A Wife's Plea
Sydney Asselstine, MSI

Sanitize. Sterilize. Dry your eyes.  

Every day a different team but really it's all the same. Same processes, same questions, same bland white sheets, starched curtains, and "kills 99% of all germs" smell. Same hollow, worn eyes staring up from the bed. His eyes. What's left at least. In and out the lab coats go with their charts and results and calculated words of wisdom. Well-placed, meticulous smiles and good intentions that have been perfected over the course of training. But they too are worn.  

Sanitize. Sterilize. Dry your eyes.  

They mean to help; they all have advice to relay, encouragement to recite. I must be so scared. I must be so brave. I must need another tissue; I mustn't show I've cried. I mustn't show my wavering endurance. I mustn't be anything but the epitome of hope. It seems I've lost track of who exactly I must be, what I should feel. Could it be they've sanitized me? They've purified (more like bleached) his entire environment but at what cost?

Sanitize. Sterilize. Dry your eyes.  

This mantra of healthcare, the regime of decontamination – does it really work? Eliminate what is toxic; that is the goal. But what of the faith of the wife, the innocence of the children, the strength of their struggling father? Is care taken to keep that from being wiped away too? Experts at saving lives but what about preserving them?  Aren't they supposed to find a way to shed light within these fluorescent rooms?

Sanitize? Sterilize? Doctor, please, open your eyes.


Supplemental Note
This piece is an internal monologue from the perspective of the wife of a critically ill patient. It is meant to represent the importance of physicians (and other healthcare workers) providing an environment for the patient and their families to feel comfortable and human. The focus cannot just be eliminating anything harmful from the patient but also promoting what is good. I wrote this because my father struggled with cancer when I was younger and I remember feeling so numb in the hospital - sterilized. I can only imagine what my mother was going through at the time, and so I decided to take her perspective into consideration for this piece.