I’ve been thinking about one of our patients. A young guy, rope thin, with pink tips and dark roots, who went to the wrong clinic on his first visit and arrived so late we had to work through lunch to see him. He was sweet about it, though, and doggedly pushed through our paperwork, describing his health history, his symptoms, laying out the mundane demographic details we’re expected to collect. He’s had a lot of injuries. A car accident in the recent past has left his arm with a field of scars like a celestial map around a jagged supernova at the elbow. Then he got hurt at work, more than once, which led to the surgery and the post-op side effects we’re trying to address.

He was crying today as I got him off e-stim. He said it was everything. Getting a divorce, and with two little kids. Trying to work through excruciating pain because the alternative is homelessness and hunger. He’s wondering if it will get better. It’s been so long, and it hurts so bad.

He tells me this, slumped over, screened by his long pink hair. You have to be in a mood to go for a dye job like that, you have to be feeling pretty good. But that pink is four inches in the past, and all the new growth is dark.

His truck remained in its spot outside my window for several minutes after I’d walked him out. Finally I went to check on him. I found him still weeping, hands trembling with pain. I went inside and got him some Tylenol and a glass of water, sent the therapist out to see what could be done. For a while he sat with an ice pack; later I invented a piece of paperwork for him to sign, as an excuse to go back outside and make sure he was alright. His truck didn’t move for a long time, but eventually I looked up and he was gone.

I wish I could have given him a hug, which is what the poor guy needed. But people don’t touch each other anymore.