MIMI plodded through one of her usual days, passing off the hours in a deathly stupor, doing chores out of habit and not pleasure. If she had to perform a procedure, she did it quickly because she wanted to get it done with quickly; if the pompous clinical instructor called her to explain the pathophysiology behind pneumonia, she stoically gave the first answer that came into her head just to please the instructor. For Mimi, responsibilities needed to be done in the quickest, most efficient way, thus making the task easier to bear. She’s tired of complaining anyway.

Like the other night when her mother asked her to wrap all the little chubby ceramic angels for her mother’s officemates. In less than an hour, she managed to make those cheap little displays more presentable by putting them in hastily made bags. She couldn’t care less if the ends were taped hastily and the colorful wrapper a bit crumpled. Why tire herself unnecessarily when in the end, the recipients of these gifts would only tear through them?

There are too many formalities in this world, Mimi thought bemusedly, as she watched her mother carefully arrange the newly wrapped gifts in a cabinet, all ready to be given away at the office Christmas party. Bureaucracy, rituals, habits—why does everybody love to follow them?

Everything was the “usual too—” for Mimi that day. Too much traffic. Too many pages to read. Too much coffee. Too many patients in the ward. By the middle of the day, she was already itching to go home and sleep beneath the soft covers of her bed and forget all about the world of needles, narrow white beds, hot airless rooms and high-pitched cries. The sight of pain radiating through the walls slowly got to her. Even the cloying smell of disinfectant being constantly mopped on the faded floors suffocated her and clung annoyingly to her spotless white uniform long after she had gone home.

Ironically, that morning when she woke up, she knew somehow that it would be a tiring day. Duty again at the hospital, she groaned as she slipped into her white uniform. Another boring, tiring day of taking the blood pressure of all those patients, another lousy day of being a “slave.”

“Ready to be a super nurse today?” Grace, the student charge nurse, jokingly asked when Mimi got to the students’ room in the ward. Grace scanned her clipboard. “We’ve got a full house today. Twenty-five patients, mostly kids.” She went on, marking down something on the paper. “One student nurse to three patients. You get 3096 A, B, C, OK? They’re all easy to take care of, just vital signs every four hours, monitor input and output, the usual works.”

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“No problem.”

Mimi obediently jotted the numbers on her small notebook.

“Please read the charts now because Ma’am will be checking your patients later during the rounds, ” Grace said, and strode off to the nurses’ station, where a new patient was being admitted.

Mimi continued putting on her apron. “Aargh! This thing is getting too tight.” She looked at herself on the mirror and grimaced. “This apron is always a nuisance. We look like maids,” she remarked.

Denise chuckled. “You should have gotten used to it by now. We’re seniors now.”

“I know, “ Mimi countered. “But I hate it just the same. “

“Rules are rules, “Denise shrugged. “Anyway, aren’t you going to start reading the patients’ charts? There’s a lot to do today.” And she went out of the room.

Alone, Mimi sighed ruefully at her reflection. Why couldn’t she just stop whining and do whatever she had to? Why couldn’t she be enthusiastic in her work like her group mates, who went about their tasks with a vigor that Mimi had come to resent and envy at the same time?

She had lost all the idealism she had when she was starting out as a freshman. Now, she was like a dried root waiting to crumble to dust and then, nothingness.

She was nearing graduation but still she was not sure if this was what she really wanted. Had she changed her mind? It was alarming how she could feel uncertainty at this point where she should be sure of what she really wanted. She was not a kid anymore.

Mimi dragged her feet to the nurses’ station. She could not stay in the students’ room forever even if she wanted to. She had to work.

She read the charts. All of her patients were children, three with dengue and one with diarrhea. Slowly, she copied the information she needed on her small notebook. Around her the doctors, nurses and health aides moved with a steady rhythm, their footsteps in sync with the continuous hum of the electric fans.

One of the staff nurses suddenly tapped her. “Can you take the initial vital signs of 3094?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mimi politely replied. Sure, here I go again, taking vital signs for the nth time. Is this all I am good for? She got her sphygmomanometer and stethoscope from her bag, dragged herself to room 3094, and fixed a wide smile on her face.

