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Staff Only!
May 1, 2014

It was an ordinary day. As usual, I was sleepy. I had not had enough rest, since I was on call the previous night. Right before lunch, I was making plans about how I could sneak into the attractive "staff only" dining room and take a little nap. If there was one thing I learned in the few years of training, it was that there is nothing comparable to a good nap for lunch. Again, as usual, I made a meticulous diagnosis of the hallway and the entrance to the dining room: all signs were "go." In the room, what would be a nicer companion than some classical music? And, Vivaldi's Four Season filled my ears - my cell phone was ringing. I was expected in the emergency room. How much could it hurt, if I only took a few minutes of sleep? Sigh...

The man had only fallen unconscious, but his family thought he had had a heart attack and brought him to emergency. The initial diagnosis was that his artery was almost clogged up due to cholesterol, and the doctor on duty decided to follow a clean-up procedure. This would be my seventh time in a similar operation, so I was not really nervous. But in the eyes of the patient's family, I saw panic. Their eyes were screaming for help, and watching them made my eyes almost deaf when I finally managed to throw myself into the surgery room. Oh my comfort zone: staff only.

As the operation started, the serpentine cord that carried the visualization instrument gradually made its way towards the patient's heart. The walls of the arteries were covered with black remains, fatty tissues were hanging down here and there, and minor clogs were built up at sharp turns. I remembered my dad, who was a plumber. Many times, he was called into the "staff only" rooms for clogged pipes. In contrast to my love for them, the "staff only" rooms were his nightmare. "Poor dad," I thought, pitying him, even if it was thirty years later.

"Go on," came an unknown voice, waking me up from my childhood memories. "Where," I asked in my mind. Then I realized that the camera was showing inside the heart. Looking from within, it only made sense that the man fell unconscious. How could such a heart support the demands of a body?

"He probably hasn't had a refreshing breath for a long time, and certainly wasn't able to run with his grandchildren," I murmured.

"He never did that anyway, so that he should suffer from not doing it now!" answered the unknown voice.

"This is not the time to critique. He is in our hands waiting for help," I replied.

"Well, do what you can. Even if you can fix the entrance, you won't be able to fix me. By the way, would you like a drink?"

Wasn't that a kind heart? Learning who my host was, I rejoiced despite the stress. With the heavy illumination in the surgery room, I was in fact terribly hot at that moment - as if helping my mom while cooking in the kitchen. "Yes, please, a cold drink would quench my heat," I accepted.

"I am sorry, but I only serve hot drinks here. Cold drinks are served in dead bodies," teased the heart. "Here is your energy drink."

"WHAATTT?" I spat all that was in my mouth, and threw the cup towards the heart. The same instant, I received the words of disdain: "Did you just make a heart attack?"

"You are, sir, sucking the man's blood," I replied in anguish.

"That is what's available in here," answered the heart teasingly. "I have production wells extending throughout his body, and I drink this warm energy drink constantly. Without it, I cannot live. If I cannot live, he cannot live. So it is a win-win situation, you know what I mean?"

"Wait a minute, aren't you the embodiment of love and compassion? Aren't you supposed to give without a return?"

"That is true, indeed so. But there is another condition on the same agreement, which says that I have all the rights to defend myself if my carrier denies my rights of privacy."

A heart defending its privacy from its carrier! I was as bewildered and as silenced as a fetus going through birth. The heart took my confused pause as a request for explanation.

"My carrier developed a habit of welcoming thieves as if guests into me, and they kept robbing me," the heart cried, collapsing. "After a while, I decided to separate myself from him, even if that meant the end of my life. The first thing to do for winning my independence was not to use his blood. So, I started narrowing the artery that was feeding me. After all, I was doing something I was familiar with: giving without taking. That rendered me weaker; but he became weaker, too. With his health gone, no thieves were interested in him anymore. And I was safe from both my carrier and the thieves."

Strained between anger and affection, my breaths became deeper and stronger. For relief, I turned my head around. Then suddenly, I started shaking from what I happened to see. "What is this door," I managed to ask at last.

"Don't you see the sign? It is a room for staff only."

"Staff only!" I smiled as if I had found water in the desert. But after realizing that I wouldn't be able to go in there, I went through a storm of sentiments: outcast, unable, sad.

"You feel distanced, right?" asked the heart, to which I nodded.

"That sign is there so that the grown-ups don't enter. If you were a child, you would not be able to read it, and would directly rush in without asking."

"Why children only?" I inquired.

"If you can go through this door in your heart, you can get out into the heart of another person. And if you are a grown-up at that moment, you are going to be treated like a thief in that heart. But if you are a child, you are going to be welcomed as a guest."

I listened to the heart, waited in front of the door. I thought about the people in my life, especially those with whom I wanted to be closer. This door could be the key. I raised my hand, held the door knob. But then I thought about what I was going to face on the other side. Was I entering as a child? Or was I an ambitious adult who was going to be treated as a thief? It was also possible that my grown-up state could trigger the heart on the other side to react to its carrier just like this one; and that would mean trouble for one of my loved ones...

I certainly was not staff... I stepped back from that door for staff-only, as if waking from a pleasurable dream that I did not want to leave. Then, the heart gently told me: "Go upstairs to the kitchen, now; you are expected to open a clogged pipe."