Last night as I rode my bike to work, a peculiar thing was shouted towards me from a moving vehicle.
After passing a particularly gnarly intersection where I have to change lanes multiple times to avoid turning traffic, a woman pulled up next to me with windows rolled. This should be good, fresh angst from an upper class, well-dressed, middle-aged woman in a fancy car.
“YOU HAVE A DATE WITH DEATH!” she screamed, eyes anywhere but on the road in front of her.
Yikes. I waved and smiled, as I normally do to honking/yelling bike-haters. Why wouldn’t I? I’ll take their horns any day. Like a patient who screams after being extubated, letting everyone know their airway is fully protected, a honking driver means I’m seen and safe.
I pulled up next to the woman at the stoplight that she had floored her fancy car to, and I got real close to her shut window, and said the first thing that had entered my mind after her slur: “Why would you ever say that to another human being?” Then, since no one was passing through the intersection, as all New York City bikers do, I ran the red light and sped away.
That’s when I thought of the thing I instantly wished I had said to her: “Who doesn’t?!”
I thought a lot about this strange conversation during my shift last night. A date with death? Was she cursing me? Should I be afraid that my date is today? Superstitious as any nurse, worry lingered in my mind for a bit.
Then, I got into my work. Both patients under 35 years old, one comatose, one with an illness that would likely take his life far earlier than my 28 years? Silly curse idea forgotten. I shared my odd story with my patient, and he very stoically said to me, “Can’t change fate.”
Later in the night, I looked at the Facebook page of a guy I went to high school with. The details weren’t visible, but through a mutual friend I’d heard that he passed away after being taken off life support in a Texas ICU yesterday. Friends posted memories, condolences, words that made me cry.
This morning after my shift, I visited my friend and former patient on a medical unit. She’s stuck up there fighting for her young life, as she has been since last summer. Yesterday, she had enough strength to get out of bed to the shower; her first in a year.
We’ve all got a date stamped on our lives, a fact I don’t spend much personal time with, but one worth remembering all the same. Last night wasn’t mine, or my patients,’ or my friend’s, despite all odds. But the young man from my past who died yesterday, and all of the people in the world who will breath their last during this minute and every one following? Their date has come and will go.
My date is just as close as theirs, and just as far away, too. All I know, is that while I’ll keep viewing death’s proximity with reverence and a bit of healthy fear, I’m not gonna sit around waiting for it.
Thanks, lady. You made my ride home this morning extra sweet.