Ji Yun sighed and put down her chopsticks. “So, do you remember that Service Learning Class I’m taking? Well, I got my project assignment.”
“What is it?” Her aunt’s eyes twinkled.
“The hospital. My third choice! I’m the only one who got their third choice!”
Her aunt’s face twitched and her uncle started chuckling.
“Go ahead. You can laugh.” Ji Yun put her head in her hands. “I’m going to catch some weird disease. I know it.”
“God has a strange sense of humor.” Her aunt giggled. “You’ll be fine. I know a few nurses and none of them have ever gotten strange diseases.”
“When do you start?” her uncle asked. “Should we buy some vitamin C?”
“I start Monday. So, yes, vitamin C and hand sanitizer. A lot.”
On Monday they left for orientation. One the bus Ji Yun felt queasy.
“Marta,” she said to her best friend, “feel my forehead. Do I have a fever?”
“Of course not,” Marta felt her forehead and laughed. “You’re fine.”
“I don’t know. I’m breaking out in a sweat.” Ji Yun took a few extra vitamin C tablets, just in case.
Orientation started well. Ji Yun’s group started in the waiting room book corner. She sat with a little girl and read her a story. Ji Yun thought this might be a good place to volunteer. As the story was ending, the little girl suddenly sneezed.
The spray covered the last page of the book and Ji Yun’s left arm. She stared in horror as the girl wiped her nose and reached for the book. Ji Yun dropped it in her lap and dug through her purse. Disinfectant wipes. Hand sanitizer. She scrubbed her arm with a wipe and lathered on sanitizer. Hopefully that would kill all the germs.
She looked up to see the group leader watching her.
“Maybe you would prefer to volunteer in the gift shop?” Her eyes twinkled as Ji Yun jumped up.
“Yes! That would be perfect.” Ji Yun almost hugged her but then remembered her germy arm. She didn’t want to make her sick.
As soon as she got home she found her aunt. “Do we have any extra vitamins? I got sneezed on and I think I’m coming down with something.”
Her aunt laughed. “Don’t worry. I made some juk in case you felt sick.” Juk, porridge, the Korean version of chicken soup, was Ji Yun’s favorite food.
“At least I got assigned to the gift shop,” Ji Yun said as she sat down to eat. “It’s probably the safest place to be.”
Ji Yun loved the gift shop. It was clean. After one week she had only needed her hand sanitizer three or four times. But the next Tuesday, Marta came running into the shop.
“Ji Yun,” she panted, “they need you in the emergency room!”
“Me? Why me?”
“A Korean family was in a car accident. The kids are freaking out and they don’t speak English. Their parents will be fine but no one can tell them that.”
Ji Yun closed her eyes. “Okay. Let’s go.”
They jogged down the hallway and into the emergency room. A small boy was screaming in Korean as his older sister sat with her arms wrapped around her knees. Ji Yun froze. Her mind flashed back to a similar waiting room in Korea where she waited for news about her parents.
“Go,” Marta pushed her forward.
Ji Yun sat down and took the boy from the nurse.
“Don’t cry,” she said in Korean. The boy stopped and stared at her. “Your mom and dad will be fine.”
The boy started sobbing and buried his head in Ji Yun’s neck. She cringed as his wet face smeared her neck but turned to talk to his sister.
“Don’t worry. Your parents are okay. You can go see them soon.”
“Thank you,” the girl sobbed.
Marta handed her some tissues and Ji Yun started to wipe the boy’s tears. Suddenly his face scrunched up.
The spray covered Ji Yun. The boy sniffed and put his head back on her shoulder. Ji Yun looked frantically for her purse but it was back in the gift shop.
“Do you want to go wash?” Marta reached out to take the boy.
“That’s ok.” Ji Yun wiped her face with the tissue. “I’ll wait until he can go see his parents.” She stroked the boy’s hair. “But I hope we’re having juk tonight.”
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