The past few weeks have been tumultuous, what with an upcoming election and everything else. In times like this, it can be difficult to really remember how good people are. We too often forget someone’s intentions when we look at their acts, and that does a world of harm. There have been several things in the last few weeks that have really reminded me how truly wonderful people are.
I. There were many things leading up to me being able to recognize the goodness of people, but one of the first moments of recognition came when I was participating in Trick-or-Treat for Service, sponsored by George Washington University. Swarms of students were sent on various routes throughout surrounding neighborhoods to knock on doors and collect non-perishable food items to donate. Flyers had previously been distributed to every house that would be contacted.
The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote about this service project. For reference, Doug was another student that I had been assigned to knock on doors with.
This next part of my trick-or-treating opportunity warmed my heart. Doug and I knocked on a door that was on a tangent of our route – it was likely that this house could have been missed if we weren’t careful. A man who looked to be in his late fifties or early sixties answered the door, and after we explained who we were, he told us that for the past two years, he and his wife had set out a bag of canned goods for the drive, but no one had come to pick it up. He told us that since they had thought no one would come, they had not bought any non-perishable food items to donate. We thanked him and continued on our route. We knocked on the next door and they gave us some food. As we were walking back to the sidewalk, I saw the man from the previous house walking toward us with a can in his hand. He said, “Oh, there you are! After you left, I looked around and found that we had an extra can of soup.” I was so surprised and grateful! We thanked him profusely and apologized that he had been missed for the last couple years. He thanked us for stopping by, and we then parted ways. It touched my heart that even after some disappointing experiences with this program that could have caused him to be bitter toward us, he was generous enough to go looking for something to give. He sought the opportunity to serve, even when others might have considered the opportunity to be lost or not worth their while.
II. The other day, when I was feeling a bit down in the mouth, I visited the website Humans of New York. If you haven’t looked at it before, you definitely should. It brings me so much joy to get an insight into these people’s lives. Just as a bit of background, HONY is run by one man who lives in New York City. This man walks around the city for a couple hours each day, and he asks people who look interesting or unique if he can take their photograph. He asks them some questions and takes their photo. He later posts photos on the blog or on the Facebook page along with a bit of the conversation he remembers having with them. You can see a video of him talking about the endeavor here.
I have previously written a post that included some favorites from this website, but I’m going to share with you my favorites from the past few days.
III. On the same day that I was scrolling through HONY, twitter recommended that I follow someone. I wondered who it was, since we had no one in common. So I clicked on his twitter page and, from there, clicked on his blog. His name is Brendan Klem, and he is a photographer. On the side of his webpage, there is a link that is titled, “Family Comes First.” The following is written on that page.
FAMILY COMES FIRST
For 1 year, since April 3rd 2011 the passing of my father, I have been trying to figure out how I can bring a positive light to the terrible experience of cancer. Cancer had been apart of my family for over 4 years, constantly ravaging my fathers body, mind and spirit. It came to affect my mom, making her drive daily to the hospital; my sister, left with not just one parent but often times neither; and then myself, living in another city constantly wondering how I could support at a distance. Thankfully I was able to spend the last year of my fathers life with him, helping him to hockey games, mediating the tension at home and trying to help my mom and sister as much as possible.
In that last year of my fathers life there were way more lows then highs. The one constant that I came to realize was that no matter how hard or insane the situations would be, was that family comes first.
Being a photographer came 2nd or 3rd or even 80th on the list. As a result, the images that I have of our family from that time are few and far between. The last image of my father is below. He was battling the effects of chemo on his body and for the life of him could not stay warm enough, so would curl up with a blanket and lay himself over a heat vent.
Family comes first.
I have come to realize how I can personally shine light on cancer. I would love to give back to any family currently affected by cancer by photographing them. I want to honour the love in your family that is stronger than ever as you all battle. As you all cry. As you all love. Love that can never be broken. Creating images that can honour that love.
The session of your family is at no cost. No pressure to travel anywhere. I will come to you and photograph your family to honour the love that you all share. I am looking to capture this love on Black and White film. You will receive all images of from the session in digital format and you will be free to print and share as many as you like. All images will be loaded to a proofing website to showcase for other family members. I would also love to share the beauty of love within your family on my blog. Everything is within your confidentiality and your comfort level.
He then has a form where people can nominate their families.
