Thursday, April 29, 2010

`And Whom, She Did Not Know'

“He saw a soft, suffering expression which was intelligent and touching: she seemed to him altogether graceful, feminine, and simple; and he longed to soothe her, not with drugs, not with advice, but with simple, kindly words.”

My student is sick again. She vomited in the bathroom and afterwards, on the advice of the nurse, slept for an hour on a bed in the classroom. Later, I tube-fed her at the table. As I was pouring the last of the water she coughed, bent forward and threw up on her lap and my left hand. Protocol is to leave the tube connected to her abdomen as a sort of emergency vent from her stomach, but formula, water and the rest spewed from her mouth onto her clothing, the table, floor, chair, waste basket and me.

The nurse and teacher washed her and changed her clothes. I disinfected the table and chair, and the custodian used a steam cleaner on the carpet. Pale and trembling but not crying, my student fell asleep again. The nurse spoke with her mother on the telephone and twenty minutes later she was at the door. Nurse, teacher, mother and I sat around the girl’s bed and talked, and then I settled her into a wheelchair and walked with the mother, a smart, polished woman, to her car. As we strapped her daughter into the front seat, I saw the mother was crying without making a sound.

“Her mother put her arms around her head and hugged her. What despair, what grief was in the old woman’s face! She, her mother, had reared her and brought her up, spared nothing…And now she could not make out the reason of these tears, why there was all this misery, she could not understand, and was bewildered; and she had a guilty, agitated, despairing expression, as though she had omitted something very important, had left something undone, had neglected to call in somebody – and whom, she did not know.”

[The quoted passages are from Chekhov’s “A Doctor’s Visit” (1898) in Constance Garnett’s translation. The situation in the story is different from Wednesday’s in the classroom but I had packed The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (Volume 5 of The Tales of Chekhov) in my lunch bag and couldn’t deny the deeper human similarities.]

1 comment:

edzubrow said...

I can't really express how amazing I find your ability to move between the best of literature and the challenges/rewards of your quotidian life.