The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve just returned home from spending four days at the hospital with my mom, who is recovering from major surgery.  During that time I was amazed – utterly amazed – at how rude, insensitive, and unconcerned some people can be towards those in need.   But even more so, I was awed and gratified to see the sheer kindness that we received from total strangers.

Take the volunteer who runs the Corner Café on the surgical floor, where my dad and I waited during my mom’s procedure.  She nurtured us with food and frequent use of the endearment “honey”, which was the exact sort of comfort that we needed during a stressful time.   Or Savannah, the night nurse that my mom referred to as an “angel in the night”, who took such amazing, warm, loving care of my mom that we felt that we’d known her our whole lives.  Or Jorge, the day nurse on Saturday who went above and beyond to attend to my mom’s every single need, to offer smiles, encouragement, and the pleasure of being treated like a human being.  Or the clinical assistants who stopped to chit chat while they took vital signs.  Or the sweet housekeeper, Angela, who offered to pray for healing and suggested that we move across the hall because a room with a view had just become available(and the one we were in was gray, depressing, and facing a dirty brick wall).  Or the people I met in the elevator on the way down to the cafeteria who just looked into my tired eyes and smiled.

This, however, is in strict contrast to some other encounters.  We dealt with insensitivity, lack of concern, and downright cruelty at the hands of some of our nurses (in my book, making a patient wait forty-five minutes to receive their medication is cruel).  And the signs that we would see on the hall in other patient’s doorways, rude signs that screamed “CLOSE the door when you leave!”; “ASK before you turn the light on!”, etc. When Savannah came to say goodbye to us when her shift ended, she said, “Thank you for being so nice to me.”  I asked, dumbfounded, “Are people normally not nice?”   She smiled and said, “You would be surprised.  The nice ones are few and far between.”   Now, I understand that when people are in the hospital that they are exhausted, stressed, and in pain.  And their family members may not be doing much better.  But I saw first hand just how hard most of those nurses and clinical assistants work – twelve hour shifts with a 30 minute break, which they mayor may not get?  They deserve a little slack.

So what have I learned from this crazy, stressful, teachable time ?  I’ve learned that any small kindness is noticed by the person that receives it.  That people yearn to be humanized, recognized, looked in the eye.  I love that line from  “As Good as it Gets”, when Greg Kinnear says, “If you look at someone long enough, you discover their humanity”.  And it’s SO true.   So please, go out there today and discover someone’s humanity.  I guarantee that it will not go unnoticed.

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