mirror, mirror . . .

January 23, 2022

When I walked in to see my last patients of the day, I was feeling good. Confident, even. The pace of the day had been steady but manageable (nothing like last Friday, on which the line had stretched out the building and through the parking lot, so that we kept seeing patients an hour past closing time) and, hey, it was Friday.

Seeing two small girls, I quickly launched into my kid routine of snot jokes, after helping the mother with paperwork and collecting my supplies. When checking the birthdates, I at first thought I had made a mistake; then I realized that the two were twins—who had just had their fourth birthday the day before. Looking up at the child closest to me, I acted shocked, “Oh my goodness! Someone has just had a birthday . . .”

She grinned and nodded. 

“You know,” I continued, “I have a very special birthday song and dance. When we finish, would you like to hear it?”

She grinned again. “Yeah.”

Then the other voice piped up from the corner of the room. “I don’t want to hear it!”

Her mother looked at her, blushing slightly. “You don’t mean that,” she said. 

“Yes I do! the girl countered. 

The mother continued, “Well if your sister wants to hear it, then you can just plug your ears!”

The girl crossed her arms and muttered.

By this point I was ready to start, so asked who wanted to go first.

To my surprise, the arms-crossed child piped up that she did. 

Maybe this is going to go better than I thought . . .

The moment my swab touched her nose, a blood-curdling scream erupted. It was so high pitched I marveled at the decibel level while trying to think fast as to procedure-finishing tactics. Somehow I managed to maneuver around her enough to swab both sides and, momentarily feeling a sense of relief, it then occurred to me that the volume level in the room had doubled. Both girls were now screaming at the top of their lungs, though the other sister was on the other side of the room from us. I then knew that the next one would surely be near impossible.

I looked to the mother and she began cajoling, with a pleading voice. “Come on now, honey—you have to do it . . .” The volume level miraculously increased.

My senior coworker had walked in by that point, asking me if we needed help. I nodded—needlessly. With the three of us adults wedging ourselves at various parts of the child’s body, I breathed a sigh of relief when the second nostril had been swabbed.

The other nurse and I stepped back, at which point both girls, still maintaining the high-decibel scream, climbed up their mother’s body. 

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment; but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the scene as is, even though they were free to go.

“So,” I said, “you know you still get a birthday song if you like.”

Sudden silence. Both girls simply looking at me now. 

“Yeah,” said one. “No!” said the other. 

Looking at the mother for a go-ahead, I saw her nod and began my clapping, dancing, singing routine. When the song stopped, the mother was beaming. “See?” she cooed. “Wasn’t that wonderful!?!”

Her face mirroring her mother’s, one nodded back.

“I didn’t like it!” said the other.