It was a small building specifically designed for outpatient care. It was softly decorated – the colors were rich but not nauseating, the lights were dim and comforting, and there was always soft music of the classical variety playing in the background.
After parking her car in the employee lot behind the building, Rachel hurriedly made her way into the warmth. She visibly shivered and emitted a high pitched, "Brrr!" from her lips while she unwrapped her scarf from around her neck, all the while walking towards the room designated specifically for employees' belongings and whatnot.
"Morning, Rachel," an older, grey-haired woman called out as she entered the lounge.
"Good morning, Sue, how's it going today?"
"Oh, same as usual, you know?"
Rachel just flashed her a quick smile in response before depositing her things in their usual place and stepping in front of the task board, hands planted firmly on her hips, determination in her posture.
She couldn't help but release the air from her lungs in a sigh laced with worry and frustration.
For the past six weeks, the handful of new nurses on the staff had been undergoing rotations intended to find their strengths and their weaknesses and to properly place them in a semi-permanent position within the facility.
Rachel was officially in charge of the chemotherapy ward. As of today.
"What's wrong, dear?" Sue called from her seat across the room, clutching her hot mug of coffee in both hands while reading a story from the newspaper that was splayed out on the table in front of her.
Without removing her hands from her hips, Rachel pivoted on the spot and simply said, "Chemotherapy," before her shoulders slumped resignedly and her chin fell forward onto her chest.
When Sue heard the tone in Rachel's voice, she immediately looked up from her paper. Noticing Rachel's dejected posture, she hastily sat her coffee down and moved to stand in front of the younger nurse. "Now Rachel, why the doom and gloom attitude?" She had placed her hands on each of Rachel's upper arms, almost as if squeezing her together would uplift her spirits.
"Sue… It's chemotherapy!" She sighed exasperatedly again. "You know how small that ward is. You know that I'll see the same patients day in and day out. I'll see them strong and healthy and optimistic. And then what? Then I'll see them whither and lose hope. I know what that means, Sue. It means that I'll have to be the one to give them hope. I don't know if I can do that. I'm not sure that I can handle it if they just stop walking through those doors one day…" She trailed off abruptly. She really hadn't meant to say so much. She wasn't much of a talker on an average day. But she had done her rounds in the chemo ward, and it had drained her of her energy for a long time afterwards. Every day in there? She wasn't sure she could pull it off.
"Oh Rachel, you see… I know that you can handle it. And I know that you will handle it. I, for one, can hear the conviction and the compassion in your voice when you speak. And you're absolutely right… They're going to walk through those doors on their first day, and they're going to be thinking a million and one things. And in that moment – in that hour or so of treatment – you may very well be the only person they have to turn to." She sighed and gave Rachel's shoulders a gentle squeeze. "You can do it, Rachel. One day at a time. You've been taught how to do everything else. Being strong is a lesson that you kind of have to pick up on your own."
She smiled kindly at Rachel, and Rachel momentarily lost it, throwing her arms around Sue's small frame and hugging her tightly.
When she pulled back she said, "You're great, Sue. I really don't know what I would do without you."
Sue chuckled lightly and said, "I'm sure you could think of a few things. Taking over my section would probably be your top priority!" She suddenly stopped laughing and mockingly gave Rachel a stern look. "But don't you get any ideas, young lady. I may be twice your age, but I have a few tricks of my own up my sleeves."
Rachel tried and failed at holding back the giggle that left her chest. "I wouldn't dream of it, Sue."