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Moments of Kindness From Healthcare Providers I'll Never Forget

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As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading back home after having surgery. I flew from Southern California to Northern California to have this procedure done. I am in a lot of pain now, but grateful to be heading back home.

I lie across the row of seats on the plane, my legs propped up on my spouse and my back supported with a pillow awkwardly positioned against my chair. As I stare sideways out the small airplane window, I think about how all of the doctors, nurses and others at Stanford really went out of their way to care for me with kindness, and how lucky I am to have such great providers caring for me. My physician explained every step in detail throughout the process, reassuring me along the way. He was also very attentive to my pain levels, which is always appreciated. The support staff were all very kind, checking on me often post-procedure and assuring my needs were all being taken care of. They all made a very painful experience just a little easier, and that meant a lot to me.

As I think about the compassion I received during this procedure, I am reminded of all of the people who have cared for me over the years as I have suffered from on-going chronic illness. I appreciate the difference they have made and continue to make in my life. I have met so many incredibly selfless, thoughtful and caring people through this journey and they all hold a special place in my heart.

To all those doctors, nurses, medical assistants, receptionists, anesthesiologists, volunteers and other healthcare providers who carry out your duties, not only with professionalism, but with compassion, I thank you. I know at times you must feel unappreciated working long hours in stressful environments. I know your bodies also ache at the end of a long day on your feet, helping others. I know you go home and lose sleep thinking about your patients and how you wish you could do more. I know you deal with people at their worst and at times you must become frustrated when they sometimes take their pain out on you.

However, you still continue to do your job with compassion. You go the extra mile to ask your patients details about their lives, such as their jobs, families and experiences, reminding them that they matter. You provide support and comfort to them when they need it the most, even on days you could use some comfort of your own. You help them through the more uncomfortable parts of requiring aid, while doing the best you can to help them maintain their dignity. You do what you can to make their time in your care easier and listen to them because you know they need to be heard. You treat them with compassion because that is who you are, you are a caregiver.

There are so many different stories I could tell of healthcare professionals who have made a difference in my life of chronic illness with their kindness. I could probably write an entire book of stories of the compassion given to me. Here are just a few that come to mind. I hope other people with chronic illness will read this and share some of their positive encounters as well. I know we all have plenty of negative experiences too, but being grateful for the positive ones will help us all remember that we are in this together, and there are still compassionate caregivers in this world.

The Rheumatologist Who Lifted Me Up When I Was in Pain

Because I have severe back, neck and hip pain from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), it can be painful for me to lie on my back, especially on hard surfaces. Unfortunately, with my variety of immune system and neurological diseases, I have and will continue to go through lots of uncomfortable tests and procedures. Many of these tests/procedures will require me to lie on uncomfortable surfaces for extended periods.

One such example is back MRIs, something I have had many of. When I was in my mid-20s, I was having a very long back MRI. My rheumatologist at the time had walked me over to the radiology department and he stayed with the tech doing the test. They had to align my body just right on the table before sending me into the MRI tunnel, and I was reminded multiple times to stay perfectly still. About 20 minutes into the test, per usual, the pain was becoming quite uncomfortable. I could feel my legs start to go numb. The numbing is not a soothing one, but a painful punishing feeling. My lower back was burning with constant sharp pain. I fought through the pain for probably another 20 to 30 minutes, but as it was becoming more unbearable, I could feel the tears start to roll down my cheeks. I didn’t make a sound because I just wanted to get through it, although I knew there was a camera on me and they would see my tears. I tried to hold them back, but just couldn’t.

The table I was lying on was soon pulled out so they could add contrast to my IV for the next set of scans. As they began to work with the IV, my rheumatologist walked over to me, wrapped his arms around my hips and lifted my back off the table. He was holding my back up off the table while being careful not to change my alignment. I could immediately feel the pain start to drop as he lifted my back off the hard surface. He held me up like that for several minutes even as I could tell I was becoming heavier in his arms. He looked me in the eyes and he told me I was doing really good, that he knew it was hard on me and to hang in there a little longer.

This gesture may seem like no big deal, but as anyone with AS knows, taking the pressure off my back, even for a few minutes, relieving some of the pain even just momentarily, meant so much to me. When I think of this moment, I still get teary because I remember how it felt in that moment to know someone knew the pain I was in and wanted to help me.

