Musical selection: Lute Concerto in D, RV93, Second Movement(Largo) by Antonio Vivaldi, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 2000 Pierre R. Schwob

Joel Hart

It's funny, some of the things you remember about people. Take my former classmate Nina for example - she was always late for class.

In August of 1997, I started classes at Tennessee Technological University's School of Nursing in Cookeville, TN. I can remember the first day of class quite well. I was one of only four men in a class of forty, and I spent the first few minutes wondering 1.) if I really wanted a career in nursing, and 2.) who all these other people were.

Most everyone else was thinking the same thing, I later found out. But there was one person in class (who had come in a little late) that had the same expression on her face that I imagined I had on mine. As we began to introduce ourselves one-by-one to the rest of the class, I waited for her to tell us her name - I wanted to know who this person was that seemed to be thinking the same thing I was.

She said her name was Nina.

The first year or so I didn't get to know her very well. The most I can remember about Nina during that time is that she always seemed to have an expression of vague concern on her face, as if she still felt the same as she did on that first day of class.

During the last few months of school, however, I found out a little more about her. I was following her in a couple of clinical rotations, and I sought her out for the advice she could give.

While we were talking, I realized that she was just like the rest of us - dedicated to the idea of becoming a nurse and caring for those who were ill and needed help. Also, like the rest of us, she didn't feel that anyone outside of nursing school could really understand all that we had to go through - the stress, long hours, and unending study that was required in order for us to be prepared to care for our patients. It was a bond that we all shared with one another. Some of us might have been closer than others, but we all knew that if you needed someone who could truly understand you, any classmate would do.

In May of 1999, I graduated along with the rest of my class. As the ceremony ended and I stepped out into the sunshine on my way to my car, I can remember wondering when, or even if, I would see any of my classmates again.

I shrugged it off, thinking that there would always be the chance that I would work with one or more of them. "Even if I don't work with anyone from class," I thought, "there will always be a reunion, we'll keep in touch somehow."

I was in such a hurry to get to the party my family was throwing for me that I didn't bother looking around for any of my now former classmates.

Last month, I did indeed hear about one of my old classmates.

It seems that a couple days earlier, on a Friday, Nina had reported for work as usual, but she wasn't feeling well. It turned out to be a problem with her heart - Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome - something entirely unexpected, especially in someone so young and vibrant.. She was rushed to the emergency room, and then into surgery.

Although the surgeon was able to repair her heart, Nina never woke up. She was taken to the intensive care unit and watched closely.

The following Thursday evening, I was informed that Nina had passed away without ever regaining consciousness. She was 23.

Although I will always remember my time at school, my memories have grown cold, and I am sick at heart. More than anything else, I wish now that I had turned around after graduation to see if I could catch a glimpse of any of my former classmates.

I wonder what expression Nina had on her face.