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It was noisy inside the room. Three children were playing some kind of a screaming game, seemingly trying to compete with the TV. The patient, a wispy woman in her late twenties, was sitting quietly in a corner, gently stroking the newly-put bandage on her right arm. She looked up and frowned when she saw Mimi.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am. BP check lang po,” Mimi said in the most cheerful voice she could muster.

The patient gave her a hostile stare. “Are you all trying to experiment with me? People have been coming in all the time just to disturb me,” she grumbled. “I have to talk to my doctor about this. I am sick. I am supposed to be left in peace and get well. “

Mimi wanted to coil the stethoscope tight around the irate patient’s neck, walk out and slam the door, but common sense held her back. Instead, she said, “But I just came in, Ma’am, and I need to take your blood pressure.”

The patient waved her hand, dismissing her. “No, I’ve had enough. I am tired. Tell the staff nurses that I’m tired of all of this.”

Mimi had no choice but to leave the stubborn patient. Yet, back in the students’ room, Mimi could not contain her annoyance. She slammed her things on the table, startling Denise, who was trying to steal a nap. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing, “ Mimi sighed heavily, sitting across her. “Just some nice and polite patient, that’s all.”

The door flew open and a tall, imposing woman in an off-white coat peeked in. “Oh, what are you two doing there? You’re supposed to be by the bedside, not here gossiping. Check on your patients, you’re supposed to take care of them, ” she rasped, her cold stare enough to dislodge the white caps on their heads.

Promptly, Mimi went out to the patients’ room at the end of the ward, feeling more tired than ever. Bad luck does not only come by threes, but in droves, she thought as she paused by the door of Room 3096.

The five beds inside were all occupied with children, whose ages ranged from five to twelve. Two of them were crying loudly as others raptly watched a show on the Cartoon Network.

One boy looked up expectantly as Mimi came in, his hair standing in lopsided tufts. “Hi, nurse, “ he greeted her, his toothless grin adding to his impish face.

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Mimi tried to match the little boy’s bright smile, even though she felt sicker than those kids. “Hi, what’s your name?”

“Toti. Are you my nurse?”

Mimi glanced at the “A” stenciled on the card at the head of the bed. Timothy Santos, 12 years old, diarrhea. She nodded. “How are you feeling?” she asked, stroking the white dressing on the site where the IV needle was inserted. “Does this still hurt?”

Toti sat up on the bed and held up his hand. “No, not a bit. My mom says I’m well now. I should be going back to school soon.”

“Really? What grade are you in?”

“I’m in fourth grade at the Dominican School. You?”

“I will finish school soon,” Mimi replied, adding Thank God under her breath. She glanced at her watch. “Look, Toti, I have to go now. I’ll come back later, OK?”

It was incredible how one could still be amiable in this place, Mimi thought as she watched the cup fill with coffee from the vending machine. It was as if Toti never heard the piercing cries of Elka, the asthmatic eight-year-old from the next bed. Or even noticed how Dexter, the one with dengue fever across him, howled whenever he saw people in white just passing by. Probably, with his young mind, he has associated painful injections with people in white.

The same staff nurse who asked Mimi to take the vital signs of that fussy woman from Room 3094 called her when she passed by the nurses’ station.

“Please remove the IV of 3096 A. It’s almost consumed.”

That’s Toti, Mimi thought, putting the hot cup aside and ambled to that room with her bandage scissors and micropore tape.

Toti was sitting up on the bed, reading comics. He smiled brightly at Mimi. “Hi, did you come to take my BP?”

Mimi shook her head. “No, but I will be removing your IV.”

Toti, still smiling, held out his bandaged hand. The white dressing was already askew and stained with blood.

Mimi gently examined Toti’s hand. “What happened to your hand?”

“I removed it already,” he shrugged.

When Mimi had removed the covering tapes, the needle just fell on the white blanket?”

“You looked tired, that’s why I removed it for you. It was just a little blood. It is not even painful, nurse,” he went on.

Mimi stared at Toti, who looked so innocently happy and unaffected, and found herself wishing she had never grown up.

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