Hospitals have always smelled like home to me.
The scent reminds me of the way my mom’s scrubs smelled when she’d return home from long shifts at work. I’d lie with my head in her lap, and on especially tough days, she’d scratch my back.
Both of my parents have been nurses for decades. They both know the routine of washing their hands every time they leave a room, the way the beeping of machines eventually fades to background noise and the soreness of one’s body after not finding time to sit for hours.
I’ve only been an observer and an outsider of their vocation.
Through eyes tainted by the haze of long, lazy sleep, I’ve seen the stain left on the kitchen table by my dad’s brimming coffee mug that he would finish before the sun got around to rising.
I know the definition of “tired to the bone,” because I’ve seen it reflected in his eyes when he has to set his alarm for another early morning, and I hear it in my mom’s voice when we talk over the phone before her next late-night shift.
Throughout my childhood, my mom and dad raised me the way many other parents do. They participated in the nightly ritual of goodnight kisses and calmed nightmares. They were there throughout the morning flurry of packing lunches before the bus rounds the corner and I could find them cheering on the sideline of every lacrosse game.
But unlike others, I was lucky enough to have the steady hands of two nurses to guide me and two experts in managing life-or-death crises by my side during each of these moments.
It takes a special type of person to constantly be at beck and call without the glamour of a white coat. One must be especially altruistic to remember to check vitals and crack a comforting joke in the same breath.
Growing up, even after seeing people’s worst days, my parents were able to come home and ask me how mine went. My scrapes and cuts stinging in the summer air were the least of the injuries they’d tend to that week. And the tragedy of any bad grade I had gotten on a test was the furthest thing from my dad’s latest case in the cath lab.
During an interview with Michael Vitez, the director for narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, we talked a lot about how medicine, above all, is a profession of serving people.
And while discussing this, so many things made sense about my upbringing.
During those exchanges after long nights, my parents taught me determination. They taught me support, whether it be from a respirator or a familiar face at a school function, is essential in life.
As a sophomore in college, I’m still baby-faced in comparison to a world growing seemingly more callous every day. I’ve faltered and stumbled and had my own fair share of self-doubt.
During this semester, I’ve felt especially homesick some days. When I sit at my desk attempting to get work done, I often catch myself staring at pictures of my family from years past — days when my “Take Your Child to Work Day” story was the best out of the entire class.
Nostalgia sets in, but so does comfort.
My home, with its warm windows, is just over the bridge. And after every stumble and hardship, I know the place to check in.
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Grace_Shallow.