I pounded out a long account of the terrible oncologist appointment I had on Thursday. It felt good to write it, but only in a revengeful kind of way. I was going to post it but then I deleted it. Anybody who is a patient already knows what a demoralizing appointment looks like. The oncologist seemed annoyed with me from the moment she walked in the door. I did not know whether she was having a bad day or if it was me that was annoying her with all my stupid questions. I left the oncology clinic worn down. I shuffled across the street to the cancer hospital to get my blood drawn, just wanting the whole afternoon to be over. This was a day to be endured. I hate being a patient.
I sat in the waiting room and the lab tech came out and called my name. I had my head down and was feeling small and dejected. I looked up and he was smiling at me. In my current state, this made me nervous. I smiled back, just a little bit. He smiled wider. This smiling business was contagious. Here was someone who seemed actually happy to see me. I didn’t feel like an intrusion or bother to him as evidenced by his smile. I could feel myself start to relax.
He walked me to the lab and invited me to sit down. “What arm would you like?” “Um, right,” I said – “I’m left-handed.” (I don’t know what difference that makes, but I was feeling a wee bit less guarded and thought I’d dip my toe into some conversation). “I’m left-handed too!” he said, delighted. We concluded that means we are both creative. We smiled at each other some more.
I didn’t even feel the needle to take my blood go into my arm. He praised my veins and asked about my Christmas. “How many kids do you have?” he asked. And later, “I can’t believe you have a 25 year old!” I was still smiling, feeling a bit silly that I was so easily flattered. My mood was shifting. I was now feeling considerably better, sitting in a chair at the cancer hospital getting poked by a needle for five vials of blood.
What defines these people as heroes even though they are not almighty, or rich? -from Hero by Evie Jordan
This kindness was such a contrast from my appointment across the street with the oncologist. This young lab tech went to school for two years to be a medical laboratory technician. The Internet tells me he probably makes less than $30 an hour. He’s near the bottom of the hospital pecking order. My oncologist went to school for more than ten years and is one of the queens of the hill at the hospital, status-wise. She makes considerably more than $30 an hour. Guess which person I’d consider a hero? Guess which experience with which person I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing about?
This lab tech has much to teach the rest of the health care world about connecting with and caring for patients. I feel deeply grateful for him. As Evie Jordan says, A hero is someone who will help, even with the little things. I’m here to tell you that the little things matter. They matter a whole lot, especially when you are sick, vulnerable and scared. To health professionals everywhere, know this: your compassion is evidenced by your smile. xo.