I was having a bad day. Dare I say a *hitty day. It was one of those days where EVERYTHING was going wrong from start to finish and everything in between was all messed up. To top it off, it was messing me up and messing my mind up even more of coming off as grumpy and grouchy. Totally not me. I was counting down until the day was over with so I could plunge into the pool to wash away my stresses. I was at my breaking point.
I had one more call to make to a patient.
Technically, I did not have to make this call, but I had roughly fifteen minutes to spare until clocking out. I knew that it would be in the greater good and best interest to call this patient so she could have a smooth first appointment. I am very sensitive to people’s voices and to the shapes and sounds of their words when they speak. My hearing and listening are now even more heightened and sharpened with being mainly on the phone now at work. So, I was pleasantly surprised when the voice on the other end was a sweet southern drawl.
The patient on the other line was in her late 80’s, teetering on 90. She had a warm southern drawl and a sweet laugh that made me feel like I was transported to somewhere in the south of the U.S.A. The grouchy and grumpy in me started to shed, and the corners of my mouth were lifting into a smile.
Somehow, we got on the topic of food. And, you know, there is nothing that makes me happier or lights me up than food. She shared with me that she had a small fruitcake business that she started once her husband died a few years ago. She said that baking and this business kept her active and young. I thought to myself and wrinkled my nose in curiosity: “Fruitcake?” I think I had eaten a fruitcake only once in my life. I certainly had baked and experimented with many sweet treats in my lifetime, but fruitcake was NOT one of them. I was doubtful.
In her sweet southern drawl, she said, “I want to send you a fruitcake. For all the kindness you brought to me today. You let me know what you think of it.”
I could not believe that this stranger that I was talking on the phone was offering such kindness and generosity to me. If only this woman knew that SHE had put a stop sign on my bad day and completely turned it around with her sweetness for even offering to send me one of her fruitcakes. Yet, there she was on the phone saying I had made the difference and boosted up her and her day. Since this woman had turned my flopped day into a flip good day, I thought I had nothing to lose by trying her fruitcake that clearly brought her great joy.
I did not believe that she would do it. Most people are dandruff (aka: flaky). Most people are NATO: NO ACTION, TALK ONLY. I was absolutely shocked when I received her cling-wrapped bourbon-drenched fruitcake embedded with tart jewels of nuts and dried fruit. When I unwrapped the package, the intoxicating scent of bourbon (and, mind you, I know just about NOTHING about alcohol—especially what I see as hardcore liquor as bourbon), molasses, and spices nearly knocked me over. One bite and that was it. Warmth coated my throat and filled my belly. I would never see fruitcake the same again. I was in heaven.
I called up the patient to thank her for her absolutely divine fruitcake. Coincidentally (but you know I do not believe in coincidences), we ended up meeting less than a week later. I ended up giving her one of my cakes I had baked that week along with the biggest hug, because, you must know that the core of this story is not about the fruitcake. It is about the great and bewildering power we have to make or break someone’s day and the days that add up in our lives. We possess the absolute power to cause people to cry, laugh, and smile or annoy and even anger from always the little things we do or do not do or the things we say or do not say that can amount to the most. This woman said I made the difference. I say she made the difference. We both made the difference in the best of ways with a small fruitcake as the catalyst of kindness.
We all have good days
and bad days. What makes a bad day a bad
day? What makes a good day a good
day? Who lifted or still lifts you up on
your worst of days? Who brought down
your good day, as there are people who just love to rain on parades and as
there are just miserable people who are only happy when others are miserable? Who had put a stop sign from your seemingly
bad day from getting worse and even turning it to a good day? What small act of
kindness have you done or can you do to bring up someone and their day, or vice
versa? What is your ‘fruitcake’ as the
catalyst for kindness?
Keep smilin’ until we
It is often hard for
me to believe that I have been working at the same organization for lucky 13
years and counting. Sometimes it seems
longer. Sometimes it seems shorter. Sometimes,
the days meld into one another and I am counting down until Friday and wishing
my days away and then *poof* my days are gone—and they keep on going and then
are gone. Always, without a doubt, time
baffles me as the ultimate enigma of long stretches and short stretches and how
so much changes and yet nothing really changes at all. The majority of my time was working in a
chemotherapy unit where I saw patients and their loved ones at their worst and
also at their best and in a time warp of life and death of trying to savor
everything in between. Many people would
say: “I do not know how you do your job.
I could not do your job. It must
be so sad.” But, I loved it. Yes, I love it.
I love the fierce and
fire and the strength and strong that all revolve around ‘the fight for the
gift of life’ and then the final acceptance and peace when the fire has been
extinguished into the unknown that we can never understand, but try to accept
and surrender peacefully to for when it is time to go then it is time to go.
