Blue Eyes–a short story

{This short story is one I’m taking to a writer’s workshop next week. I hope you enjoy it!} 

I check my appointments on my wrist cuff and head to my office to drop off patient records. Rubbing my low back that aches from the endless walking of patient rounds, I grab a new set of charts.

In the hall, I take one deep breath of sterile MAF air. Stretch my fingers and calculate the remaining hours of my shift. I’ve treated two minor mining accidents, one heart attack, and three minor colds so far.

“Dr. Steiler.”

I turn and watch Erryn catch up to me, her gray lab coat flapping as she hurries down the hall, her patient charts tucked neatly in the crook of her arm. I smile at the sight of a coffee cup in her hand.

“I see we got the new coffee shipment,” I comment.

She catches up and we walk together.

“Are you ok?” I ask, now seeing the way her hands are clutching her cup.

“What is it?” I prod.

She sighs. “Just diagnosed a girl from the mining region 23. At first I was stumped. The symptoms were bizarre. But then I recognized them and did a blood sample.”

“What’s the diagnosis?”

Erryn glances at me sideways. I don’t like the look in her eyes.

When she utters the name of the disease, I stop short, staring. “But we eradicated it from the camps years ago.” My voice is hoarse.

Erryn shakes her head. “I did the blood test myself. Twice.” She holds out the file and shows me the test results. “Her time’s running short. I gave her twelve hours unless we get a blood donor.”

“Well, check with the system for a match.” But I swallow hard. The only way to get a complete transfusion is to take the blood from a dying patient, and one that matches the blood type. The transfusion itself is a simple thing in and of itself, performed by a simple blood diffuser connecting the two patient’s systems. First, though, a donor must be available. I know the girl’s chances are close to none.

“I’m on the way to the lab now,” Erryn confirms. She pauses, staring at her records.

“What?”

She chews her lip. “I’m scheduled to make the run to the surface base. I have to leave after my shift.” She trailed off, not meeting my gaze.

A tremor runs through me. By regulation, when a doctor has to leave the base, their patients are handed over to their partner. Which in Erryn’s case is me.

I think of facing that poor girl, her terrified eyes, lips probably covered with the sores, the one tell-tale symptom. My hands shake as I reach to take the file. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

Erryn clings to the file. Her eyes lock on mine. “You sure? You sure you can go through this again?”

I swallow, remembering his face. Remembering those fearless blue eyes smiling up at me. Feeling his tiny hand clutching mine while he fought for his last breath. Thinking how glad I was that our parents had died. That they weren’t here to see his death.

I struggle to force down the memories. “I’m sure.”

She lets the file slip out of her grasp. “Then I’ll see you when I get back.” She lays a hand on my shoulder, giving me a reassuring squeeze.

I watch her walk away. I clear my throat and find my next patient. Its two hours later when I find a computer in the lab, order a search for a blood donor for Erryn’s patient.

As I stare at the chart, the diagnosis sends shivers down my spine. Like the ones I always used to feel after my nightmares. I order the results to be delivered to my desk, wondering all the while what they will show. I try to ignore my medical instincts. But deep down, I know the chances of finding a match are 1000 to 1.

Its late afternoon and I’m in the back corridor of the complex, checking up on an overdue expectant mother. I’m walking back to my office when I stop suddenly, suddenly realizing that I’m in her corridor. I close my eyes, wincing as I remember the pain of watching a child squirm under the glare of death. The last thing I want to do is face that again. But I know that I can’t avoid this girl forever.

She’s sleeping when I pull open the door and enter her room. She shifts only slightly in her sleep as I examine her sores, the bruises that score her side. My hands are trembling and I pull away in horror, trying not to breathe, not to wake her.

She deserves a few last hours of sleep.

The door opens and I turn.

“Oh. Sorry, Doctor.” A nurse stands in the door, obviously surprised to see me.

I motion toward our patient. “You’re fine. Proceed.”

I wince as I hear the tension in my own voice. Feeling a sudden urge to escape from this room of suffering and memory, I silently move toward the door.

