February 15, 2017


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I’m in Gannett to get some blood work done on a Friday afternoon. No biggie—I’m hoping to get in, get it done, and get out. It’s late November. Finals are coming up, the weather is getting chilly and I’ve been using a large portion of my brainpower during the past couple of weeks to block out the constant barrage of news. Exhaustion has set in and it’s here to stay for the rest of the semester. I’ve got my earbuds in and I’m successfully ignoring the droves of diseased students surrounding me.

They finally call my name at the front desk. A friendly-faced nurse greets me and ushers me out of the waiting room, deeper into the bustling belly of Gannett. We exchange pleasantries. I tell her what year I am and what I’m studying; we collectively determine that it is indeed getting cold out.

The nurse leads me to an open room and my stomach tightens a little as we enter. It’s just like any other hospital room, bare and shiny and uncomfortable. I shed my jacket and bag onto the extra chair in the corner and hop onto the examination table.

“Are you allergic to any medication?” The nurse asks. I shake my head no. “Well then let’s get started.” She pulls her little cart into the room and closes the door behind her.

That’s when I notice the map.

It’s a giant paper world map, almost the length of the entire wall behind the door. It’s taped at four ends at about eye level. As I peer at it more closely, I notice that it’s covered in dozens of tiny dots. The dots cover almost all of the United States, converging over cities like New York, San Francisco and Dallas. The rest of the dots pop up here and there across the rest of the world; there’s a few in Europe, a decent amount in Asia, and a couple scattered across Australia and South America.

The nurse catches me looking at the map and smiles. “I’ve been asking every one of my patients to mark where they’re from.” She rips open the package the needle comes in and places it on the little silver tray on the counter. “I’ve got every continent except Africa. And Antarctica of course.”

I lean back in the chair and focus on the map as she continues preparing. I’m not scared of needles, but I’d rather not see them coming. Plus, as far as distractions go, the map is a pretty spectacular one. I’ve had doctors instruct me to look at pictures of puppies or recite the alphabet backwards to keep me from focusing on what was going on in their hands. I usually chose to zone out instead. But this time I am genuinely interested in the object hanging on the wall and I’m very much present.

“I’d like to frame the map and give it to my grandchildren,” the nurse explains. She swabs my arm with a disinfectant wipe and tells me about her fourteen grandchildren, how they all live around Ithaca, how they all get together for the holidays to celebrate.

“I like to tell them that here at Cornell we have all sorts of people from different places, but we all get along just fine.” I feel the slightest of pricks on my arm, and almost instantly there’s a Band-Aid in its place. “And we‘re all the same. I’ve taken blood from hundreds of students. And everyone’s blood is red, I can vouch for that. Look at that, so is yours. We all bleed and cry and sleep and grow. There’s no reason for so much hate in the world. Oh, you’re all done honey.”

I realize I hadn’t moved from the chair. When I stand and straighten myself out, she hands me a Sharpie and invites me to make my own mark on the giant map. I find the city in Romania in which I was born and am surprised to find two other dots marking the area. I had no idea.

I tell her a little bit about my family and myself, and in turn she points out a few dots and tells me her own stories. “There was one boy from China who walked ten miles to school every day,” she says. There was a girl from Brazil who had never had her blood taken before. There was a boy from Europe who had spent two years working on a fishing boat. The map is filled with stories, and she remembers all of them. I wonder if a short version of my own story would be told in that room one day, or maybe to a group of kids gathered under a Christmas tree.

“It’s so nice to be surrounded by so many amazing people,” she says as I leave. “I love it. I hope you do too.”

I leave Gannett feeling a little lighter somehow. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day bustle of life, to put your earbuds in and block everything else out. I wasn’t expecting some sort of grand sign when I went to get my blood work done that day, but sure enough I left with a little more appreciation for the world around me. Seeing those two dots on the map near my hometown felt empowering. Seeing the rest of the dots on the map was humbling. Meeting the nurse was inspiring.

So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, or lonely, or just need to have some blood drawn — I know a great place.