Kacper Niburski is a medical student in the Class of 2021 at McGill University. He is also the CMAJ student humanities blog editor. Follow his writing instagram: @_kenkan.
It happened, and then there is the small tragedy of eating in a cafeteria with relentless, raw light. My eyes blur to adjust to the homeless white hospital walls. Around, heads bob like pistons. There’s work to be done. Always work to be done. On this sandwich too. Is it rye? What did I order? A dripping fusel lodge of a tomato splatters on to the plastic wrapping. It looks like a prebiotic eye staring up at the ceiling, trying to see a way out.
I gaze up, but there’s no one in the patterned tiles. The fluorescent bulbs hurt. The engines of flesh purr on nearby.
I’m frantic now. Like the hum around, I have things to do. I have a lunch to eat and patients to see and some papers to write and need to focus on the rest of the day that deadens into night. I can’t spend time with some inviolable, invisible voice, some siren far away.
Kacper, I’m over here.
I look down to the eyeful of splattered tomato and mayo which is gazing back at my hand. Bits of my bites mouth more. We don’t have much time, the miserable mess of the sandwich says.
I know this, I say back.
You have to move on, the sandwich crumbs lick together.
Ya, you’re – Jesus, wait a second. What am I doing? Why am I talking to leftovers? I must be losing it. Whatever was in the sandwich probably gave me some food poisoning. Was it the fish inside? My insides must be tormented tuna, listless little invertebrate that could swim if only they could remember what it was to not remember the ocean, the waters, the rain in the entire sky. My mercury levels must be off the chart. Some helter-skelter stuff. Wait until the Ministry of Health hears about this chit-chatting inanimate-inducing meaty-mess th-
Kacper, can’t ya focus. There are things to do.
Hey, sandwich. That’s my line.
There were, though; the toasty thought was right. Too many things. Always many things. Forever many things that will glow onwards like stars that died long ago but still torture life with light.
Why am I thinking of stars and the dead? The few bulbs above appear to flicker, flick. The oscillating heads of the people around don’t putter. Steam exhausts; a waterfall calls somewhere in the distance to the life unlived. Usual business.
And you need to do them, the sandwich burps again.
But I’m still hungry, I say to the struggling assortment of rye – it is definitely rye – and lettuce and too much mayo for my taste, to be honest.
Stop thinking, the sandwich commands.
Get going, the sandwich belches.
Wait, the sandwich breathes, take me with you.
I look back on the scrambled body, no more than some wheaty hair and sausaged limbs. I do not need anyone else. I pulse. I shine. I am that star, that thick delightful life, and I can get back to all that happened now into this coming night.
I turn around to the throng of strangers moving and doing and making and emptying emptying emptying. I join the next shift on the internal wards where things happen until they don’t.
Then just as the hunger settles in that slippery spot that can fill a heart with love and a body spools with happiness, I lose another patient. There are no stars that night. And I do not eat for a few years afterwards.