Thursday 14 March 2019


A lot of what I read online about patient care and support for caregivers is negative. I read about compassion fatigue running rampant in hospitals. Or about physician burnout. I read about how, in our society today, there is no place for kindness or caring.  It is almost as if the care that occurs within the walls of our homes is our guilty secret.

Our son Nicholas has been in the hospital over the last couple of weeks and I can tell you, kindness is still alive. Here is what I witnessed:

In the ICU waiting room, there are greeters who man the communications with the nursing station. They guide grieving families to quiet rooms and make cups of tea for tired loved ones who may have come straight from the airport to be close to someone who is seriously ill. The volunteers are mostly older ladies. They smile and they all have something I will call the gift of compassionate conversation. They do not intrude, but if you make eye contact, they will come over, sit down and ask how you are. They are watching and waiting for opportunities to be kind.

Sometimes younger people volunteer in this role. I notice that on the whole, they do not seek out conversation, but they respond in a warm and personable way when asked a question. Perhaps they lack the social confidence that the older ladies have – perhaps they are shy about navigating the tricky waters of emotion (terrible worry and often grief), support, and privacy. After all, there are boxes of Kleenex on every side table. This is a place for tears and whispered conversation. The kind of human caring that these ladies give in the waiting room is what I will call natural caring. It is a rare talent – a skill honed over years of experiencing one’s own life challenges.

I witnessed extraordinary caring in physician care, too. When I heard the intensivist say, “I will treat your son as my own.” Or when the surgeon instinctively knew that a young man might need a jokey approach to release tension. He greeted Nick this way: “Hi cowboy! I’m your surgeon and I’ve done my homework!” Or the nurse who, days after her shift with Nick, came searching for me to ask, “How is he? I am so happy to know he’s better!”

Kindness is freely given in the world of intensive care. I wish we could bottle it for all places and all times. The natural care that I witnessed should be identified, celebrated, coached and nurtured. If you have experienced extraordinary kindness in the hospital or in your community, please share your stories. Let us reward those who have the rare gift of natural caring.


Kristine said...

Thank you for this post. It has helped restore some of my faith in humanity in hospitals. We've seen it all, the good, very bad and completely indifferent. However, I have noticed that it seems to be slowly changing for the better over the past 10 years of so, at least at CHEO.

The Caregivers' Living Room said...

Hi Kristine, we were 'lifers' at CHEO before our son Nick graduated to adult care. Over the years, we have encountered hospital staff who were extremely kind and others who acted annoyed with us that Nick was complex. The grandmothers in the ICU waiting room are from another generation - one in which volunteering, caring for family, embracing with quiet love the full spectrum of human emotion... all of these qualities combine in a peaceful way. There is acceptance of what is with these women. I really think we should strive to recognize these qualities and teach them to a new generation. They are our wise elders and it sure feels good to be in their company at times of crisis.

Unknown said...

Hi Donna, Thank you so much for this post. As a physical therapist assistant in skilled nursing and rehab for many years, I've realized that stressed out patients and family members often notice the negative. It's understandable. They're going through a very challenging time that's probably brand new and scary for them. I've been amazed and grateful when they offer thanks for their care and notice the love we really do have for them.