Tsarnaev

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“I know this could be quite overwhelming for your second week here, but at least it keeps things interesting, eh?” asked Dr. Lipsky.    

I nodded, although I didn’t think he was expecting a response as he continued leading the way down the quiet, empty hallways at FMC Devens. I started my residency at the federal prison medical facility seven days ago and I still had trouble finding my way around. The quiet hallways with yellowing walls all looked the same.      

Ahead of me, Dr. Lipsky slowed down when we reached the steel bar grillage to scan his staff card. After a loud buzz of approval from the security system, the heavy gate opened with a clunk and we continued down another long stretch of hallway.       

Dr. Lipsky turned to face me and asked, “Have you been following the case?”

“No, not really,” I lied.      

“If you ask me, he needs mental health care more than he needs us. What sociopath would set off a bomb in a sea of happy people just enjoying a day out? Children everywhere,” he muttered distractedly, pulling out his card again. Dr. Lipsky was talking about the suspect arrested for the Boston Marathon bombing two weeks ago. The next patient on our rounds that day.      

Last week, two of the facility administrators sat down with me and asked if I could replace another resident who had requested for a transfer when she found out she was pregnant. It was a high-profile case and they usually assigned new residents to easier rounds, they said, but they were so short of staff that the other doctors have already been working extra hours and their request to the Federal Bureau of Prisons regional office for new staff may take awhile to be processed. Sure, I said, why not?      

Dr. Lipsky swiped his card this time, and after hearing a weak beep, pushed open the door to the cell.       

“Mr. Tsarnaev, how are we today?” Dr. Lipsky asked in a kind voice. I was surprised by how friendly he seemed, given his personal feelings about the brutality of the crime that was allegedly committed by this patient, lying there with his back to us when we entered.       

“Uhm, okay,” the young man croaked, still groggy from sleep. He slowly turned on his back so he could face us, groaning softly at one point as he did. His gaze paused on me for a moment and he moved his lips as if to say something, but then he stopped and slowly gave me a small smile instead before turning his attention back to Dr. Lipsky.      

Dr. Lipsky glanced in my direction and said, “This is our new resident,” then looked at the patient’s chart for any updates from the night medical team. He didn’t tell the patient my name; the policy was to avoid divulging personal information as much as we can. After all, most of these men were supposed to be hard criminals.       

While Dr. Lipsky was studying the chart, I took the opportunity to study the patient. I recognized him from all the pictures I have seen on the news: the same crown of soft curls, the same heavy-lidded eyes, the same dark eyebrows. He looked skinnier than he did in the pictures I have seen and there were some cuts on his left cheek, though the wounds appeared to be healing well. His facial hair was growing out, giving him a much scruffier appearance compared to the baby-faced boy in the pictures. Despite the shadows under his eyes, you could tell he was still just a boy. There was a blanket up to his chest and there were bandages covering his neck.

He must have sensed that I was staring because he suddenly shifted his eyes back to me again. At that moment, when my eyes met his, a million thoughts screamed to be heard in my head and I felt like I had lost control of everything for a split second. I quickly turned away.     

Although I must have assisted Dr. Lipsky, I did not remember much of what happened after that except the long walk back down the hallway, when I was still struggling to understand those eyes.

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