LOOKS LIKE EMPATHY CAN BE TAUGHT

On Friday November 4th my mother went to the Jewish General Hospital for a procedure meant to fix an unsuccessful bypass she had undergone six months ago. It’s been virtually a year that she’s been dealing with symptoms related to blockages in her arteries and while we thought that the worst was behind us, that she could take the trip to China planned a week from Friday, that in a few more months she could pick up her granddaughter again, play badminton, walk up a flight of stairs without losing her breath, we recently learned that the bypass was not working as planned.

On this Friday, I sat in the waiting room of the hospital as my father explained to me the behaviour of the nurse looking after my mother. I didn’t feel angry hearing that she called my parents aggressive simply because they were asking a lot of questions or that she  let another patient ahead because my mother had corrected her when she falsely stated that she was scheduled for another bypass. No, I didn’t feel remotely upset, instead, I felt heartbroken. It hurt me beyond belief to know that someone who had the power to make my parents feel better about the situation they were in chose to do quite the opposite. Part of me wondered whether her demeanor was a result of an opinion she made of my Indian parents before actually getting to know them and their circumstance, perhaps attributing their inability to understand her to their accents instead of her communications skills. Whatever it was, I didn’t turn my back when she coldly told us to stop asking when my mother would return from her procedure, instead, I looked at her in the eyes and spoke from the heart. I explained to nurse Fay that what we needed from her was just a little bit of sensitivity and compassion, that we weren’t there because we wanted to be but because my mother who has spent the last 72 years of her life doing all the right things was not well, that we were at the mercy of the staff there and all we needed from them was just a little empathy and patience. I could have easily lost it on her. Usually my philosophy is that if you mess with my family I will eat you alive but, thankfully, I didn’t because from that moment on Fay was nothing less than considerate. She went out of her way to explain to my father and me what was going on, she took me away from my mother’s side to reassure me when she noticed tears in my eyes and she hand delivered ma’s list of medications when we were transferred to the recovery room.

I later learned that Fay herself was dealing with her own set of problems. Her sister’s husband was undergoing radiation that day and she could not be there because her department was short-staffed. It was a shitty day for both of us, one that could have gone worst if I had resorted to lashing out in anger and frustration instead of extending an olive branch.

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