I’m a big believer in acts of kindness no matter how small. -Liam Neeson
So my surgery was 2 days after Christmas. Some (including, occasionally, me) would question the timing. Isn’t everyone who’s worth a damn taking off Christmas week? Don’t the big guns get the best vacation days?
The answer to that question, at least at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is a resounding no. The very best are in place, it seems, 24/7, ready to do what they do best: treat, research, analyze, comfort.
It was hell – no, that’s too gentle of a word, and I can’t think of something gnashingly-brutal enough – to leave my still-sleeping daughters in the pre-dawn darkness that morning. So I knew I needed a reframe. I knew I needed to breathe, calm, focus, and keep the panic at bay.
Helping along those lines were my 2 sisters and my brother-in-law, but looking into their eyes revealed their fear as well. And so, we plodded onward to Roswell, our small army of 4 going through the motions.
Stop in for a blood draw for a study in which I agreed to participate-check. First floor registration desk-check. Travel to 3West surgical and register again-check. Receive super-secret packet with my unique number that would show my dear ones my progress all day on an electronic board in the waiting area-check.
All too soon I was called back, trying to focus on my ujjayi breathing, going through the motions of surgery preparations and then the surgery itself, and trying really, really, really hard to stay calm. And so:
To the pre-surg nurse who told me her bestie’s last name was Coppola too, I thank you.
To my anesthesiologist who stopped to tell me about her Christmas day vegan lasagna recipe, I thank you.
To my lead surgeon who came by with a smile and touched my arm to comfort me before heading off into her first surgery of the day (I was #2), I thank you.
To the cafe staffer who delivered broth to my room on Friday evening with a jaunty beret on his head, I thank you.
To the surgical fellow on my team who [maybe; I’m still working on this] agreed to join our firm’s Ride-for-Roswell team in 2014, I thank you.
To the nationally-renowned geneticist who stopped to check and chat for a bit before going home to her own family, I thank you.
To the overnight CNA who cheerfully apologized each time she needed to check my vitals, I thank you.
To my Saturday morning nurse who fashioned a heating pad MacGyver style just when I needed it, I thank you.
To the Saturday breakfast delivery gal who practically sang out that today was her birthday, I thank you.
To another anesthesiologist with whom I’d spoken on the phone the week before but who decided to stop in and introduce himself personally, I thank you.
What did each of these individuals have in common over that mere 30-hour span? They practiced small acts of kindness.
As I’ve come to know them, frankly I’d put my money on their routinely practicing pretty fucking huge acts of kindness as well, but those small ones did the trick for me.
Being a surgery patient wasn’t easy. But these folks – and more of them who will, I hope, forgive my memory lapse given that a fair bit of time I was in a fog – repeatedly delighted me by caring as much as they did, by showing their human sides, and by ensuring that I felt like I mattered.