Making the switch to
lessen in-person contact with patients was hard for me, but I was determined to
learn about the bad and the ugly of health insurances and finances to educate
and empower patients to navigate their own health insurances to make their very
own informed and personal healthcare decisions. It was a pain in the ass and there was days
I felt like I would never get it and never be in a position to help patients
out, but I kept reminding myself of two things ‘this was for a greater good’
and ‘if I am all confused with our messed up healthcare system, then can you
imagine how someone so sick feels trying to navigate all this crap’? So, I kept on. I eventually ended up in a role where I still
have in-person contact, but it is at the VERY beginning of their health
journey. I see significantly less
patients than when I worked in chemotherapy, but I’ve already experienced
patients at their worst with breaking down crying in front of me and then cleaning
themselves up as if nothing happened as they finish their appointment with me
and then brace themselves for their very first appointment. The majority of the time, I am on the phone
with patients. Somewhat sad to say, I’ve
now become so accustomed to talking more so with patients on the phone than in-person
that I am brought back in time to my chemotherapy working days only when an
established patient comes to me. And,
this is rare, few, and far in between.
Well, that’s exactly
what happened a couple weeks ago. An
established Radiation Oncology patient who had undergone at least two or more
treatments came into my office with her therapy dog and her husband. She was probably only a couple years older
than me. Her face was gaunt. Her eyes were wide. I could immediately tell that her coming to
me had a deeper and underlying message than the message she was about to share
with me. She shared with me that her
radiation treatment was aggressive and atypical, and so it was denied by her
health insurance and that it was in the appeals process. She began to shoot off a string of
questions to me: “So what happens now? What if the appeal does not go through? What happens with my current radiation
treatment? Will I have to self-pay? How much will it cost?”
I paused. “I do not know the answer to your
questions. I do not know what is going
to happen. No one really ever knows or
can predict the future or what is going to happen. I just know that it is in appeals and it is being
worked on and we will go from there.”
She would not accept
what I was telling her. I do not know
what took over me next, but I said this: “It is easy for me to say to you to
trust the process, and it is so very hard to do. I just know that you and we all have a
plate. Some days more than others, it
seems like the plate is overflowing and spilling over the edges. Most days, we wish for dull, boring, scarce,
and sparse, but that’s not how life works.
There is so much already on your plate that you have to take small bites
and take it little by little as it comes and not overload it with even
more. Do not add or overload your plate with
more than you can pick and chew from and pick up and handle. Nothing more and nothing less. One day at a time. One step at a time. One thing at a time.”
I did not even know
where these words that came out from my mouth actually came from. I think I looked as surprised and speechless
as her. Both of us did not even know what to say, so
we said little and our actions spoke with a small nod of her determined chin
and a reluctant acceptance that she would have to wait to see what happens. The waiting, the not knowing, the unknown,
the out of her and all of our control wraps in a tight and suffocating ball of
fear. We are left with holding on as
hard as can to hope, faith, and a trust in a process that has no shortcuts and
that we endure and go through with intentions to come out better and
stronger. We all have a plate that, I
believe, gets bigger and we make more complicated as we age with our thoughts,
worries, anxieties, responsibilities, and tendencies. We overload and bite off more than we can
chew. So, why do we do this? Why can’t we trust the process? Why does our mind immediately spiral out of
control to the worst case scenario?
Each of us has our
own plates. Some even have a whole set
of China. I believe that most of our plates are overflowing and spilling off
the edges. Some of us continue to bite
off more than we can possibly chew. Some
of us actually put even more on our plates by making it more complicated than
it needs to be. Is your plate always
overflowing? How big is your plate? Do our plates get bigger as we get older,
because of more responsibility and because we become more aware of what is
required of us and the risks involved? What
does your plate look like now? Is it
cracked and beyond repair? Is it pretty
and flowery with scalloped edges and gold trim?
Is there a way to cut back on all that is on our plates? How is your plate looking like now and did
you create this plate and all on it or did it just heap on to you and keep on
heaping until you wondered whose plate it really belonged to?
Keep smilin’ until we
Less than a month ago, I was sitting in a teal cushioned seat of my transplant center’s waiting room area with a clipboard of papers to complete. Apparently, my transplant center had a new and enhanced system that was just not advanced enough to transfer my lengthy medical information from the old system to the new system. So, there I was back to the good old days of completing paperwork with a pen. I was easily sailing by with filling out each and every blank box that just did not have enough room for me to squeeze in every surgery, medication, and doctor when I suddenly stopped with pen in mid-air with the section titled:
“In the Case of an Emergency…”