I’m writing to you from my hospital bed.
I’m OK, but things have been better, let’s say.
I just had to write because yesterday, something happened that made me think of how important we teachers are, for everyone’s happiness, at the most vulnerable, scared, embarrassed, hurt moments, the messiest moments, the biggest transitions, literally life and death, how important we teachers are in how we help to raise up our future healthcare workers today (who are sitting in your classrooms right now). I have been thinking, especially, how we show the difference that human kindness can make in an otherwise ruthlessly-efficient and impersonal environment like a school or a hospital.
So, yesterday, I was about to be put under for an endoscopy and as I was waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive, I heard the two techs debating vigorously about Minecraft.
I was about to be shepherded through the fearsome waters of unconsciousness by two “kids” who knew enough about Minecraft to engage in a rousing debate about it. I suddenly felt like I was about to be operated on by a seventh grader.
Which, if you have ever taught seventh grade, was sort of a, uh, sobering thought. (Especially if you ever taught my seventh graders!)
Which they could have been when I began my career teaching, if they were particularly hard-working.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says Blanche DuBois at the end of the play A Streetcar Named Desire, as she is being taken to the hospital.
I’m actually IN the hospital now, and I assure you that, ultimately, that is true for us all. Ultimately, despite the ministrations of friends and family, if we avail ourselves of medical treatment, which we will increasingly do , the older we get, we will come to depend on the kindnesses of many strangers in scrubs.
And in this is a lesson for us teachers, to hang in there for the long haul, for everyone‘s sake. To hang in there and teach those kids who will one day grow up to wear scrubs and be there for others in their darkest hours, with kindness and love. With humanity and compassion and kindness and taking-a-moment within a huge, impersonal, florescent-lit, bar-coded, regimented system such as a hospital is.
We need to teach them to be human within systems that can feel overwhelming. When they walk into our classes, we can show them that within a huge system such as School, there can be those people and places that build you up, take a moment for you, and treat you like a human, because of the person you are working with. Teachers, that person, in school, tends to be us. We are the person who sets the tone of the interaction. We are the person who makes it more human within an impersonal system or less-so.
I came to the hospital in an ambulance, my first ride ever in an ambulance, when, on Saturday night, I was unable to stand up without falling down and fainting. There were other symptoms, too, but they are a little gross to get into. I’ll just let it suffice to say that I was moaning to my husband from the bathroom floor, alternatively, that I was going to die, or that I wished I had already done so.
When the EMT showed me an IV drip full of water, which I had not been able to keep down for two days, despite intense thirst, I cried. Not because I am deathly afraid of needles (on a normal day, I am) but because I was so grateful that they were going to give me fluid.
When we arrived at the hospital, and four arms tattooed with full arm sleeves (it’s Portland through and through here at the hospital, down to the room-service lattes and espresso) were pumping all kinds of things into my already-chilled body, and I was shivering from head to toe, in a deep way I never knew was possible, a man brought me what I would come to know as “fresh warm blankets” and he made a little headcovering with them, and I cried again, grateful that someone noticed how convulsed with shivering I was.
When I was moved to my room upstairs, the transport technician took a selfie with me in the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, cause I was so tickled that I could see myself full-length in the bed.
A phlebotomist just came to draw blood, and she told me, “Put this pillow over your head because the overhead lights are bright,” and then she so gently stroked my arm to raise up a vein.
So many times, it’s been a technician, not a doctor or nurse, who has been there for me in those small moments of just raw human need.
Despite the fact that my dear husband is here with me, to the point that the nurses have all commented on his dedication to Team Tina, he is not the face that is the face of kindness in those little moments of fear, or hurt, or loneliness. It’s been technicians with kind hearts who have made each step of this ordeal a little more human, and a little more tolerable.
Within the monstrous, huge hospital I am in, they shine.
Just like we do. We are working in a monstrous, huge system. It pokes, prods, weighs, measures, draws blood, knocks us unconscious. All the things that a hospital does (just metaphorically, of course).
And some teachers just go with the flow, they measure, report the results, continue on.
And some, look in your face, see you are shivering, see your teeth chattering, and wrap a fresh warm blanket around your head.
Or they just explain why they are doing what they are doing.
Or they just say “I know it hurts, and I wish I could make it go away, but we have to do it.”
Which makes it better too.
Know, teachers, we are showing our very own future scrubs-wearing angels how to be human in a system that was not built for humans. And please, hang in there.
I will do the same.