I freak out about things sometimes. I get anxious, and I can’t understand what’s happening around me. I think everything is my fault, and I’m stupid, and everyone is looking at me. There are certain things I don’t do; I only go to certain places and see the same people. If my coffee is not made the right way at Dunkin Donuts, I get upset.

I haven’t had a panic attack in a few years, thank God. When it happened, my heart would start pounding, and I thought I was going to die if I was in an unsafe situation. I had an attack in the dentist’s office where I worked. It was so bad, that I couldn’t go back there. I was desperate for a job for a short time.

Now I work at a temp agency at a big hospital in Boston. I take the train and I always walk the same way to the building where I work. I like working as a temp, since there are no commitments, and the jobs where I work are not forever. I also enjoy temping because it forces me to be in new situations and working with different people all the time, which keeps me on my toes, so I don’t get too comfortable.

I worked in Surgery for two and a half months, and it was boring, but I grew into the department. I had my routine, and every day at lunch, I would go to Dunkin Donuts to get my iced coffee so I could drink it at my desk in the afternoon. I would always burrow an identical path to Dunkin Donuts.

I started a new temp job that was only supposed to last for two weeks in Orthopedics in the Spine Clinic. I took the job even though it was only for a short time, because it was a front desk position, and I wanted to see what it was like seeing people in person, and not over the phone.

On my second day, a man came in, and I asked the patient’s name. He said, “Reese Clinton.”

“Is she here?” I asked.

“What do you mean? I’m the patient,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, mortified. “I didn’t know that was you.”

I felt humiliated. I stumbled through checking him in, and probably made a few mistakes. He showed me his ID, and I got his chart ready.

“You need to get an X-ray before the appointment,” I said.

After he went to get his X-ray, I couldn’t stop thinking about how ignorant I was. Of course he was the patient! Who else would it be? And who cares if his name is Reese? I know that Reese Witherspoon is a famous actress, but there’s no reason that Reese couldn’t be a man’s name. God, what was wrong with me?

I wanted the day to end.

When Reese came out after his appointment, he said he didn’t need to make another appointment.

“I want to show you something,” he said, pulling out a large framed piece of paper. “I got an award.”

The certificate said, “Patient as Teacher Award.”

“What is that?” I said.

“I got an award because I was a great patient,” he said. “Only three people in the whole hospital system got this.”

“That’s fascinating,” I said. “I didn’t know they gave awards like that.”

“You can watch this.” He pulled out his iPad, and brought up a video of a young doctor, looking uncomfortable, speaking at a ceremony.

“Reese is an exceptional patient, and he truly believed he could walk again. He taught me so much through faith and looking towards the future. He’s an amazing person. He really deserves this award today.”

I got a little emotional when he showed me the video. Obviously, Reese didn’t mind that I thought his name was a woman’s. He was probably so thrilled beyond belief that he could walk again that he didn’t care about anything else! I felt like a moron for feeling the whole world revolved around me.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That sounds like a big deal. I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you,” he said. He put his iPad away, and started to walk out of the clinic.

“Good luck,” I said.

I know I shouldn’t care so much what others think. Most people have other things on their mind rather than what the world thinks of them. I can’t help but be sensitive, and care about how I’m perceived.

Reese won an award because he taught his doctors to have faith. I thought I could use some of that. I could walk, and that was easy for me, but I don’t think I’m grateful enough for the ordinary things. My brief encounter with Reese taught me that I should believe that my life could get better, and since I am able to walk, maybe someday, I could fly, not literally, but metaphorically, through my life. I wanted more, but I had to learn to take a leap.

It all starts with small steps.


Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA from Bennington College. She has been published in The New Engagement, The Deaf Poets Society, Worddathering and previously in Oddball Magazine. She lives in the Boston area and can be found sharing her opinions at Ms. Hen Reviews Things.