I met a man who had so much cancer eroding his mouth that he sneezed and it broke his jaw. So we cut his face in half and scraped it out and scooped out his neck and we chopped one of the bones out of his shin and sewed it into his face to reconstruct the mess we made. But then his heart kept quivering after surgery and it caused a chunk of blood to get thrown to a vessel wrapped around his intestine and it plugged the oxygen supply and caused his gut to die so it rotted inside of him and his belly swelled like a balloon and filled him with sickness. So we wheeled him to the ICU and put him on a ventilator and poured fluids and drugs into his veins to try to fill and squeeze all the vessels in his body to keep his blood pressure up but he was too sick and he just kept sinking farther and farther into his bed and day after day the white coats peeked in and nodded and continued on and finally his wife asked when she should leave his bedside to tend to their livestock and I realized he kept hanging on because he was the toughest man I’ve ever met with callouses on his hands and a life at home and that night I cried in my car and pounded on the steering wheel and asked the moon for answers because I didn’t know if we couldn’t help him or if we just didn’t help him but I don’t know if I’ll ever know the difference.

I met a man with a reputation of fame and success whose life had been crumpled into a hopeless cycle of heroin and bath salts and I remember how my breath stuck in my throat when they removed the dressings and I saw the top of his bare skull shining back at me and later I found out that he had sat in the sun for so long that it had charred the skin on the top of his head black so they had to scrape it all off. And every day I would sneak into his room before the white coats to drip water on the edges of his bandages so he wouldn’t scream when they ripped them off and he would tell me that the drugs made him hear snakes hissing and women screaming being raped and he hated it but he couldn’t stop because being without the drugs was worse and I couldn’t imagine anything being worse so during those quiet morning hours in the darkness I would tell him that things would be different this time and he could have a second chance this time and he could do it this time and I told him to come back and find me to prove me right this time and he told me he would and I wanted to believe that it would be different this time but the truth is I never really did.

I met a woman who was pregnant with needle marks on her arms and powder clumped on the hairs in her nose and her wrists were tied down to the bed and her lips muttered and her eyes stared and followed you but they were blank inside because a puddle of bacteria was chewing into her brain so they wheeled her into the operating room and peeled off a chunk of her skull and dug a hole through her brain until they found the pocket of pus and when they squeezed the white curd out of her brain her body couldn’t handle it because the baby’s heart in her belly stopped beating so the white coats came running and they burst into the room with soapy hands and the nurses ripped the blue tissue paper gowns over them and they sliced her belly open and stretched the edges wide and dug deep inside and when their bloody gloves reappeared they were welcoming a new tiny human to the room and when the operation was over and the day was done I wondered endlessly around the hospital until I finally found the hidden broom closet filled with warm glass incubators and a nurse guided me to the corner and there I saw the one thing that made that day all worth it and I learned over that bundle of new life and whispered this isn’t what the world is always like.

I met a girl who was born with two broken nerves so her vocal cords couldn’t spread apart and she had lived her entire life breathing through a tube in her throat and they had driven for 18 hours to see us and when the white coat told her we might be able to fix it her eyes lit up and I she opened her mouth to speak for the first time and even though it was only a whisper I could hear her excitement when she asked, “Dad, then would I finally be able to swim?”

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The White Coats.

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