When I was a teenager, a friend used to say I could read her mind - as if I somehow had the ability to poke around in her head, and sometimes see things that even she couldn't. A close friend from a few years ago remarked something similar - that I had free access to thoughts that had never been verbalised. It was always a privilege to see inside someone, an intimacy of which few can boast.
The full moon was bright over the road as I drove into work that night and climbed into my chair, bare feet tucked up under me as I scrolled through the inside of other people's heads yet again. Silently assessing, appraising, categorising. Most of the heads I looked at were old, and the memories of a lifetime were gradually fading away. I wondered at some, as I scrolled past a dark spot, the herald of loss of a bundle of neurons, of what memory had gone with them. What moonlit walk, what tragic loss, what phone number or frisson of potential had held its place in memory.
I continued to work hard that night, steadily, playing my part in my little warm room as the patients came and went. Until he came in and I looked at his brain. His brain was young. Far younger than the brains I am used to seeing, a brain full of all the things that a young, fit, healthy, clever young person should have. Or it was once, before the accident that brought him into my care in the first place.
I wasn't in my little dark room as I looked at his head. I was in the bright room. The frigidly cold room to keep the machinery operating well. The machines that go beep were in there too as I stood at the terminal and began to scroll. And all those memories and that fun and that life and that spark were closed to me and all the people standing behind me, listening to every word I said. Until I stopped speaking and the room began to empty and the shoulders of all around me slumped. The adrenaline high that pulls you in in the middle of the night to do your best and do good futile at that point.
Where they all went I'm not sure. Some went back to work, and saw the next elderly brain that would shortly wend its way to me to delve through, others I think went home. Others went to see the family that had been woken in the middle of the night and wanted to know and to hope but couldn't. Not after my words that night.
And I sat in my little dark room and became acquainted with every part of his body. Following every line and contour. And at some point in the night I realised my cheeks were wet, as I thought of all the things that were lost. And it was important to me to do things properly, as I looked deep inside him to the parts that no one had ever seen before. To take that privilege and that honour and not take any shortcuts. Even if as I was scrolling his breaths were slowing and those around him were hearing my words from kindly mouths that have had to say them too many times before.
I drove home when the moon was still in the sky but the birds were singing and the sun was glorious through the clouds. So tired that I felt that my limbs were leaden. Few thoughts racing around a usually noisy brain as I indicated for my turnoff and parked my car. The wind chilly as I stepped out, ruffling around my ears and tickling my cheek. And it struck me again, how lucky I am to have thoughts. To record them here. To keep on having thoughts. And the tears started again, silent ones that kept coming and coming and coming. And I cried as I saluted the sun, stretched out on my yoga mat until my biceps shook with the pain.
And I cried as I drove to the water, and ran into the choppy sea while my hair laced with seaweed and salt. But as later I lay on the sand and it pressed into my cheek the tears finally stopped. And the sun tickled along my bare skin and began to warm me from the inside out.
I can't change what happened to him. It was all over before we'd even met. And I could become cool and hardened like some of those I work with. Who look at organs and wounds and that's all they see, because there are too many sad stories. And it's not because they're lesser people or doctors or somehow innately cold. It's because they will see that tomorrow and the day after and you have to find some way or else it will break you.
But I need to know their stories. Who they are and where they've come from. I need to feel like I've earned the right to the secrets locked up inside that no one else knows. And when I find the secrets, the memories that are lost forever, I see them just for a moment, before I report them gone. And maybe it's silly and maybe it's delusional and maybe I should just buy the bottle of wine like so many others. But as I drove home under the moon tonight, the heavy golden moon, I felt the sadness shift - I did right by him. I did right by others. I will continue to keep on doing my best.
And that's my secret.