Today is World Kindness Day – a day to promote kindness, and compassion (may I add).
And today I want to share something that has been on my mind for the last couple of months. It’s a reminder to give kindness and compassion, instead of judgement or indifference.
My own lesson in compassion
When I broke my leg a couple of months ago, I stayed in hospital for 5 nights. Having hurt myself at 9am, that morning and early afternoon weren’t great, with the trip to the A&E and all the pain. But once I had a temporary cast on and was settled in the ward, I even thought: “Well, this is my opportunity to have a rest now. To have a night without a breastfed child waking me up every couple of hours. To be on my own for a bit”.
But everyone knows you don’t get any sleep in hospitals, right?
First of all, I underestimated the fact that I was in there for a reason. I had just fractured two bones – I was in pain. A plaster cast and a few painkillers weren’t really making that much of a difference.
And I was uncomfortable. Try and be stuck on a bed all day and then sleep on your back like a mummy when your leg weighs a ton, and you can’t move it anyway, and then we can talk about how much sleep you (didn’t) get.
So that was me, but all around me, no one else slept much either.
On the bed across me, there was an elderly lady – I think she mentioned she was 92. She was just so tiny and looking so frail. So kind to all the nurses. Every single morning, they’d come in and ask her whether she wanted tea or coffee. “Coffee, dear, I don’t drink tea!” Same drill in the afternoon when the trolley came back again.
I don’t know why she was there. She never moved from her bed. She didn’t have anyone coming to visit her. She was there the whole time I was there. I don’t know how long she’d been there before and how long she stayed after that.
But at night, she’d try and rest, and often start screaming out of nowhere. Crying. “Help! Help! Please, somebody help me!” I was the closest to the nurses’ station, and I’d look over, worried. They could hear but didn’t come. I felt so sad for her. Of course I soon learnt that she was doing that every night, and only in the night. Only when the lights went down. They would attend to her at regular intervals of course, to give her medications and take her readings. But otherwise, no one answered her screams.
I laid there wondering what her story was and feeling sad that no one had the time to go and just briefly hold her hand. Just for a minute. Maybe she didn’t need anything material – not a pill or her back propped up. But maybe she just needed someone to tell her that everything was ok. That it was just a dream, or just the past, maybe.
Next to the elderly lady was a 47-year old lady who was dying of cancer. This I know because of course in a mixed ward you get no privacy. When relatives, doctors and nurses come, you can pull a curtain, but you can’t help hearing what’s going on. She was in hospital because her doctors were trying to manage her pain. She wanted to be at home, and spend the time she had left with her 16-year old son. A son who came to visit her a few times. A son who came once and was unable to wake her up. So he gave her a kiss, gave the nurses a bag of things he’d brought for her and left.
I wondered how far he’d come from. And how far he’d have to go to go back. I wondered how heartbroken he must have felt and asked myself whether he had anyone to go to for support when he left, and whether he’d reach out to anyone at all, because it must have been terrible for him.
She was struggling with her breathing, and nights were really bad for her. I could hear her making worrying noises, and I’d sit up, look over, ask her whether she needed help. She’d nod, so I’d call the nurses. I’d have to call and call. Often they’d give her an oxygen mask. But often they’d tell her they couldn’t give her anything else. And left.
And that’s probably true, that they couldn’t give her anything else, but I don’t think anyone can even imagine the amount of pain she must have been in – physical and emotional pain. I felt sad that no one was there to give her a little extra kindness.
And next to this lady was another lady who came in probably during my third night. She was in hospital for a chest infection, but she also had a mental illness. Unfortunately, I’m too ignorant on the subject to be able to say what she might have had, but she had a carer with her, day and night. She’d often be asleep in the day, but come evening, she’d be up, and restless. She’d walk off. “Sharon, Sharon, please come back to bed”, the carer would say. And sometimes she’d get abusive. She’d shout and swear at them. She’d cry. She’d throw herself on the floor. Then a couple of nurses would intervene, try and put her back to bed, pull the curtains. She’d hit them. And then there would be talk about the fact that she shouldn’t be on that ward, because these nurses weren’t trained to be able to look after her properly.
And then by the early hours of the morning, she’d calm down and sleep. And become this helpless, ill lady, who of course never wanted to hit, or swear or be lying on the floor.
And back to me again.
With my broken leg.
In pain, yes, especially on my 4th and 5th night, after having surgery.
Unable to get comfortable. Unable to sleep. Unable to stop thinking about the ladies I was inevitably ‘staring at’ all day and all night. Trying to help and call the nurses when I could, but otherwise feeling so helpless.
Feeling sorry for myself for being ‘stuck’ in a bed and not even being able to go to the toilet. Feeling sorry for myself for having so many months of recovery ahead. Feeling upset for the impact this would have on my family – how were we even going to cope??
But actually, yes, I had an accident, I hurt myself, and I was in a lot of pain for a while. But with time, a lot of patience, a lot of hard work and a bit of luck my life will go back to ‘normal’. It may have felt like a long time back then, but I was only in hospital for 5 nights. How long were the other women there for? How are they now? Are they really better, or are they still suffering?
Because a lot of the time, and especially at night, I didn’t end up sleeping. I didn’t end up ‘enjoying’ the time away from a breastfed baby who’d wake me up at regular intervals. I didn’t.
But I did experience empathy, consideration and understanding for the ladies I briefly shared a room with. For those 5 days and nights I became a more compassionate person, and I don’t want to forget that.
And please don’t misread this and think it’s about me saying: “look at them – there’s always someone who’s worse off than you”.
It’s not about that.
This is about knowing that even when you feel hurt and down, there is always someone out there who still needs care, humanity, help and a little kindness, and we shouldn’t forget that.
We get too wrapped up in our own stories sometimes, and we forget that.
So today, for World Kindness Day, I wanted to remind myself of the lesson I learnt in hospital.
A lesson in compassion.
And a lesson I don’t want to forget.