A 26-year-old Iraqi man is brought to the emergency room of a county hospital by a co-worker, since he had been complaining of chest pain while at work. While waiting, the nurse checks his blood pressure and pulse, which are 150/98 mmHg and 110 beats per minute, respectively. She tells the man he should remove his shirt and lie down; he seems a bit nervous but complies. As she places cardiac monitor electrodes on his chest and begins connecting the monitor cables, she notices dime-size scars on his chest. The man breaks into a sweat and begins to tremble. Suddenly, he sits up suddenly and pulls off the electrodes, shouting, “No! No!” He grabs his shirt and runs out of the room. He attemps to compose himself, approaches his co-worker, telling him the doctor asked him to go home and rest. He attempts a calm, quick exit. The nurse and the ER security try to catch up with him to restrain him and reason with him. But reason and restraint aren’t enough.
Sometimes I read about victims of torture and feel like sobbing. The composed world of work and leisure mock the terror that was once poured into their body, soul and spirit. Their stories are not just their stories. They come to me as a parable of my own story. I too have walked into the emergency room under obligation of my employer—my means of survival and daily sustenance. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing. I warn myself that I will be sent to the doctor for a more severe diagnosis if I don’t manage to fake normal. I wear my calm stoic face as I try to tell my heart to quit racing. I tell myself everything will be fine. My emotions refuse to comply. I search the nurse’s eyes. I hope and pray and plead for an ounce of understanding as she reads the results. Yet she purses her lips moving deftly onto the next procedure. The walls begin to spin. I don’t remember what happened next but it involved me and something I’d rather not talk about. I try to compose myself and approach my co-worker to go home. I can’t lie to her, so I say nothing. My shame increases as I see her skeptical look. The security guard and the nurse try to reason with me. I try to tell them my soul isn’t listening to reason right now. I can tell they don't understand.