Sunday, October 20, 2013

Guest Post: Human Kindness in the ER

This post was originally published on Facebook.  The author gave us permission to re-post it for the benefit of our readership.

I very rarely post on facebook, but tonight (or I suppose, this morning), I'm making an exception.  Please read this with an open mind, and, more importantly, with an open heart...

I watched a man die tonight, slowly and painfully.  I watched his wife stand by his side for the

three hours it took him to pass, despite her bilateral knee replacements a few weeks ago.  I watched three of his doctors disregard his wife's tears as he winced his way to death.

A culture of indifference has crept into our society. I regularly see people pass over the needs of others, not because of personal inconvenience (which would be justifiable on some level), but for no reason at all.  I'm only 25-years old, and I've already begun to lose faith in humanity; something simply does not seem “right” about that.  Perhaps I'm too young to understand the true nature of the world, or perhaps I'm too na├»ve to appreciate it.  Hell, maybe I just don't focus on the “good” in life enough.  What I am confident in, though, is the massive amount of suffering I've noticed in the society around me since my passage into adulthood.

I'm just as guilty as anyone else in this matter.  Just the other day, I watched someone trip across the street and spill the contents of a box he was carrying.  It would have taken me an extra 5 minutes to cross the street and help him pick up his things.  What did I do? I avoided eye contact and walked quickly around the corner.  I had no reason for not crossing the street; I simply felt uncomfortable approaching someone I didn't know to help them.  I'm ashamed to admit this next part, but, a few seconds after turning the corner, I got back to my car and wept over the fact that I preferred to walk by instead of stopping.  For no reason at all, I avoided another person in need, despite feeling immensely guilty almost immediately after.
This will never happen again.

What I'm proposing is very simple: an unprovoked act of kindness when an opportunity presents itself.  Reinstate my faith in humanity.  Challenge my notion that the world is not as self-centric as I believe.  Change someone's life, even if it's as small as picking up a dropped pen.  These types of things aren't going to change the world, and if you think that's my aim, you've missed the point entirely.  To simply do a handful of things, each day for the sake of another, improves the most basic quality of life for a single person.  It shows another person that someone else cares, even if it's the most minimal level of care you can imagine.  You haven't changed their whole life, just five minutes of it.  Imagine if I had been that guy on the street... another person jogging over to help me pick up a few things that had rolled out of my reach.  I wouldn't be grateful that he helped me, I'd simply be grateful that someone cared. The human experience does not have to be a lonely one.

The day after I skipped over the man-in-need on the street, I encountered a young girl in the emergency department who had been in a car accident.  She wasn't my patient, but rather someone who was waiting in the department to be admitted to the hospital.  Her boyfriend had also been in the same accident, and brought to the emergency room as well, though she had been unable to see him since arriving.  She was quite distraught over this fact, despite being told countless times that he was OK.  I tracked him down, and with my phone, took a picture of him smiling with his thumbs up for his girlfriend.  His face was covered in bruises, his left eye was swollen shut, and a neck brace throttled his throat.  It took five minutes for me to snap the photo, walk over to her room, and show her the picture of her mangled partner. Her response was immediate tears and an enormous hug.  She embraced someone she didn't know, in a state of complete vulnerability, and she felt innumerably better from simply seeing a digital snap of his weathered face.  For just a moment, the massive level of chaos, pain, and anxiety of her world was alleviated, through simply seeing her boyfriends lips curled into a smile.

Thank you for reading through this entire rambling discourse.  I fully appreciate that this pseudo-hippy request may carry a sentiment of candid ignorance, but whether I'm naive, or whether my plea rings true to you, there's no harm in taking a few minutes to demonstrate care for someone else.

Acts of kindness don't change the world, they only change a single person's experience, moments at a time.

Vedant Desai is a medical student at Temple University.  He is currently applying for residency in Emergency Medicine.

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  1. Thank you for writing this and for posting this. I'd love to see more of a conversation about this - and how maybe Pittsburgh could help share more random acts of kindness. I have shared many of these same feelings but I've also had an opportunity to see some of the remarkable things that Pittsburghers are willing to do for other Pittsburghers.

    1. We'd be happy to partner on a project based on random acts of kindness in Pgh! Email me your ideas!


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