Let’s get the fact out in the open: I am not a fan of hospitals. I do not care for the smells, the noises, or the uncertainty. People walk through the doors one way, and come out another. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but often times, it’s not.
When I was ten years old, I fractured my arm in six places. It took six months and several visits to many different doctors to set me right again. That first night in the hospital – doctors swarming around me, deciding my fate against my will or better judgement – was by far the scariest night of my life. Up until that point, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. That night changed my mind. I realized I was far too weak to ever inflict pain on someone, even if the pain was part of the healing process.
This past Saturday, I woke up with flu-like symptoms. Nothing too harmful, I thought. I’d drink some tea and take a vitamin C, and I’d be right back to normal.
Throughout the day, I went from bad to worse. I could hardly move as the pain took a toll on my body. My parents and my husband spent the day deliberating about taking me to the hospital. At first, I refused. However as the symptoms grew worse, I became more and more aware that the thing I feared the most could potentially save me from something much graver.
When we arrived at Urgent Care on Saturday night, the place was swarming. People of every age sat in the chairs; some were wheezing, some crying, some solemnly waiting their turn to go behind the doors. Whenever the doors opened, all at once, the entire population of the room turned their heads to see if they were being called. As if for dramatic effect, as my name was being called, a patient was wheeled out of Urgent Care in a stretcher on her way to the emergency room.
I left my husband in the waiting room and walked forward to face my fate. I was greeted by a very sweet nurse, an Asian woman who seemed to be in her mid forties. Her thinning black hair fell at her shoulders, and her glasses sat firmly on the bridge of her nose. She looked devastatingly tired, as though she hadn’t slept in years. She took my temperature and ushered me into a room to wait for the doctor. She had a bounce in her step and a flair about her; I could not tell if it was because she was overtired, or if that was her usual temperament. She left me in the room to await the doctor. Occasionally, she returned to the room to check on me.
“I just want to make sure you’re not too bored in here,” she said during one of her check ups.
After visiting with the doctor and learning my fate, the nurse returned to tend to me. Several injections and prescriptions later, we got to talking. She relayed to me how the injection that I had received moments before was of the most painful they administered. Even she, a seasoned nurse, refused to withstand the pain of the injection herself when she was ill, even if it meant a faster recovery.
“You’re very articulate for a twenty-three year old. What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
A huge smile appeared on her face. “Of course you are! How wonderful! What have you written?”
I went on to tell her about Shattered Illusions and a bit about my publishing experience.
As she typed away at my medical record, her expression suddenly changed from chirpy to miserable.
“I love to read. I read several books a week when I have the time, but my son hates reading. He’s failing reading in school, and it devastates me. I don’t think he’s not capable, he’s just not motivated.”
Her eight year old son, her pride and joy, was failing at the one thing she loved, besides for medicine. Having worked with children that age for several years, especially those who had literacy problems, I passed along advice which I had learned over my years as a teacher.
“What kind of stuff does he like?”
“Oh, you know, boy things. Minecraft, Mario Brothers, things like that.”
“Have you ever thought about getting him books about those topics?” I asked.
“Now there’s an idea. I’ve never tried it. I’d be interested to see how he would take to that.”
She thanked me for the advice, and prepared to leave.
“I have to keep an eye on you for another fifteen minutes or so. Do you mind writing down that advice for me?”
“Sure, I’d be happy to!”
“That’d be great.” She suddenly became very shy and cautious. “If I bring you a piece of paper and a pen, would you be willing to sign it for me? That way, I can tape it into your book once I buy a copy.”
I readily agreed. She quickly left the room and came back moments later with the promised paper and pen.
Just then, my husband walked into the room. I relayed the conversation we had about writing and her son. That’s when he got an idea. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Daily Smile Card.*
“You should give one to her,” he encouraged.
“I don’t know, isn’t that a bit forward?”
“Leigh, that’s what these are for!”
Just then, she walked back into the room.
“You’re all set to go! Thank you so much for your advice and words of wisdom,” she said as she helped me to my feet.
“One more thing. This is for you,” I said shyly as I handed her the card.
She looked down, and for a moment it looked as though she was going to cry.
She opened her arms wide and pulled me into a tight, warm hug.
“Thank you. I really needed that.”
I looked over at my husband who mouthed: “I told you so.” Her grip tightened for a moment, then she let go, and sent us on our way.
With that, we gathered our belongings, wished her a good night, and headed home.
Making a difference in a person’s life isn’t about grand gestures or statements. Sometimes, it’s about reminding them, as well as yourself, about the simple things.
*Several weeks ago, Jay and I were at the bank, trying to sort out an issue with our account. While we sat there, a man dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, holding an enormous wooden walking stick, strode into the bank. He looked like Moses. He waltzed right up to the booth where we were seated, and struck up a conversation with the teller who was assisting us. He began talking to Jay as well, and we soon discovered that this man was the driving force behind the website TheDailySmile.com. He handed us a stack of his most popular cards which read “Keep Smiling” on them, then concluded the conversation, and left us to our business. As he left, he asked us to hand out the cards to everyone and anyone we met during our day, encouraging others to keep smiling, no matter their circumstances. We’ve made it our mission in the past couple of weeks to hand out the cards. That night in the hospital was the first one I’ve handed out. Perhaps this will give me the courage to hand out a couple more.