North Carolina School of Science and Math (Watts Hospital)
Dr. Reichart was looking out the corridor windows and thinking about the man who had just died in the hospital’s upper wing. The man, though not his patient, had a nose rather like his father’s – a prominent, Grecian nose with a bump exactly halfway between it’s tip and the crease where the nose met his face. It was rather a brave nose, Dr. Riechart had always thought, a nose that once, long ago, he’d even written a poem about. Of course, Dr. Reichart could not remember, now, the last time he’d written a poem. Nor could he remember, with precision, the last time he’d seen his father. This was a slight made easier only by the fact that he’d given up poetry for medical school, in accordance with his father’s wishes. The death of the man with the nose like his father’s was not an uncommon death – he’d died as peacefully as someone could in a hospital, in his sleep, but Dr. Reichart had wanted just one last look at that nose. To seek it out now, in the morgue, seemed morbid. Instead, he came to the windowed corridor and looked out at the oak trees.
Outside, beyond the wide expanse of lawn, a woman and her daughter were playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. The mother was large and her breasts bounced up and down as she jumped. She clutched them to her chest to hold them down, and the daughter laughed when she did so. They laughed together when the daughter, imitating her mother, clutched her own chest, which was nothing but a rib cage, breast buds just forming beneath a pink cotton shirt.
Dr. Reichart hated this part of studying medicine. How it made him look at other people as bodies with parts. The tympanic membrane and the cochlea of the ear, housed within fleshy cartilage that held either sound, or nothing. And the eyes of course were not the window to the soul but the window to the brain, just a mass of nerves, mostly water, the sclera yellowing with age. The chest just a confine for the heart, and not a particularly robust one either, as Dr. Reichart had learned since he began studying medicine. Every body was so fragile and so few people, as far as Dr. Reichart could tell, seemed to understand this basic truth. With every emergent case, with every advanced cancer patient, came utter disbelief, and in the stronger ones, denial. “This can’t be happening,” they would say. And Dr. Reichart would look them squarely in the eye and say, always, “I’m afraid it is happening.”
Outside, the girl and her mother had stopped playing hopscotch. They were lying side by side beneath one of the oaks on the lawn and the girl was pointing up into the tree and the mother was nodding, saying something to the daughter, one arm flung over her head, the other beneath her daughter’s head. A strong breeze rustled through the trees and the daughter’s black curls churned against the green of the lawn.
There was nothing poetic about being a doctor. Dr. Reichart knew this very early on. To watch someone die was not poetic. It was only one fact in a list of other facts that he recognized to be true about the human body. The heart pumped blood, the lungs drew air, the eyes took in light. It was all a dead end, a study with an already proven hypothesis, a magic show without a curtain. But still, there were times when he couldn’t focus. When something caught his eye, a hallway lit up by light, the soft skin in the hollow of a child's neck, the spiderweb shadows the trees made on the lawn at a certain time of day.
Like now, when a nurse was coming down the hallway, pushing a rattling cart in front of her, laden no doubt with glass tubes of blood and urine, glass dishes of feces and scrapings of flesh, all the flotsam of the human body he’d grown so used to but which, just now, he could not bear to turn and look at. He felt the nurse’s eyes on him but stared so hard at the woman and her daughter on the grass that his eyes began to sting and water from the effort of it. When they rose from the grass and began to walk away, the disappointment was almost more than he could bear.