The wind is whistling and moaning today, as it has done for the last few days. Winter in the Highlands can often be breezy and occasionally hide-under-the-bed stormy; the present gale falls into the latter category. This morning I'm in the somewhat-drafty hospital cafeteria, having gotten us here safely to my husband's dialysis unit once more. It's very dark out there, even at just past 9:00 a.m. Life in the northern latitudes makes for long nights and short days!
At this time of day it's only a handful of cafeteria staff, and me. They are on their first morning break, joking and talking in at least three different accents – all Scottish, but from different areas. My American ears can finally make the distinctions, though I can't pinpoint their villages-of-origin like my husband can. It's a quiet period before the bustle of staff breaks and then later on, lunch. It's a small hospital and I have come to know people here a bit, over the last six months. They all know why I sit here for hours on end, four times a week, and they always ask how things are going on the house-move front. Some have been kind from the start while others were indifferent at first, but have warmed up to exchanging cheery greetings with me when I arrive. I don't expect everyone to be my pal, so the fact that a few of them have taken a kindly interest does give me a nice feeling.
I am often the recipient of small acts of kindness here, which are lovely. When the ladies commiserate with me if the weather is bad or ask how Sem is doing, it makes me feel less alone during the long hours of waiting. I suspected that they were only charging me staff prices for the occasional meals I purchase, and last week one of the women confirmed it as she rang me up, saying, “We're supposed to charge full price but I'm no' doing that, you're here nearly every day!” It's not an enormous difference in price but the gesture means a lot to me.
There's a cleaning lady who offers to make me a cuppa any time she sees me in the waiting room on the renal ward if it's taking a little longer for Sem to be taken off of dialysis. She keeps busy around me while having a chat and she, too, seems to have a genuine interest in our move to the north. I now know a little about people's families as well, as we chat about what we do when we're not at the hospital, or who they think I might know because one relative or another lives in my village. Just today one of the ladies offered to run out to the shop and pick a few things up for us because the weather was so bad. “I'm finished here before your husband will be finished dialysis,” she said. “It's no bother.” I declined with thanks, but the offer really touched me. People are kind.
In a life that is currently somewhat ruled by the impersonal bureaucracy of the Highland Council (we rent from them, so are at their mercy in terms of getting a similar tenancy up north, should one become available), it's nice to have people cheering us on and even taking an active interest in us. The woman who had offered to pop over to the shop for us approached me with a slip of paper last week. “One of the other girls just gave me this address,” she said. “Her neighbor is moving at the end of the month, and it's a Council-owned house. We wanted you to know about it before it becomes general knowledge; maybe it will help.” I thanked her sincerely – how nice are these folks?! - and she said, “We're all rooting for you back there in the kitchen, you know!”
I have noticed that quite often it's us “little people” who hang together in times of trial. While we have met some nice doctors over the years, the people who go out of their way to do others a good turn are almost invariably the nurses and the kitchen and cleaning staff. Perhaps that's because they understand the struggles we face from a less-lofty height than those on the other side of the doctor's desk or examination table. Like everything else of course there are 'good' and 'bad' people in every type of work, but as a generalization it seems to have held true over many hours spent at various hospitals, here. We've gotten promises from politicians about this situation, but any real attempts at help have come from folks like ourselves.
I learned that a couple of well-meaning ANC readers apparently took an interest in our situation as well when I received messages last month from a home-hemodialysis company representative, who hunted me down on Facebook. He was prompted by some readers to get in touch with me regarding home hemo after they read my article about our difficult commute to dialysis. While I appreciated his enthusiasm, I had to have a somewhat awkward discussion with him, explaining repeatedly that it is not a good option for us at present, in spite of his persistence. Home hemo is truly not an option for every patient, which many of us (patients and carers) find ourselves having to explain all too often to the “home hemo brigade”. If the readers had asked me personally I would have been happy to tell them this myself, along with letting them know that we are well aware of the existence of home hemodialysis, but as they remain anonymous I do at least want to thank them for their attempt to help, even though it was – unbeknownst to them – a bit misguided. The intention was good, and I do appreciate it.
As we make our way through life in a world that can sometimes seem more hectic and less human than it used to be, sometimes it's just nice to be seen and acknowledged. A friendly wave, a brief moment of conversation, a “put your money away” flick of the hand when the coffee machine is broken and a cup of instant is offered in its place... these are tiny things, in the grand scheme, but they add up to a feeling of connection and warmth. It serves as an example to me, that's for sure. Like most of us I can get wrapped up in my own life to the exclusion of all others, caught up in the storm of my worries and cares. It's easy to forget about the rest of humanity and blunder along without thought to those around me, but having been shown so much kindness I want to emulate the actions of those who have been kind to us. I know, first-hand, that it takes so little to have a good impact on someone else. Anything from a sincere note of thanks sent to someone who normally gets very little appreciation, to simply explaining how the complicated coffee machine works can brighten someone's day or ease their path just a little.
If these last months have shown me anything, it's that small kindnesses can make a big difference. A genial word, a little help, a friendly smile... To make a connection, however brief, is perhaps all it takes to let a fellow human being know that they aren't all alone in this big and sometimes impersonal world. We all have a story, and sometimes even the most self-sufficient of us could use a bit of help. Kindness, I have decided, starts right here, with me.