This Cold

There is a strange immediacy to the feeling of being cold.
I have spent countless hours in bitter wind and sideways snow, breathless but peaceful in the uphill pursuit of fresh snow, of the drop in my stomach as I bounce off a pillow and feel the cold wet flakes brush my cheeks and let the rest of the world dissolve into white.
But this cold is different.
It’s four thirty in the morning. The bathroom floor is chilly on my bare feet as I rise and sleepily pull scrubs over my head and a brush through my hair. The house we bought in August, a shameless move made in order to somehow create a sense of permanence in this place, does not have great heat up in the attic, and I sleep under two down blankets.
But this cold is different.
It’s five in the morning and my fingers burn as I sacrifice them to the winter, the price of clutching a thermos of warm coffee. I watch my breath precede me in the streetlights as I tiptoe around icy puddles, toes freezing in the clogs that by this time are perfectly molded to my feet after hundreds of hours of walking around the hospital.
But this cold is different.
It’s five thirty. I arrive at the hospital and obediently print patient lists, one for me, one for my resident. She strides in with hand outstretched, silent invisible snarl in her eyes, and snatches it from me without a word. The first time she speaks to me will be after rounds, inevitably a chastisement in the stairwell about my persistent questions or my lingering too long in conversation with a patient.
But this cold is different.
It’s two in the afternoon. I’ve been sent to do a neurological exam on what is known to be a brain dead patient in the SICU. To learn. I gently pull his eyelids up and find non-reactive pupils ringed by icy blue. I hold his snowy white hand.
But this cold is different.
I leave the hospital at eight. It’s snowing out, but I wouldn’t have known, caged as I were inside its walls. I haven’t seen the sunrise or the sunset or the sun in weeks. I’m wearing three layers of coats. My car is being repair and I’m reliant on the train to commute for the first time in my education. It’s a twenty minute walk from the trax stop to my house. I catch my reflection in the glassy black windows. I note with
some degree of apathy that I look tired. A woman sitting opposite me with scraggly teeth talks to herself. There are grocery bags on her feet. She tells me that I have beautiful hair.
I get off the train and I walk home. Still it snows. My path leaves fresh tracks on a fallibly salted sidewalk.
I walk past a small park I’ve driven by every single day for the last seven months, one block from my house. An encampment of homeless tents is clustered there; shopping carts, tarps, and homemade blankets. There’s a little fire. In its patchy light I catch the eye of a woman who looks not older than myself. A long strand of blonde falls out from under her hat and trickles down her cheek. She, too, looks tired.
And this cold is different, because I feel this cold, deeply and in a way that’s less transient, in a way that won’t melt away with a cup of hot tea. I feel the ice in my fingers and the wind cutting through to my jacket right down to whatever is
beneath. I cannot begin to imagine how the yellow haired woman came to be gathered around this fire. Yet the common ground of snow, weather that usually brings me such joy, forcing me to – with jarring immediacy – understand the reality of this world. The other side of the cold. Pins and needles in toes our only similarity and the accident of birth starkly highlighted as I travel home from my cushy doctoral program and realize that I’ve never truly felt the cold. Not like she has.

I pause under a streetlight and watch the snowflakes drift in and out of the shaft of light. It’s silent on the street. On days like this, I usually turn my face to the sky and smile as the tiny hexagons dot my eyelashes. My heart does something I can’t
describe as it falls because snow, for me, has always meant peace. It means something different in this moment. How is that this woman, or one like her, or many like her, has been living a block away from me for seven months and I never knew? How is it that in wishing for the cold and the icy whiteness I was also wishing misery upon her? How did I never pause, before? It is beyond simple to become wrapped up in the safe four walls of the hospital, the  complacency of heat and healing. Simple to pour a life into that particular healing so freely that none exists in the cup when you are forced to stop. Simple to lose, in the pursuit of perfection and gratification and education, the ability to see to the humans we once strove to help.
It is much less simple to break out of those four walls.
It is cold outside.

Ellie Gilbertson, UUSOM '21 calls Buckeye, Colorado home, and received a BA in Biochemistry from Colorado College with minors in Spanish and Kinesiology. Things that make her smile include desert stars, long runs, handwritten letters, and snow.

Rubor Participation:
2020 Prose, "This Cold"