I’m taking a break from politics. Although recent events did not contribute to what led me to focus on kindness, they were making me sick.
I just had major surgery to remove a tumor. Before the surgery I was afraid. I dreaded the trips to the hospital and, most of all, dreaded the surgery. The tumor, to my regret, has proven to be cancerous, but I’m not looking for sympathy. The physicians did a great job and tell me it is contained and treatable. Believe me, I am aware that thousands of people are in much worse situations than I.
The news that the prognosis was favorable came after the operation. Before then, I got a refresher in how important kindness is. What is kindness? It is being friendly, considerate, patient and generous. Kind people, both family and hospital professionals, exhibited all these traits as I transitioned from being a relatively healthy adult one day to becoming a somewhat pathetic and helpless patient the next. My life partner, Maria, is at the top of the chart. She not only did everything possible to help me keep things in perspective but proved to be a truly great patient advocate. When I was too depressed or stupid to ask questions, she did.
Next is the hospital. I won’t identify it or the kind, wonderful people I met there, but they included not only the doctors and nurses, but the receptionists, housekeepers, and technicians. This piece is about kindness and I’m sure there are wonderful people at many hospitals other than the one that treated me.
At the various reception desks, I was routinely greeted with a smile and complete attention. I was made to feel like something other than a number. I was addressed by my name and even thanked when I returned a completed information form.
When I had several preoperative tests, I was told exactly what was involved and how long the tests would take. This relieved my anxiety. I almost calmed down too much to pass a stress test.
Immediately before surgery, I had several meetings with various teams of doctors and researchers, the later participating in my case to gather data to determine why certain types of tumors develop in some people with no currently understood cause. The doctors were all quite positive, even when describing one scenario where the surgery would have left me in the hospital for a significant amount of time and could have resulted in some potentially permanent life changes. Fortunately, that scenario did not happen. The doctors, especially the surgical team, did not act rushed and answered all my questions, including the naïve ones. I was never made to feel stupid.
In post-operative care, I was blessed to get a private room. If you’ve ever been a patient in a hospital, I suspect you will agree this is the biggest luxury in the world. I could close the door and sleep, but when I was awakened for the inevitable blood draws and vital sign checks, the nurses apologized for waking me and worked as quickly as possible to allow me to return to my slumber. Most of the time, they did not even turn on the lights.
Upon being discharged I immediately reflected on how important the care of the hospital staff and loved ones has been in getting me through a terrifying experience. I also did a little reading that focused on the magic of kindness. Mark Twain wrote, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Henry James wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” The Dalai Lama XIV is quoted as saying, “My religion is very simple. My religion is to be kind.”
My take-away from this experience is the lesson of how important kindness and civility are. I owe everyone who looked after me a debt. I owe them a return of kindness to many others. I will also try to be more civil, even to nasty or rude people.
It is unlikely that I will be able to return as much kindness as I received, but I will try.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.