IV. Jimmy Kimmel’s done it again, only this time it’s completely heartwarming. The second half is the best.
V. One of my friends put a link on twitter the other day. It was a link to a Quora question. Quora is a site that asks questions and people submit their answers. The question she linked to was, “What is the most heroic thing you’ve ever done? This was the top-voted answer:
I ate a cockroach.This requires an explanation.While a trainee as a pediatric cardiologist during my rotation in the cardiac ICU, I met a stoic 12 year old girl (her fictitous name will be Tammy) diagnosed with heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. The heart muscle was weakened to the point where it no longer could sustain the needs of the body without the support of continuous infusions of powerful medications. There was no other option: she needed a heart transplant. She was stuck in the ICU, mostly bed-bound waiting for a new heart. Depending where you are in the United States, the average wait period for a matched kid-sized heart to become available for donation is 5-6 months. For many patients, it’s simply too long and some die waiting.When I met Tammy, she was emaciated, weakened, depressed and well into her 3rd month of hospitalization with no word of an available heart. She struggled as an adolescent would – frustrated with life, isolated from her friends, literally plugged into pumps and IV bags and surrounded by rotating physicians and probing medical students. In her room, I couldn’t help but to notice that her room was her metaphorical aquarium, cage, even prison cell. Passerby ICU staff would constantly walk by, some would take the time to peer in, a minority would walk in but mostly to examine her or drop off her meals. I overheard a cardiology fellow joke to another referring Tammy as the “mascot” of the cardiac ICU given her extensive length of hospitalization. I’m not entirely sure she didn’t overhear it as well. Her view from inside to outside must have solidified the feeling: healthy people laughing, interacting, going home to family and friends.Tammy’s response was to be severely withdrawn. Emotionally shutdown.
When I was assigned to her, I tried to connect with her but could not get any traction. I was nervous as a new trainee and my goal really was not to screw up her medical treatment plan. But recognizing her depression, I did consult child psychiatry to help her during this time. I stopped by her bedside multiple times throughout the day to chat specifically avoiding medical jargon. During the first few weeks, I ended up mostly speaking to her mother as she stayed withdrawn. After some time, through subtle probing, I discovered one of her favorite TV shows was “Fear Factor” – a reality based TV show that puts contestants through extreme challenges. I started watching the show so that we had something in common to talk about.
I had the idea to bring “Fear Factor” to the Cardiac ICU.
After convincing several of my colleagues, nurses and even the ICU Attending to participate, we set up daily challenges for the medical staff to go through very much in a Fear Factor manner. Wheelchair races, who-would-tolerate-the-biggest-IV-needle, etc. I could tell, Tammy was instantly interested. She looked forward to the next challenges. My challenges for her were mostly physical (as a secret agenda to get her rehabilitated: transplant recipients do far better when they are better conditioned). Her interest grew and she started coming up with challenges of her own. “Put an NG tube in your nose! (she had one), drink the nasty Colace! (she had to do)” Her mother commented to me, for the first time in a long time, she’s smiling.
It was a fateful Saturday morning, when I came in for my call, I found both Tammy and her mother sporting an evil grin. They had procured a cockroach to ingest as the next challenge. Everyone instantly refused to partake in this one. So did I. Towards the afternoon, it looked like this challenge was going to be a bust. Tammy was by nature a stoic girl, but I could tell she was more than disappointed. Fearing we would lose the momentum of her new found spirit for life, I mustered up the stomach to entertain the notion. I looked at the dead ghastly thing with as much of a poker face as I could gather. When I said I would try, Tammy giggled with so much delight that I knew there was no turning back. I could not break her already broken heart.
I’ll spare you the details of the act itself, but I could see a look of gleeful horror yet immense satisfaction on her face while I was holding my nose and chewing. She clapped with vigor after the unimaginable deed was done. The nurses looked at me with disgust. My colleagues avoided me. But I had the joy of that girl for a few minutes and it was worth it. That evening, when I was rounding, she was getting ready for bed. I checked in on her vitals and all was stable. I said goodnight, to which she replied, “Thank you for today.” For some reason, the way she said it completely warmed my heart.
Early next morning, our team received a call that a heart was available. She received a heart transplant that very day. She sailed through her operation and was discharged to the ward then home shortly thereafter. A few weeks later, I received a photo from her in her Tae Kwon Do uniform – noticeably fuller than her previous emaciated self and…healthy. In her note, she said “Thanks for being my hero.”
What’s funny is that her clinical course was marred with complications and near death experiences. At one point, I was performing CPR on her. A second time I electrically shocked her for a malignant arrhythmia – both times averting certain death. But I am confident that her hero reference had nothing to do with that. It was all simply because I ate a goddam cockroach. But it changed my perspective on what it means to “care” for a patient and how to have a meaningful impact as a physician.
VI. I have the best roommate ever. At the beginning of the semester, Jana and I basically just peacefully resided in the same room. Around the end of September, we started actually hanging out with each other, and we have become great friends. We have some wonderful discussions about life, seeing the best in people, loving, etc.
Please, please make an effort to recognize the good in everyone. People are all doing hard to do their best. Everyone is trying to make good decisions and be the best person they can be. Each person has challenges. No one gets the easy way out. We are in no position to judge others or think we are better than anyone. We have no idea what people are going through, and it’s our responsibility to love others no matter what happens.
All these things, if nothing else have taught me one thing:
People are good.