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She Knew Me

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

For the past month, I’ve been recovering from a bike crash.

After getting stitched up in a local hospital, I was transferred to a larger facility with a trauma unit. Just after I arrived, a doctor asked me a series of questions about my health: No, I’ve never smoked. Yes, I drink: one or two glasses of wine or beer with supper, and spirits on rare occasions. No serious or chronic illnesses. Two surgeries: the first, twenty-five years ago, for a deviated septum; the second, fifteen years later, to align my genitals with my gender identity.

Thankfully, no one raised an eyebrow over my last answer. I think he, and the nurses in the room, realized that I was speaking slowly because I was tired and in pain, but that I was coherent. Ironically, that may have been exactly what raised that doctor’s alarm when I unequivocally answered one of the mental-health questions: Yes, I have attempted suicide. But, I explained, not recently: I tried to kill and caused other kinds of harm to myself because of some experiences—including sexual abuse—in my childhood.

The doctor called in someone else —a psychiatrist, I believe. They asked, several times, whether my accident was not an accident. I insisted that my mishap was just that: an unfortunate circumstance. One of the nurses, a native of a Caribbean island, looked into my eyes. She interjected: “No, she wasn’t trying to kill herself. And she’s not going to try anything like that now.”

The other nurse in the room—also from the Caribbean—nodded. The doctor and psychiatrist stopped their conversation and note-taking. The psychiatrist glanced toward them, then at me. “I don’t think she needs to be under watch,” he declared. The doctor scribbled something, which I took as agreement.

Then he asked whether I wanted a chaplain. No, I’m not religious, I explained. I didn’t mention my atheism because I didn’t want to risk a debate for which, at that moment, I didn’t have the energy. I glanced back at the nurse who advocated for my sanity. She looked at me, knowingly.

Two days later, I went home. The nurse and I have stayed in touch. “It was a priest, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t have to pose it as a question. She knows; I think she knew it that night we met in the trauma center.

I’d like to know how she knew. Or do I already know?


  1. Avatar

    MJ, I’m torn between gladness that someone was there to empathize, and horror for the reason why. And sorry you had a bike crash too.

  2. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bike crashes are very frightening for me. I used to ride a motorcycle when younger and remember thinking to myself: You are invisible now, two-wheeler invisible. I came to this ‘mantra’ because it always seemed that way to me, that other users of the road just did not see me on the bike. Recently, I rode an e-bike for the first time and just loved it, sort of like the old motorcycle but so so silent in the breeze. invisible too…
    Very sad to hear of your accident MJ. It is not easy to be hurt, and possibly to be reminded of past harm and to have to be grilled about your state of mind. Some things, some times, are very lonely.Thank-you for putting it out there on paper and being here with us.

  3. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    MJ, I;m glad your bike accident wasn’t worse, and that overall you were treated decently at the hospital. I’m glad to see another post from you, you always have something interesting to say.

    I grew up in the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s. Catholic schools, too. I had what, until the last decade or so, I believed to be the misfortune to be a fat, ugly kid. Admittedly, growing up that way was not fun. But now I’m beginning to believe it was a blessing in disguise, and I wonder how many of my Catholic school classmates were molested or worse by those priests, and maybe my unattractiveness protected me.

    I hope you make a full recovery from your injuries, and are back out on a bike soon.

  4. Avatar

    Your dignity and humanity affirmed by two nurses from the Caribbean. Interesting because nurses seldom speak up to doctors. And I would think even less often if from another culture.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Thank you BJW, Obstacle Chick, Brian Vanderlip. Cliubschadenfreude, Karen the rockwhisperer, Sarah and Zoe.

    About the nurse who spoke up: I was surprised, and I wasn’t . On one hand, in my experience in the corporate and academic worlds, I never saw someone stand up to someone with authority, or simply more prestige. On the other, the Caribbean women I know, and have known, whether as students or in other contexts, have been smart, tough and resilient people.

    Thanks again !

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