By Crystal Wallin, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P
As a child, we knew it. Maybe we forgot it. The eyes of those we trusted and loved radiated kindness and safety. Whether it was a sweet faced teacher or the kind eyes with wrinkles around them of a grandparent, we saw with a glance where we stood.
Growing older, we saw eyes that were all colors. Learning patient care, you and I both learned to tell a lot with a glance. Walking in the door of a scene, I was trained early in paramedic lessons – “sick or not sick”? Instinctive reading of a situation was often the first step of an assessment I began the moment my first boot crossed the threshold. A patient’s eyes can be cold, dead – as I type that, a face flashes across my memory. A face of a man that often wore a long black coat which only accented his presentation as he struggled with mental health challenges. He was articulate and soft spoken. But from my first encounter with him, something within me was afraid. Afraid in a way I’ve not encountered more than three or four times when in the presence of another human. It was his eyes. Something in their flat depths made me very careful not to turn my back on him or be left alone with him.
There were other patients whose eyes I can still recall. Mothers holding their children in anguish, wives staring blankly at their husbands lying still. Eyes fogged with fever – or cataracts. Eyes with nystagmus, telling in a glance that the patient in front of me who was wracked with nausea needed a vestibular suppressant, and wasn’t going to find much relief from my IV Zofran. Eyes that were excessively glassy, or red – even the eyes with pupils contracted down to pinpoints or dilated into wide discs that nearly obscured the color of the iris; all these told the tale to us and to law enforcement on scene.
The sad eyes with one pupil helpfully reacting and the other pupil sadly checked out, telling the story of trauma on the inside that matched the trauma we could see on the outside of our patient. Knowing from that assessment that the intracranial pressure was/had built and herniation was/would soon occur.
So now in the tempestuous year of 2020, we are all being brought back to the eyes. Over and over in daily life, we judge the eyes of another. Are they happy, are they smiling, how are they feeling? As masks do their necessary job and help us to do our necessary jobs—we’re drawn back to the eyes. Shakespeare said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and I believe that poetically phrased assertion is the truth. Tyra Banks popularized the term “smize”, meaning to smile with your eyes – and we all can picture in our head now what that means.
Thank you to all who are reporting to work, putting on the garb and facing the heat, the moisture in all areas it shouldn’t be, the heat and condensation on the face masks. Thank you to the ladies who have nearly forgotten what lipstick and gloss smell like, the men who’ve sacrificed their beards or goatees to ensure proper N95 fit. Thank you for dealing with the breakouts and the freak-outs. Times when you step out to lower the mask and shield take a moment to breathe sweet cool air and when it’s time to go back in must face the unusual sensation of extreme reluctance to go back in and do the job we have always just…done.
Thank you for being the ones who still come when help is needed, when there’s no one else to call, when someone is afraid, or hurting, or scared, or just – alone.
Thank you for being the eyes that send out kindness and caring into this ever changing world that is 2020.
You are all my heroes.