When I was 9 years old, I was sent to a Childrens Hospital in the city, over an hour from my home. I was to have my first surgery and remain in the hospital for a few days. My parents couldn’t come and visit me due to the distance and work, so I was alone for my hospital stay.
I had arrived early in the morning to begin lots of tests which were long and painful but I never complained once, though I hated every test and was afraid of all the needles. Afterwards was shown my room which housed 3 other children, who all had their parents around constantly.
That night as I went to bed, one of the boys in the room was still crying and screaming, just as he had been all day. I remember his mother trying to soothe his head and nurses coming in and out offering him popsicles and looking after him. I remember being so jealous of this boy and feeling very alone.
Awhile later, a nurse came to me to give me some medication I needed before the surgery. She asked me how I was doing and I just looked at her, not sure what to say.
“What’s the matter?” she asked me really softly.
“I’m angry” I replied.
“That sadness and pain is only recognised in people who cry. Sometimes you can be silent and be very very sad.”
I remember the nurse just looking at me and then said to me, “You’ve been very quiet today, haven’t you?” I nodded and then she sat on the bed, and pulled me up, hugged me and began to cradle me. I remember her brushing the back of my head with her hand and it felt like we sat there for eternity, though I can’t recall exactly how long because I fell asleep.
I think I mentioned once before, but this was the same nurse who came down to the surgery the next day and held my hand because I was so afraid I was going to die, and it was her touch that made me believe I’d be ok.
I couldn’t tell you her name, and I never saw her after the surgery. But almost twenty years later, I remember her as if it were yesterday.
That simple act of compassion has stayed with me because it was just what I needed. I needed to be listened to and held and comforted, and she did all those things. I didn’t need someone to tell me to suck it up, to go to bed, that it would be alright or give me a popsicle, I needed just a little compassion, and how lucky I was to get it.