don’t want—” the child interrupts me. 

“Shh!” I reprimand her. “Your mommy gets sad when she sees that you’re sick. That’s why, while you’re getting treatment, your mommy cannot see you. If she stays by your side, she will get a weak heart, too. If you don’t take your medicine, you will not get well and you may not see her anymore,” I explain. 

The kid pauses for a while, processing what I just said. 

“Why will mommy get a weak heart?” The kid asks, teary-eyed.

“Because it will break her heart if she loses you. That’s why you have to get better. Fight your sickness. The biggest of hearts will always beat a weak heart,” I tell her.

She smiles a bit. “So, you think I have a big heart?” 

“Yes. You don’t want your mommy to get sick. That’s how I know you have a big heart. So, get better already. That way, you can see your mommy sooner. I want to meet her too so I can tell her how brave you are.”

She nods. It’s nice to see a little girl who will do anything to see her mother. I turn to the papers on the desk, hoping to find her record. 

“May I just have your name?”

She doesn’t answer. She’s no longer standing on the other side of the counter. Holy crap, did she run down the hall? 

I walk up and down the hall, but there’s no sign of her. 

“Thanks for staying,” Rebecca says when I return to the counter. She’s arranging the patient records. 

“You had the records with you?” I ask.

“Yes, which patient are you looking for?” 

“Someone in pediatrics.” I reach for the files and start browsing. 

“Speaking of, I’ve just been there. There’s this little girl who just fought against a flatline. She has congenital heart disease, but her weak heart pulled through. It’s a miracle she’s alive,” Rebecca chatters.

I stop. Little girl? Weak heart? It sounds like the child I was just talking to.

Rebecca adds, “The kid’s mother was just released yesterday after surviving against CoVid. She wasn’t allowed to visit her daughter yet since she had the virus. Now that her daughter has survived as well, it’s good to know they would see each other soon.”

I stare at her in disbelief. I remember the girl said she saw a light and followed it, and that’s when I met her. I had a strange encounter which the science of medicine cannot fully explain, and one I will never forget.

I blink and mutter, “I’m going home.”

“Okay.” Rebecca smiles. “Thank you for filling in.” 

I smile back at her, and we wave each other goodbye. 

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