The Woman Who Brought Me a Cheeseburger

Another memory that comes to my mind occurred during one of my hospital stays. I remember being unable to eat. Everything made me nauseous. The hospital food was not at all appealing and I felt pretty horrible on top of that, so my appetite was pretty much nonexistent. My pain levels were also affecting my desire to eat. When they would bring my tray, I would usually only eat the crackers. One day a nursing student who had been caring for me walked in with a huge bowl filled with a variety of different types of crackers and he carried several small cans of soda in his arms. I remember laughing a little because he looked so funny coming in with all these items. He put them on my tray and then he pulled out some cookies in a napkin and told me he got them for me from the nurse’s luncheon and they were really good. He told me that he got them special for me since he knew I was having trouble eating.

Such a small gesture to some, but it meant so much that he thought to do that for me. During that same hospital stay, a couple days later, I had been moved to a different unit in the hospital. The food was still the same of course and I still wasn’t eating much. One day a woman came to get my tray and she commented that I never eat. I apologized and told her that I really did try but I just couldn’t. She asked me, “What do you like? Do you like pizza? How about cheeseburgers?” I smiled knowing those were not options on the menu and wondered if she was just trying to get me to laugh. She said, “Would you eat a cheeseburger? I am gonna make you a cheeseburger,” and she grabbed my tray and walked out of the room.

The next time my tray showed up, it came with a surprise. I slowly lifted the lid preparing myself for one of the usual foul smelling options, but instead there was a cheeseburger. It actually looked and smelled pretty good, like it had come off the grill at a backyard BBQ. There was also a little cup of orange sherbet on the tray. I actually ate that day. The woman brought the same items (not on the menu) each day for several more days per my request until I was well enough to leave. Even though these providers didn’t know me personally, they went out of their way to get me to eat. I will always remember that.

Another memory I have is of sitting on the edge of my hospital bed. It had been a very bad day and I felt so mentally and physically exhausted. As I sat on the edge of the bed in tears, one of nurses came over and bent down on her knees in front of me with her hands on my mine. She looked in my eyes and began to talk to me. Honestly, I don’t even really remember what she said. I just remember her eyes looking up at me and her reassuring voice. I remember the way she made me feel, like she cared. She knew I was hurting and she made sure I knew she was there for me and she helped me through a hard day with her compassion.

The Hospital Staff Who Clapped for Me

The last story I will tell is one that occurred when I was pregnant with my daughter. I don’t know if it was because of all of my chronic illnesses or just luck of the draw, but I had gone through years and years of fertility issues, including miscarriages. After about six years of struggling, I had become pregnant through IVF with twins, but sadly lost one of them. I was at a doctor appointment with my spouse to see how the other baby was doing and to see if she had made it to the next trimester. We were beyond relieved to find out that yes, she was still hanging in there. It was a very stressful appointment to say the least.

After I got dressed, my spouse and I walked out of the exam room and into a hallway of very loud clapping. It startled me at first, and then I realized all of the clapping was for us. Lined up all the way down the long hallway was everyone who worked there, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, administrative staff. There were at least 20 if not more people lined up in that hallway clapping for us and smiling and some even cheering. I remember walking down that long hallway and hugging every single person and telling each and every person thank you. It is a moment I will never forget.

As someone who lives with so many different health issues, there are so doctors, nurses, medical assistants, pharmacists, specialists, etc. I’ve gotten to know over the years. With this article, I have included a photo of myself with one of my healthcare providers. Her name is Ruth and she is a medical assistant for my neurologist. She has always been so kind to me over the years. She has taken the time to get to know me and ask me about my daughter, how I have been doing, etc. She has had to go out of her way on more than one occasion to track down documents from the hospitals, labs, etc. and she has made sure my medications are always refilled promptly when needed. Like many of my healthcare providers, she has been a compassionate caregiver with a friendly face and a welcoming smile all these years.

Not a week that goes by where I am not at a doctor’s appointment, or having a test or a procedure done. Although not all of my experiences with healthcare providers have been positive, I am so thankful for all of those that have been. I appreciate those that have taken the time to get to know me, ask me about my kids, spouse, business, etc. I am grateful for those providers who have gone out of their way to minimize my pain however they can. Thank you for treating me like I matter, for making me smile and showing me compassion. Thank you for making this life of chronic illness a little easier. Please know that you are appreciated and you are making a difference in this world.

Do you have a positive experience with a health care provider to share? Let us know in the comments below. Let’s celebrate kindness.

Originally published: May 24, 2019
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