In the darkness of early morning, a conveyor belt of human kindness went into motion one month ago to the day.
As instructed, the day began with an application of a surgical grade antiseptic soap to my abdomen while I showered. A prayer of release flowed through me, knowing that by noon, I would never be the same.
As the sun sent its first rays of light into the day, I, with my daughters and Spouse at my side, signed in for a “total abdominal hysterectomy bilateral salpingectomy-oophorectomy; lymph node” removal, scheduled for 10 a.m.
“Dr. Lutman is ahead of schedule,” began a welcoming nurse, “so we can get you through prep and into surgery right now.”
“Let’s do it,” I marched forward, disallowing even an ounce of emotion to slip through. This was not the time to break down. It was time to buck up and get that looming cancer out of my body. The lump in my throat was forced into retreat.
The second stage of a conveyor belt of human kindness began immediately after I hugged my loves goodbye and entered the surgical prep unit of Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, California.
The nurse escorted me to the next nurse who in her accented English began, “Good morning Charmaine. Am I saying your name correctly?”
“Yes,” I agreed as my eyes swept over a gurney that displayed a paper lavender hospital gown and deep purple socks. I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a photo. Lavender and purple! Joyful colors to greet and sooth my pounding heart.
In no time, now attired in lavender, with an IV hooked into a right hand blood vein, a bright yellow sticker stuck to my left arm that warned personnel to not apply needles or anything to that arm because of the lymph node removal from my 2004 breast cancer surgery, my echo chamber awakened within: “Yes, it’s cancer, again. Yes, it’s cancer again. Yes, it’s cancer again.”
Dr. Lutman, in his blue surgical scrubs, stopped at my bedside, patted my leg and said … well, I don’t remember what he said, but while he looked stressed, I know he spoke encouraging words.
The conveyor belt continued with a team that rolled the gurney into the surgical room — a brilliantly lit chamber with glistening stainless steel, mobile spot lights and a crew of blue-scrub attired humans who rushed about — as the anesthesiologist asked if I was comfortable.
His assistant, with an air of confidence of a nurse who has worked surgery for a long time, asked me to sit up and in her broken English said, “Fold your arms together and lean on me.” Her tone comforted me. For my last moments awake, she was my security blanket in a room of somber and dangerous work ahead.
I felt a needle pierce my spine, and I tried to release the pain with a gentle moan. “You’re doing good, Charmaine. Keep leaning on me,” she said as she hugged me like a bear and I could feel her warmth, her compassion, knowing full well that this injection hurts like hell.
And then I awoke in recovery about four hours later.
Meanwhile, the flu, in near-epidemic numbers, had struck a huge local population, and the hospital was at capacity — so much so that administrators converted the infusion center into in-patient treatment. Doctors, nurses and staff took longer shifts.
Some post surgical in-patients, like me, wound up in the maternity ward — where fortunately, newborns were not in near epidemic numbers. The stress level of the post surgical RNs who had to regroup on a hospital floor set up for maternity, not post surgical, was as obvious as the massive cut up my abdomen.
And with that picture I want to introduce you to Mia and Jamal, just two of the other registered nurses and doctors from countries that on January 11 the POTUS asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Mia. Her braided waist-length dark hair trailed her quick moves, and punctuated the smile that she managed to keep even though she was at the end of a 12-hour shift. My comfort was her concern. I was a mess of abdominal pain and a slow to awaken digestion system. The patient in the room next to me was an even bigger mess. She howled and cried. Mia hovered over her and brought her comfort as best she could, while two other in-patients settled into their rooms, and I was busy “tossing my cookies” into my blue hospital gown. Never once did Mia lose her cool.
Jamal. Somewhere into the night, Mia briefed the night shift RN, Jamal (I believe that was his name — I was still in a post-surgical haze), about my condition and needs. Jamal, with his lustrous mahogany skin and black hair was as handsome as he was caring. No, he was not born in America. His accent gave him away. By midnight, I was as uncomfortable as if I were on a bed of nails. When Jamal came to check on me and to administer my medications, I grumbled, “I’m so done with this!”
“You look like a strong lady. You’ll get through this,” he comforted. And then he said, “The one thing that will help you feel better is to get up and walk. Are you ready to do that now?”
OK, this was a WTF moment. It’s midnight! I feel like hell! And you want me to walk? “Yes, mam. It will be very good for you. I’ll help you get out of bed,” he said as he adjusted the catheter tube and the IV.
“Well, I doubt I’ll have many more opportunities to walk at midnight with a nurse as handsome as you,” I joked as I lumbered from my bed, and Jamal adjusted my hospital gown to a more modest position.
Slowly, with him holding the catheter tube with one hand and guiding me down the long, empty hospital hall, he said, “Take baby steps. Each step will help you feel better.”
Along the long corridor, I noticed the signage and art along the hall that read:
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“Breathe. Be Present. Be Grateful.”
“What island am I on?” I asked myself. Outside is a leader belittling countries of dark-skinned humans. Outside is a legion of angry white men at war with themselves and a changing world. Outside is a living contradiction of faith. Outside we’re told that it is us versus them. But I was on an island where ethnicity and social station did not matter. This island’s mission was human kindness.
I’m home now and on the third level of this conveyor belt. I’m healing because this island of human kindness surrounds me. This island is larger than I imagined. In fact, it might be a continent in size. The abundance of acts of kindness that I’ve experienced for the last 30 days, is what we must reinstate into our society.
It requires us to find avenues that bring peace to angry souls. It requires us remove our illusions of self-importance. All sentient beings suffer at some point in time. All sentient beings experience pain. These are our commonalities. We can choose to remain in suffering and painful conditions and let anger dominate our lives. We can blame others for our misfortune. But is this how anyone truly wishes to exist?
Like this cancer that has completely disrupted my life for the present, it has, nevertheless, brought me to certain truths about the human condition — and that is choices. I don’t know why this struck me down a second time. I can dwell in anger and fear, but I choose health. I choose gratitude for the people who have devoted their lives to treat others with life-threatening conditions. I’ve let the experience of compassion by strangers, family and friends sink into my heart. This brings me healing and joy.
This conveyor belt of human kindness welcomes all people. But it requires that we let go of anger, revenge and blame, and open our minds and hearts to forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion.