A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

I can’t shake this story from my mind and, considering the season and everything that is going on, I must share it.

I recently visited a doctor in New York City for a follow-up to an earlier consultation. Not unexpectedly, there were patients sitting in the waiting room so I knew it might be a while before I was seen. I always have a book with me for such situations.

As I read, I happened to glance up and notice across from me a younger (30-something, I’m guessing) woman slumped sideways in her chair, obviously dozing. I continued reading but my attention turned to the young woman again when my doctor unexpectedly emerged from the back and approached her, quietly calling her name. The young woman did not react; she was “out cold.” The doctor, realizing the woman was deeply asleep, walked over to her, reached down and gently took each of the woman’s hands in her own. She did not pull or poke. She massaged them gently while speaking softly to the woman. This did the job of waking her, and, after a few moments to collect herself, they walked together into the back, the doctor asking her some question I didn’t catch.

I sat there for several minutes, reflecting on what I had seen. I was moved by it in ways I didn’t, and still don’t completely, understand. The power of witnessing the simple gesture of care and sensitivity took me by surprise. Then, my turn came; I went back, visited with a nurse to take the required “vitals” and waited in a room to see the doctor who came in very shortly.

After some small talk, I told her that I had witnessed what she had done, how gently and sweetly she had awakened the young woman. The doctor responded with “I’ve known her for years and she’s very special.” I said, “you are special, doctor. Doctors generally don’t do what you did.” She thanked me, somewhat embarrassed, I suspect, and we moved on.

I still often think about that simple gesture of kindness that, in most other circumstances I have witnessed over the years, would have been treated quite differently. The way my doctor chose to awaken her patient has stayed with me as an extraordinary example of how natural kindness can work with remarkable power. As I reflect on the scene, as vivid to me like it just happened, and as the holidays come on, it stands in vivid contrast to our national political life that is dominated by rancor, conflict and fear. We’re all trying to experience the holidays in a good way, and likely most of us will succeed in the end. And ‘will’ is the right word, because it feels more like an act of will than a natural thing to do at this time of year.

Part of the power of the doctor’s act was, I think, that it was so natural, so spontaneous. I am virtually certain she did not mull it over first; she just naturally reacted to the situation with humanity and compassion. That young lady is lucky, as am I, to have a doctor with such instincts for kindness. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn, especially when the times we live in are so burdened with acrimony and lack of concern for those in need of a helping hand. I suspect I will always have that image in my mind and hope to remain aware and grateful for its reminder of what is possible.