I walked by the nurses' station, casually glancing through the open doorway. Happy for what I saw, I immediately came to a halt and backed up a few steps.
Kids. Two of them. Innocent, smiling grade-schoolers. Sitting on blue vinyl-topped stools at the nurses' work counter. They were doodling in thin, grayish, hospital-issued coloring books, crayons spilled to the sides of their pages. In front of each child, a plastic pudding cup sat, a white spoon handle rising from the middle of each chocolate mess. Stickers covered the rest of their counter space, layered like replaced shingles randomly tossed from roof to ground. The kids looked happy, content.
I couldn't help but smile to myself. Another nurse had earned her wings.
As with any other profession, to be in the medical field, you must carry a certain spectrum of talents. A sufficient font of medical knowledge, of course, accompanied by a respectable work ethic. An inherent sense of the happenings in the workplace. Passion. And respect for your fellow mankind, regardless of whatever capacity you encounter them in.
Most important on my list, though? Compassion. Easily. And not just compassion, but compassion delivered with kindness. Imagine, two staff members are each giving a homeless person a turkey sandwich. One tosses the sandwich to him as he's walking out the door. End of story. The other hands the sandwich over, sharing some eye-contact and a smile, maybe even shaking hands or patting the homeless person's shoulder.
Same task accomplished. But which one delivered the compassion with kindness? Was the energy necessary to be kind in this circumstance monumental? Hardly. When I saw these kids sitting comfortably in the nurses' station, I was recognizing a nurse's compassion delivered with kindness.
As it turns out, these children were in our ER with their sick mother. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain--all symptoms that made the mother nervous. A single-parent household, a single-income checking account. No local family. No available babysitters or friends. No time to be sick. No choice but to bring her two younger kids with her to the ER.
The kids were typical elementary school-age kids. Initially, when they arrived, the kids sat in the lone corner chair of the treatment room, squeezing themselves between the black, plastic armrests. While their mother changed into a hospital gown, had her vitals taken, and had an IV started, these little kids sat quietly, a little confused and a lot scared, I suppose, soaking in all the happenings. After their mother was made comfortable, the nurse ran and got each child an Italian ice and turned the television on to a suitable station for them.
Soon, as kids do, they started getting a little more comfortable and exuberant within their surroundings. The TV remote became their dodge ball. The volume was played with, the channels were flicked randomly, and some minor argument started over which child had more room in their shared chair. Finally, to help the mother get a little rest and receive her treatment in a quieter setting, the nurse removed the children, taking them to the nurses' station and setting them up with some distractions and pudding.
It worked. And that's when I happened to walk by, finding two calm, coloring kids snacking on pudding.
"Hi, guys," I said to them, looking over their shoulders at their colorings, "nice job. You both are really good at coloring."
They both looked up at me, not sure what to make of me since I wasn't their mother's doctor and they had never met me.
"Don't stop coloring on my account," I told them, "I just wanted to say that you both are doing a great job there."
They showed me their shy smiles before continuing on.
Jamie, the secretary at this station for the day, shared with me the kids' story. When she was done, I was smiling big. "Thanks for helping out with the kids, Jamie," I said, "I'm sure this wasn't in your job description."
"Not a problem" she said, herself the mother of a very nice, respectful middle-school son, "this is the fun part of my job."
Jamie told me which nurse was taking care of these kids' mother and, because I had a few free minutes, I sought her out. She was a recent graduate and had just started in our ER this past summer. Already, she had impressed me with her skills and knowledge and work-ethic. Now, I would add compassion to her list of strong credentials.
"Lindsey," I said, standing in the hallway, "do you have a minute?" "Sure," she answered, looking a little nervous, "what's up?" "It's nothing bad, Lindsey," I assured her, "I just wanted to tell you how impressed I am with the way you extended yourself to those children of the sick mother. I'm sure she really appreciates your kindness to her kids."
Lindsey blushed, asking, "Are you being serious?" I nodded my head "yes" as she searched my eyes to make sure I wasn't razzing her, that I wasn't in one of my silly, joking moods. "Completely serious," I finished, adding, "you went above and beyond making those kids feel comfortable while their mother was here getting treated. Well done."
She thanked me for acknowledging her work and then we both continued on with our work.
Before any nay-sayers speak up, I know, I know--we're not running a baby-sitting service in the ER. Flipping that coin, some might dare say that every patient deserves this customized, special treatment. Sometimes the ER setting is so damn busy, though, that despite our best intentions, we just don't have the time to devote to these extended acts of kindness. During those times when the hallways are packed with patients and chaos is smacking us around, we are focused on delivering excellent medical care. Quickly. At these times, unfortunately, the extra kindness and compassion that most of us strive to give may be sacrificed, pushed to the sidelines, to ensure our patients, sometimes with dire illnesses, receive quick, prompt emergency care.
In the midst of that day's shift, an act like Lindsey's served as a reminder of why most of us entered the medical field in the first place--to take care of patients and their families. To provide them the same treatment we would want our family to receive. To not get caught up in the rush of things and remember to be kind and extend our compassionate selves.
Lindsey didn't need to get the kids popsicles and situate them to watch TV. But she did. She didn't need to get them pudding, coloring books, stickers, crayons, and set them up outside of their mother's room, offering up her precious counter workspace and stools. But she did. Jamie didn't need the hassle of trying to accomplish her secretarial work while keeping an eye on the two kids sitting beside her. But she did it without complaint.
Despite the chaos, they extended themselves. And although Mom didn't demand it or expect it, I'm sure she appreciated the kindness shown to her kids while she lay ill in bed. What parent wouldn't?
So, a salute to Lindsey and Jamie. Makes me proud to be on their team.
I hope they treat themselves to a popsicle and pudding for a job well done.
As always, big thanks for reading. Next post will be Friday, April 2. Hope your week is going well. Until then...