Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Fri 9/23/2005 2:04 AM
Random Thought: Cancer, Hospitals, and Teaching

"It" happened almost eight months ago. I don't know why I suddenly remembered it on my walk this morning, but I did. Maybe thoughts of Maimonides' Ladder of Tsedaka are still lingering in my mind. Maybe it was my President's sincerely humble "thank you" to those attending his session in which he discussed the art of art displayed in his one-man, making me, as well as others present, know our attendance was meaningful to him. Maybe it was the non-traditional student who stomped into my office earlier in the week like a snarling grizzly bear whose cubs had been threatened after a being treated "by that *&#*@($% professor like I was a piece of low-life nothing to him."

Anyway, it was the end of January, only a couple days after the surgery that removed my cancerous prostate. There I was, lying uncomfortable in a hospital bed, making a dear friend of the comforting morphine pump, not wild about the less-than-friendly catheter in me, looking like an animated zipper, and certainly not looking forward to my first full hospital meal.

In comes the quiet, sour-faced hospital attendant delivering my meal. She reminded me more of a care taker than a care giver. I saw hanged-necked vultures on her shoulders instead of loving doves. And, I would just not have it.

"Smile," I smiled in the near-whispered tone of a near-plea.

"I don't feel like smiling. I'm having a bad morning," she sharply replied as she less than gently plopped the tray down.

"You're having a bad morning? What do you think my morning is like after they cut me from my belly button to my penis, took out my cancerous prostate, and stuck this catheter in me? I'm not pushing this button on the morphine pump to build up my thumb muscles." I softly said and then broadened my smile, "I'm facing incontinence and impotence when I get out here. And you're having a bad morning? This morning I need a smile from you and a soft 'hello' and a 'how are you feeling today.' You're a care giver. Care. Give me some caring. You'll be doing something important for me. It'll help."

She hesitated and looked at me as if I had broken her out from some dark trance of unworthiness. A quizzical look appeared on her face. "Me? A care giver? I'm just servin' meals." she asked incredulously but obviously wanting to believe. "I ain't nothin'."

Boy, did my antennae shoot up! "No you're not. You're something. Anyone who comes into this room to do anything to take care of this room and me is a care taker who is important for my recovery. So, how about a smile and something nice to say."

She looked at me. Smiled. And then said with a warmth and sincerity, "I'm sorry. You're right. Hope you're feeling better today." She came over to my bed, softly touch my hand that was punctured by a IV, "I guess I needed to hear that I could help you today. It makes me feel good. You just kinda healed me. Thank you."

"That makes two of us," I said with a return smile. "We each did a little act of kindness for each other. I made you smile and feel better, and you smiled and made me feel better. You know, every time we show we care about someone we feel we're worth something. And, I don't care what anyone says or thinks. Don't feel there's something wrong with you. There's nothing 'nothing' about what you're doing. What you're doing is important. Every caring smile is important."

"That's true, sure enough," she replied as a tear swelled in her eye. "I'd like to tell someone that."

"Healed? You? Me? Tell someone?" I asked as I caught on. It was obvious that she was struggling with feelings of not being good enough, smart enough, and deserving enough. We talked for a few minutes. It seemed her supervisor had just treated her in a way that had reduced her from a sacred person to a deficient staff member and had minimized her task to a menial level of insignificance.

As she left to serve others, I said, "Be your own friend. Be your own fan club. You deserve it." She turned and said, "I'll sneak up some tasty Jell-O for you later." At that moment, she walked out of my room joyful and contented.

After I left the hospital, I called the hospital administrator and spoke with whom I assumed was his secretary. I was not surprised at her response when I told her how important a job Yolanda (not her real name) had done during my stay in the hospital and I much I really appreciated her. "But all she does is serve meals," the secretary responded with surprise.

"No, that's not all she does and if you think she doesn't reach out and serve more than meals, you've identified a big problem the hospital has," I said, "Trust me. She does more." Repeating what I told Yolanda, "When she comes into the hospital and into my room, she's a care giver. Treat her that way. I didn't know there was such a person as insignificant menial workers in a hospital or that there was such a thing as an unimportant menial work. She is especially important because she comes into contact with the patients. Your Yolandas are not insignificant!" I went on to tell the secretary from my view as a patient that the right words at the right time with the right gesture in the right tone from anyone have a powerful healing effect on patients. A quiet smile comforts them and helps them deal with the pain. A soft 'good morning' helps them keep on going. A compassionate touch helps them feel alive. "One more thing, it doesn't cost anything to applaud the Yolandas. It certainly won't hurt either the mission or the image of the hospital. Think how happy they'd be, how worthy and dignified they'd feel. They'll will do a better job because they feel noticed and will know what they are doing is important.....Some of your doctors and nurses should understand that."

And, so should some of us academics. Now let's bring this issue onto our campuses.

Think about how we, in our academics positions of authority, can be of service to ourselves, each student, our colleagues, and to each staff member in our day-to-day lives inside the classroom and out if in ourselves and in others we cultivated a radiant heart and empathetic understanding of others and wrote our own book of love, faith, and hope. What would happen if we thought that each student was okay and stopped looking around the corner for something that's wrong with them. Think about how much more the students will strive if they feel respected, cared about, noticed, and worthy. What does it cost to notice them, to offer them a greeting, to smile, even to shake a hand or pat a shoulder?

The after glow of my experience seven months ago reminds me once again how much right can be done by someone by showing "there's nothing wrong with you," how much little effort it takes to do a lot for someone else, how long lasting a single, thoughtful act can last, how a low energy gesture can carry high voltage current; how a soft word can loudly resound, how much more you acquire than you can give, and how much you can give without giving yourself away while, in an other sense, giving yourself away.

To be genuinely kind, giving, open, accepting, patient, empathetic, loving, supportive, encouraging, and compassionate with abandon and with no strings attached can renew someone's faith in him/herself; it can restore someone's self-worth; it can instill a dignity. It can even save a life. And, trust me, I know, it is a salutary way of teaching. It can fill us with such vast amounts of ever growing inner wealth, fire, and energy, we'd never be depleted, burnt out, or exhausted.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier