I hardly remember driving home on Sunnyside that evening. Dog-tired and still thinking about two of my patients who had received devastating news a few hours earlier, I felt emotionally drained and must have slipped into auto pilot. My old Chevy truck, however, knew the way home and was in a hurry to get there.
Suddenly the sight of a state patrol car in the oncoming lane got my attention. I glanced at my speedometer, groaned, and slowed. The cruiser passed me, made an immediate U-turn, and came up behind me, lights flashing. I pulled over, knowing I was guilty and that a bad day was about to get worse.
The officer walked slowly along the side of my truck, giving me time to roll the window down and collect myself. I looked up through a wall of tension and saw his face, anger and disgust written all over it. He almost shouted. “You were driving 55 in a 35 mile zone!” All I could do was mumble, “I’m sorry.” Knowing you’re in the wrong is a tough pill to swallow.
He paused, but I had seen him eyeing my scrubs and RN badge. And had I also seen something else—a spark of recognition maybe? (A lot of people visit patients on my floor every day.) He cleared his throat and then spoke calmly. “Are you just getting off work?” I nodded. He said his day was almost over, as well. And the wall between us crumbled.
To my surprise, he said, “I want you to go home, get some sleep, and drive a little slower tomorrow.” He extended his hand and added, “Thank you for all you do.” I gratefully took that hand, and as we shared a respectful handshake, I thanked him, too, for his service and for keeping knuckleheads like me in line. Then through my left side mirror, I watched him walk back to his cruiser, his hand sliding along the bed of my truck.
I drove the rest of the way home, still tired but totally in control of my truck and feeling grateful for that perceptive state patrolman. Instead of getting the speeding ticket I deserved, I received his thanks for the work I do. And then, in turn, I thanked him for the work he does, which is considerably more dangerous than mine. I will always remember that officer’s kindness on such a difficult evening and how much it lifted my spirits that day.