It was the week after 9/11. Everyone was in shock, naturally, and doing their best to climb out of their own personal hell however they could. In my mother’s case, the shock manifested itself as a long-forgotten buried sensation of physical visceral fear that used to be part of the daily existence for her in communist Russia. For Jews in communist Russia. For most of the American society, it translated into a sudden burst of sincere patriotism. American flags of all sizes were everywhere, and for the first time, even the most bitter of cynics were regarding them completely void of irony.
But life goes on, and the President implored that the people go on with their lives, make waffles, go shopping, go to work.
Patient #1 was a 5 year old boy, brought in by his mom. He had amblyopia: one eye sees better than the other, and you have to patch the good eye to strengthen the bad eye. Here was a little boy who could only see out of his bad eye.
“He knows,” said the mom, “that some very bad people did a very bad thing, and hurt a lot of other people. But they have been caught, and punished and there is NOTHING to be afraid of.”
The little boy blinks his weak eye. Everyone nods. Nothing to be afraid of at all.
Patient #2 was Mrs. Connelly. She was a 75 year old woman with a long medical history, who came to the eye doctor regularly, walking independently with a heavy-duty walker, the kind that has the tennis balls on the legs. She was round; she had a pasty, child-like face, with a perpetual sheepish smile, and clear bright blue eyes. That day, she was also wearing a bright yellow helmet.
“I have started falling,” she explained. “I fell many times, right on my head. It doesn’t hurt, but it makes a most unpleasant sound. So I got this helmet. This way, I am practically invincible.”
The top of the helmet, not unlike the dome of the Capitol, was decorated by a toothpick with a tiny American flag, which rocked a bit as she walkered herself slowly to the exam room.