The nurse’s fingers fly and I linger as she silently slips some sedatives into the girl’s arm.

My mind is plagued by a question. “Does she have any family?” I murmur.

The nurse shakes her head as she collects her supplies. “She came in the last group of colonists with her Dad. He was the Captain of the ship, the Daedalus. He died shortly after arriving. Heart attack.”

The lump that forms in my throat unnerves me. I turn and stumble into the hallway. The halls are a blur. I clutch my files and propel myself toward the break room.

A cup of boiling coffee clears the fog in my mind. It gives me enough energy to force myself through the remaining hours of my shift. By the time I dismiss my final patient I can hardly keep my eyes open. But I drain another cup of coffee and drive myself back toward my office. A strange ache of dread fills me as I think of the results of the donor analysis sitting on my printer.

My heart thumps in the quiet of the halls. I press my fingers into my eyes as I stumble into my office. I know I’m a wreck. All I want is so see a good report on the analysis. Then I can go home. Go to bed.

But when I see the results, I sink into my chair, numb.

In all the blood pools in all the camps in the colonies, there is only one match. One possible donor who could save the little girl’s life.

Me.

 

The medical staff switches to the night shift. I sit in my chair, staring at the wall. This day has felt so surreal. I wish it were just one of my nightmares. But it isn’t.

I never thought I would again have to face those sore-covered lips, the glisten of feverish skin.

The disease, what we doctors classified as the D2 infection, was an infectious disease caused by a rare mutant of bacteria hidden in mines far below the surface of the planet. It killed nearly thirty-six victims in the first five days. Over 3% of the population of the planet’s colony died before we found the cause and the cure. After vaccinating all the colonists against it, we thought it had been eradicated.

But I had still faced it in my dreams every night. And now I’m staring my nightmares in the face. And I’m paralyzed.

My wrist cuff beeps. The noise pulls me back to reality, back to my office. Through the closed door, I can hear the quiet murmur of a normal night shift at the base. I swallow—a struggle with my aching dry throat—and shake my head with weariness. The results of the analysis still sit in front of me.

I read them again. Bite my lip as I stare at my name, the only name, under the list of potential blood donors.

That sight, the fresh horror, awakens a calling to action within me.

Urged on by this calling, I creep from my office, down the halls of the almost deserted MAF. I don’t even think. My feet lead me to her room.

I kneel by my patient’s bed. She is asleep, her chest rising and falling methodically. My eyes lock on her lips, the sores that ruin their perfect shape.

I can see him now, lying on a bed much like this, his lips the only outward sign of the disease wracking his body.

I try to push the emotions down. Hide them away.

I sat by him, powerless. No, not powerless. But unwilling, conflicted.

It was my baby brother’s life. Or mine. There had been only one match to the hurried search for a blood donor. Me.

If we had still been on Earth, the chances of finding a dying patient with matching blood type would have been so much greater.

But there we were, alone, my brother and I. We had no other family left. No one to keep me from saving him. But no one to compel me.

I remember sitting in the chair by his bedside, staring, trying to imagine what death would feel like. Trying to prepare myself for life-ending sacrifice.

I imagined for too long. Before I could make up my mind, find the courage to sign my consent, the lights on his bedside monitor started flashing.

Doctors crowded in. My sobs were drowned out in the shouting and the machines and the beeping. I stared as they went through the motions of reviving my brother. But it was too late.

Tears sting my cheeks as I remember. I am kneeling with my hand clutching the cot for support, fingernails white.

I lean my forehead down on the cot and try to imagine, once more, what death might feel like.

A sudden urge of haste runs through me. I know the guilt of having waited too long. I make a random attempt to brush the tears from my face and stagger to my feet.

I grab her chart with trembling fingers. Make a couple of notes. Pull tubes, needles, and the hand-held blood diffuser from the drawer. Carefully move my patient over and lay on the cot next to her sedated form.

Plug myself in.

A wave of nausea hangs over me as the blood begins to transfer.

