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October 3, 2005

The Russian and the Pearls

Patricia A. Kelly

I was wearing pearls that day when called in to work; they complimented my dress. I started to take them off, but put them back on.

The idea of pearls and hospital scrubs made a perfect statement: There is an elegant woman, who wore real pearls, under that cotton uniform. I then remembered the blonde plastic surgeon who operated on my son's arm after his car accident caused him multiple lacerations. She wore pearls in the operating room.

My charge nurse and friends complimented my combination: ceil blue and my fine, white, 6.5 mm pearl choker necklace. I replied that I felt it appropriate, when called abruptly in from my real life as a princess. My sense of serenity vanished quickly at some noisy confusion. I didn't at first understand what and who.

I saw and then heard him: tall, plump, bearded with longish hair sprawled beneath a yarmulke; running and shouting, distraught. He came to the side of the desk waving his hand aloft.

"I want to see a doctor!" he shouted in a heavily accented voice.

Security officers were in pursuit. He hadn't followed the rules. He wouldn't talk to the triage nurse. He kept shouting at her: "I will not talk to you! I must see a doctor!"

He ran back out to the doorway, security officers forming a loose cordon around him. I knew the nurse, knew that although she was excellent, she would have taken his behavior personally and argued with him, escalating the situation.

I half smiled, shrugged and said to the charge nurse, who was watching with her mouth slightly open, "I'll give it a try."

I followed him out, stood in front of him, still clutching his forearm with left hand up, and said, looking into his eyes, "But, sir, we need to know whether you are allergic to anything before we can treat you."

Deflated, he drooped against the doorway. Security stepped back a step. I said, "Come with me. I have a bed right back here where you can lie down." He followed, quietly, suddenly a docile child. He had heard me and understood.

He was a new Russian immigrant. He had been in the rabbi's basement making wooden toys for children when he had cut into his pinky finger with the saw.

The cut was not that large, but, when he held up his hand for the on-duty physician's assistant to take a gentle look, we could see that the finger jutted sideways. He had sawed through the bone. It must have really hurt...

There were no beds in rooms. We were full. That's why I had been called in. I settled him in on a cot in a hallway, talking quietly, soothing and comforting him, explaining our treatment. We gave him a pain shot and tetanus prophylaxis, x-rays, sutures, splint, antibiotics and referrals for medical care that would see him through.

He smiled a great bear's smile, looking somewhat sheepish from his earlier demonstration.

He went out and into his American life.

I fingered my pearls.

Copyright 2005 Patricia A. Kelly

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