Picking up specimens was a piece of cake job. All I did was drive a company car and stop at hospitals and doctor offices. But my route covered a big area, so I had to keep moving. And as a professional lab courier, I had to know which bagged specimens were room temperature, refrigerated or frozen.
The one place I hated was nursing homes. There was the unbearable smell. And the long wait at nurses stations.
I remember one time I was finally handed a urine sample at Paradise Manor, and I was about to leave the front lobby when, out of the blue, someone came up to me: a tiny, very old woman.
She grabbed my arm. “Please help me,” the old woman implored.
“I’m sorry?” I said, startled.
I glanced at the little person in her pink robe.
“Help me. They won’t let me out.”
This is awkward, I realized. What am I supposed to say?
Paradise Manor’s front lobby, with its empty velvet couch and large mirrors, had always resembled a funeral home. At Paradise Manor there were several nurses stations down long hallways, but no reception desk.
“They won’t let you out?” I repeated with a feeling of dread. In the back of my mind I knew I was already running late.
The old woman tugged at my arm. “Please help me get out of here,” she persisted. “They won’t let me leave. Please help me.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m allowed to– I mean, I wish I could help you but–I really have to get going–“
“Help me! Help me!” she repeated, her entreating eyes meeting mine.
The old woman kept tugging weakly at my arm as I started to move toward the front door.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m not supposed to,” I said lamely.
I glanced around, hoping to be saved, but the lobby of Paradise Manor remained empty–with no friendly welcome or farewell. No help would be coming from the nurses station down the hallway.
“I have to be going,” I tried to explain. “If I’m late, I’ll get in trouble with my boss.”
But she had no idea who I was. Just a person within her reach.
“I really wish I could help you,” I said pathetically, breaking away from her grip and backing toward the door.
The old woman’s arms were outstretched.
She stood frozen with an expression of terror on her face as she watched me push open the heavy door. “Please help me! Please help me!” she called.
All that afternoon I felt guilty, wondering what I could have done.
And, of course, the only answer was nothing.