I remain conscious long enough to see her eyelids flutter. Her eyes open.

I smile as fearless blue eyes lock onto mine.

Blue eyes.

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Scribblings of the Heart

I’ve kept a journal since I was thirteen. Multiple ones in fact. If you went back and read through every entry that I’ve made in the last three years, you’d see written in visible ink my own character ark. The changes of my personality, the morphing of my thoughts, the forming of…me.

But please don’t. That would be weird. Just take my word for it.

Periodically, I will pull out some of my old journals. Like I did last night. Crawl into bed late, propping open the notebooks on my pillow. Read the scribbling of my soul. Some passages bring sadness and melancholy, remembering hard days, wishing I could re-live them, change them. Some bring laughter. I smile at my naivety, the blunt honesty of my words.

It’s fun. This review of my growth. The reminder of lessons learned. Re-living of happy days, of blessings.

As I flipped through the pages of my life, I wondered. Why has it been so important to me, this journaling? It’s become such a habit of my life. I don’t think about it much.

But as I think, I realize. That jounraling isn’t just a recording of everyday moments. It’s an outlet for my heart. It’s the place where I figure out what’s going on inside my own head. After a rough day, I know that if I can get it out on paper, it will help. Fears, ideas, hopes. They’re not so intimidating when they’re scribbled in a notebook.

Moving On

I have ridden the 80-foot wave. I have finished the exams of my Junior Year. I’ve survived this spring.

The ride has been intense. Full of late nights, early mornings, long days of work, adrenaline, and endurance. Writing has been nearly nonexistent.

But finally, the spring is past.

I can move on. Dream new dreams. Accomplish new things. Writing can resume. Reading can become part of my daily routine again. Ah, the bliss of summer!

Riding the Eighty Foot Waves

{My hands are shaking. I swallow and adjust my music on my stand, slide my hand down my violin. I can feel the eyes of a hundred of my orchestra colleagues on me. I try to relax into the music, to think about my solo entrance. Deep down, I’m scared. Doubting. Thinking, Why on earth did I put myself through this?}

Back in February I made the hesitant, spontaneous decision to enter the concerto competition in my youth orchestra. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And to be frank, I almost didn’t enter. But no matter what I did, that one thing my teach told me stuck in my head.

He told me, “I wouldn’t be encouraging you to enter except that deep down, I think there’s this small part of you…that wants to.”

I laughed. And admitted that he was right.

“And I think,” he continued, “there’s a part of you that wants to find out what it would be like to ride the eighty foot wave, just once. And if you want to, at all, I think you should.”

And so I embraced the fear and entered. Entered to take advantage of the opportunity to get outside my comfort zone. Entered to “take a whack at the eighty foot wave”, as my teacher said. To experience the adrenaline, the fear, the freedom.

And, somehow, I won.

I’m still not sure what riding that wave will feel like. So far it feels like a lot of work. A lot of drilling intricate passages for hours a day. I’ve rehearsed with the orchestra twice. Each time I’ve battled the overwhelming fears, the ever-present voice called Pride whispering, “you’re not good enough”.

Sometimes these feelings, the hecticity of my schedule, the hours of practice, the hours of doubt, make me wish that I hadn’t taken the leap.

But even if I could unmake the decision to enter, I wouldn’t. The fear could never make me forget the reason for my decision. I know that soon, I’ll get to ride the wave. I’ll be up on that stage. My hands will be shaking, I’ll be forcing myself to breathe. The adrenaline will be rushing through my veins. I’ll raise my bow, poised to attack the string.

And then…we’ll see.

 

 

 

A Slap of Reality in the Face

My second oldest brother married his sweet bride on Saturday. Hours, days, and weeks of anticipation, planning, and hard work went into one of the sweetest and best weekends of my life. I love both my brother and new sister dearly. Their wedding day was magical, filled with love, joy, and commitment.

