Goodness gracious, Annie, you smoked so much crack! Your blood pressure is soaring, up up and away in the 200s – the red number blinks urgently on the monitor – and I feel a pang of discomfort, knowing the clenching pipes of your arteries are transmitting that brute force to your brain, which is swelling in protestation. You are sedated and on mechanical ventilation in the ICU, and when I examine you I notice your gold glitter nail polish – the only hint of playfulness in a room of blue and gray – and the lice in your hair, which is fair and thin and matted to your scalp. Your arteries surrender easily to our medications – the pipes unclench, permitting your brain to shrink back to its usual size – but the lice, on the other hand, are far more difficult to treat; the nurses go to work on you, taking turns vigorously shampooing your scalp and sliding a comb through your hair. On the third day you wake up and slur your name, and on the fourth day, you’re sitting up in bed, cross-legged and speaking in paragraphs as if we were catching up over brunch. You tell a good story – the pitch of your voice fluctuates expertly, and you pause in all the right places – and during our visits, I learn all about the patch of sidewalk you sleep on, the saga of your parents' marriage, the time you were raped by a stranger in LA – that last part you mention quickly, casually – and I realize I like you very much. What is it like to be you, Annie? I could never tap into all the channels of your consciousness, absorb your history, comprehend your despair – or that of anyone else, for that matter, because all human beings, from the love of my life to the Sultan of Oman, contain an infinite world: scaffolds of knowledge, iridescent moods, memories that coalesce and dissolve, and deeper still, a voice, a grain, a secret. The best I can do is listen and point my light at your pupils. You have moved on to the subject of watercolors now, but I must admit, I am a bit distracted; you are using your glittergold fingertips to comb, over and over again, through your clean blonde mane, and I see the lice are gone.

This post was written by Emily Silverman, MD. Along with Progress and Two Deaths, it won second prize for Best Essay in the 2016 LitQuake Writing Contest.