(A special thank you to Autumn Fiester – the professor who made sure we knew that healing physical ailments is just the first step. Compassion and empathy changes everything.)
Get comfortable cause we are having story time.
I was running to my Uber, trying to avoid an additional charge and my driver leaving me, when I rolled my ankle. But by the time I sat down in the car, the pain had subsided. So what did I do? I went about my day – rock climbing, grocery shopping, and to a networking event. But by the time I got to the networking event, I was in excruciating pain. I embarrassingly (and literally) dragged myself out of the event and asked the security guard where I could easily catch an Uber to go to my neighborhood urgent care. He took one look at my face and suggested that I go to the hospital across the street instead.
So I staggered to security desk in the hospital to ask for directions to the emergency room. What the security guard didn’t know was that I am terrible with directions and got lost within five seconds. Picture this – a random black girl, dragging herself down a hallway, half-fussing with my parents on the phone to tell them I was fine, and half-gasping in pain – clearly not fine, in a hospital in a new city. I looked a hot mess. Definitely not that polished-networking-ready-black-girl magic-powerhouse I was when I walked in (y’all better let me feel myself in peace – I was killin’ it before my injury.)
I finally waived down a hospital employee in a suit to see if I was any closer to the emergency room. He looked at me, apologized for my pain, apologized for the length of the hall, and sent me down said hall in the direction of the ER. I told him thanks and kept staggering. I went a little further and waived down a woman in scrubs to see if I was going in the right direction again. I also mentioned that I was pretty sure that I had sprained my ankle. soon She similarly apologized for my pain, looked at me in pity, and told me to keep walking down the same hallway and that the ER was further down. I thanked her and kept staggering.
Right after that, a younger woman in business attire stopped me and said she overheard me talking to the woman in scrubs. She said there were a set of stairs coming up soon and asked if I needed help. I almost shouted yes because I had no idea how I was going to get down the stairs with the pain. She helped me down the stairs, got me a wheel chair, and wheeled me the rest of the way to the ER – which was much farther away than I thought. She got me inside, made sure I was properly settled into the ER, and waited until the nurse called me in. I asked her name and her position at the hospital – she said she was an administrative assistant. Not a doctor or a nurse, but an administrative assistant. To be truthful, I had too much pride to ask for a wheelchair myself even though I needed one. But this woman looked beyond my exterior willingness to struggle and identified my need immediately. And she literally didn’t have to – it was not in her job description to help me. But her choice to show me compassion was the difference between a very miserable and lonely evening and one where I left the ER with a smile.
I have worked and studied at community hospitals and academic teaching hospitals – with my fourth location coming up this summer. My bioethics’ professors always pushed the importance of advocating for compassionate care in medicine. But for the first time in my life, I experienced why compassionate care matters. Here’s the truth – everyone who I spoke to at the hospital had the same agenda of making sure I received the care I needed. When I left the hospital, I got the ankle brace, the crutches, and the painkillers. So the job got done. But I was impacted the most through the compassionate care I was given. It’s the difference between a suit off the rack and a custom made suit. Intentional compassionate care is the icing, the swagger, and the finesse. It takes healthcare from ordinary to extraordinary. You could always get away with providing ordinary care. After all – the goal is to get patients’ healed efficiently and effectively. But I would dare say that side-stepping compassionate care is just mediocrity with a nicer name. Why not take it to the next level?
Cake with icing tastes better. Presence with swagger looks better. A touch with finesse feels better. Healthcare with compassion – well just is better.
Recovering from a Sprain,
The Neighborhood Bioethicist