But the weekend couldn’t last forever. Today has certainly been a slap of reality. Exhausted and drained from the amazing, though tiring, last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to get my game plan together for the next month.  All spring, any event after the wedding seemed so far away. When thinking of concerts, graduations, and finals, I always told myself, “We’ve got a while before all that. We’ve got a wedding first.”

But now the wedding’s over. And all these hurdles that separate us from summer are staring me in the face. Finals are in a matter of weeks. Before June, I have to write a novel. My solo performance with the Emory Youth Symphony is in 24 days. Just days after wearing one formal dress for the wedding, I went to get another altered for my performance, and spent another couple of hours ordering invitations for the event.

I wanted this weekend of happy memories to last forever. I’m not quite ready to take on the rest of our Spring yet. Without energy and motivation dive into the next set of to-do’s, I find myself in a lull. So I’m taking one day to find my energy and motivation. Make plans and to-do lists. Be thankful for a new sister, fun memories, family. And hope. Hope for grace to finish this spring strong.

 

One Page

In the last couple months, I’ve written a fraction of what I had hoped to write.

In January, I had plans to finish the first draft of my current book by my brother’s wedding, so that I could take a break and get started with the editing process by the end of April. The wedding is in two weeks. But I’m hardly even half way through my draft.

A couple of weeks ago, I became so frustrated with my draft that I allowed my schedule of school, violin, working out, and rehearsal dinner prep to crowd out any attempts to write. The thought of sitting down and struggling to pound out two thousand or even one thousand words intimidated me so much that I didn’t bother trying. And that continued until last weekend.

For the first time in several weeks, I realized how much I missed writing.

Writing is part of who I am. Its a gift. A calling. Not writing…is hard. Even harder than writing itself.

With the new urge to write, I started to realize something: I might not have the time in my day to sit down and type for two hours. But I can’t fight that fact. It’s a stage. God has given me my workload and my schedule, blessed me with busy seasons of life. What I can do is be faithful with the time I do have. Just because I don’t have two hours to write, doesn’t mean I should wait until I do.

Monday, I gave myself a challenge: I would sit down every day this week and write one page. Just one page.

My inner editor argued that one page barely puts a dent in my draft. But it’s all the time I have right now. And seven pages a week is a whole lot better than none.

Since Monday, I’ve sat down and written one page every day. Every day this has gotten even easier. Today it was extremely easy to pound out that page.

The truth in this article by Jeff Goins rung true to me this week. For weeks, I’ve been bemoaning my lack of writing time and motivation, looking forward to when my workload would allow me to type freely away. But reading this, it hit me–dreaming about a future time when I will have time to write is pointless. It’s the doing that counts.

“So, you’ve got dreams. Who cares?

The world doesn’t need your dreams; it needs your action. It needs your life to matter. So do you.”

The Writer’s Manifesto

My Dad introduced me to Jeff Goins’ blog when he sent me this post: http://us1.forward-to-friend.com/forward/show?u=092fb42c28ba0b66d4d7d0105&id=222e7fa182

I’ve been hooked on this blog since then. {I have a bad habit of getting sucked into writing blogs.} And I love what I’ve read. As someone who is frustrated with her writing, stuck in the middle of a draft, and trying vainly to scrounge up a few minutes a day to write anything at all, I was totally invigorated and refreshed by the encouragement I found, especially in this:

http://goinswriter.com/writers-manifesto/40/

Jeff Goins wrote a short eBook, the Writer’s Manifesto, “about getting back to the heart of writing”. This succinct challenge to writers nearly brought tears to my eyes. It voiced so many things I’ve been thinking about and struggling with. It breathed new hope and life into the writerly part of my heart.

“Real writers don’t write for recognition. They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety. They do it because they cannot not write. By their gifts and under the authority of a higher calling, they are compelled to create. To wonder. To dream. To express. Real writers wake up every morning with something to say. Even if the words have yet to come…

 

“It’s time. To dream boldly and imagine impossibilities. To conjure up words and phrases the world is waiting to hear. To turn off email and stop checking blog stats. To stop worrying. And just write. It’s time to begin.” 

 

 

Everyday Moments

Recently, I have felt, with good reason, like I’m being pulled in a thousand different directions. All of them are good directions–there are numerous events in my family this spring including a wedding that is fast approaching, two graduations, my solo performance etc., and school vamping toward the final sprint of the year to name a few. With all the fun wedding prep, school, practice, and events, writing just hasn’t been happening in the last couple weeks. That’s obviously frustrated me.

I found this quote a couple of days ago and it really struck me.

“The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments.”

In spite of hectic life, a lack of writing time, and nights when I go to bed and wish I had done better, I’m thankful for my everyday moments…awesome fun on a photo-shoot with my sister and good photographer friend…talking and making rehearsal dinner lists in the car with Mom…Dr. Prior on caffeine…singing with my sis in the middle of Costco,  even hard moments of frustration.

No matter how busy life is, no matter how hectic of frustrating, there are still those everyday moments.

Never Giving Up…running the endless road

I cried during my last Cross Country Race. Of course, I had seen kids cry during races before. But not for the same reason.

I was thirteen. Two years before, I had been one of the best runners in my age group…placing in the top seven every race. And now I was at the back of the pack, struggling to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other. Race officials scrutinized me as they heard my wheezing and asked if I was ok. All I could manage as a response was a jerky nod. But I wasn’t ok.

My doctor had told me that if the four medications he put me on for the race didn’t work, I would have to quit running. And here I was, barely managing to inhale enough air, barely able to keep up a labored jog. As much as I wanted the pain to cease, I didn’t want to finish the race. I didn’t want to quit my running forever.

I had to quit running cross country. But I never gave up running. For the last three years I’ve been training on an indoor track, away from the pollen and dust of trail running. Even though there were so many times that I despaired of ever being able to run like I once had, I never stopped. Slowly, I’ve started adding outdoor running back into my workouts. Just this week, I beat my record mile time.

Recently, I have felt like quitting writing.

My novel draft is stuck in the mud. The grand imagery and beautiful world I’ve imaged refuse to come alive on paper. I’m discouraged by the lack of visible progress in my writing abilities. Without feedback, I feel like I’m wandering in the dark. But just like running, the only thing I can do is put one foot in front of another.

Honestly, I’m not sure what that means practically. But I do know this–an athlete doesn’t get fit by slacking off and neither does a writer grow without constant practice.

Sometimes all you can do is take another breathe. Take another step. Ignore the miles of road you need to cover before you reach your goal. Just concentrate on this step.

Thanks and Trust

Last week, I found out that I won the concerto competition for my orchestra–The Emory Youth Symphony. (For the non-musicians, this basically means that I get to play a big solo piece in a frilly dress with the orchestra) I decided to enter the competition on the fly–only a week before. So honestly, I did not expect to win. Like at all. Therefore, you can imagine how immensely shocked I was when my conductor called to tell me that I won. Two months ago, I had absolutely no intention of entering or winning the concerto competition. Now, the plans for my spring have taken a twist with extra practicing and dress shopping.

Even though I’m still not planing on pursuing violin in college, I’m excited to have won. After all, its a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not many teens get to stand up in front of a one hundred piece orchestra and five hundred people in the audience to play their concertos. And who know? Maybe I’ll write a novel with this experience as inspiration…anything can happen!

But there is a small part of me–buried deep inside–that almost resents winning. That wishes that I was receiving the positive feedback and encouragement in my writing instead of violin. That would gladly be a mediocre violinist if I could be a more advanced writer.

I’ve been struggling with these feelings for the last two weeks. The fact that my draft of my current book is going (what feels like to me) very poorly doesn’t help the sensation either. I can’t see any visible improvement in my skills and without feedback, I’m not sure how to improve.

I haven’t been able to completely silence these feelings yet. I’m thankful for the opportunities God has given me in music and I’m trying to trust Him to grant me the opportunities that will glorify Him with my writing.

I love this quote by Ira Glass…so encouraging for someone who wants to quit.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” ~ Ira Glass