The very fine book review by Jan Frankel Schau, posted here on Mecdiate.com inspired me to share the following. I wrote these reflections on my Italian hospital experience on May 6, 2006 – the day after arriving home. The subject of these reflections: An Attitude of Gratitude.
I do not believe it is exaggerating to say that I am presently enjoying a state of intense gratitude and joyful bliss (in spite of feeling tired and still a little weak). God has been incredibly kind to me – as manifested through the prayers and kindness that I received in so many ways during my hospitalization and since returning home. Joan and I arrived home yesterday – mid afternoon, after our four week trip to Italy. Originally, we were due back on April 28, but on April 24 – the evening of our arrival in Venice – I suffered severe internal abdominal bleeding and was hospitalized for two weeks. I feel very fortunate that I received excellent care – once I got the doctor’s full attention quite early the morning of April 27.
Once I became strong enough to sit up, I enjoyed reading Beyond Reason -Using Emotions as You Negotiate, by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro. It is an easy but most illuminating read. Surprisingly, a lot of it applied to my hospital experience. They discuss five core concerns: Appreciation, Affiliation, Autonomy, Status, and Role. While their main focus is in applying their insights to negotiation, we are in an almost constant state of negotiation with ourselves or someone else – whether we realize it or not.
While in the hospital, I enjoyed practicing my newly acquired, most limited, halting, but most useful bit of the language and made friends with several wonderful room mates. When I entered my room in the surgical ward, I greeted the two room mates with Mi chiamo Charlie. When they responded with their names, I followed with Piacere (It’s a pleasure to meet you.) That broke the ice. The 71 year old man in the bed next to mine remembered my name and introduced me to Roberto when he became our third roommate.
I was on an IV and was hoping to avoid having to have a blood transfusion. When my hemoglobin dropped from 14 to 8.6, the nurse entered with two units of blood. Even though the doctor had ensured me that their blood supply was thoroughly screened and quite safe, I was still quite terrified and began to sob silently but uncontrollably. The roommate who remembered my name came over and gently placed a hand on each side of my face and spoke earnestly and kindly in Italiano. He seemed to be invoking Theresa. I asked if he was speaking of faith, of religion – entirely in Inglese. I said that I am not Catholic, I am Protestant, Methodist – but .. and made the sign of the Cross. He smiled and said, “Ok.” I became resigned to the situation and at peace. He then came close again and asked, “Ok?” I replied, “Ok!” We both smiled and held up the Ok sign. The next day as he was being discharged, I asked a nurse, who spoke enough English that they understood my request, to convey my deep appreciation. I regret that I did not remember his name.
His bed was then taken by “Eddie.” One of Eddie’s two daughters spoke to me in very good English. The day after we met, she asked if she could get me anything from the hospital commissary. I asked for a bottle of water since the hospital did not provide drinking water. She brought a tall bottle of the popular brand of mineral water and refused payment. She said that she had been so well treated a few years back when in Seattle that she just wanted to repay the kindness in any way she could.
Before Roberto was transferred to a different wing, he gave me a CD of gondolier music as a souvenir.
Another remarkable thing happened the evening before and the morning of my discharge. My newest roommate, Silvano, arrived. As he entered the room, looking a bit unsure that he wanted to be in a room with three strangers, I used my icebreaker Italiano. He responded warmly and began speaking perfect English. We became instant friends. He offered the use of his cell phone to call Joan so I didn’t have to bother the nursing staff and tie up their phone. I wanted to take the water ambulance to the hotel at the other side of town, but had no cash. (We made the mistake of spending too many of our Euros early during the trip and were stuck with two Master cards but no way to get cash. In southern Italy, the bank was willing to accept the card for cash withdrawal without a PIN, but not in Venice.) When Silvano learned of my needs, he opened his wallet and pulled out 150 Euro. He gave me his home address and said I can send him a cashier’s check when it’s convenient! After we got settled back at the hotel and had had dinner, he called to check on how I was doing. Such care from an almost total stranger!
Before leaving, I praised the medical staff in front of their director and wrote a thank you note to the ward medical staff – thanking them for their excellent care (squisito) and their many kindnesses. They posted it on the bulletin board for all shifts to see. The doctor who removed the insert tube from my neck thanked me for it. As I walked the hall saying, “Parto oggi! Pronto.” – “I’m leaving today! I am ready.” the nurses gave me the warmest smiles. I also wrote thank you notes to my three room mates. In two cases, we exchanged mailing addresses.
I am thankful and proud of how well Joan held up under the strain of not knowing the outcome, nor when we would be able to return, yet was available for my needs. She continued to enjoy as much of Venice as she could while walking to and from visiting me. (We are so glad we paid for travel insurance since all of our expenses were covered from April 28 through May 5 – including Joan’s hotel bill and meals and my medical expenses!)
When we got home, we had voice mail from a couple in Florida, a ninety-one year old couple in California, and an e-mail from a couple in Alaska – all friends we met on the tour. Also voice and e-mail from some in our church. I am so deeply touched.
A post script: I recently received the anxiety removing news that my proactive HIV test came back negative!!! All the more reason for feeling so blest. I am so thankful for the Italian donors of those four units of blood. (My hospital roommates joked that I might begin singing like a gondolier!)
The Wisdom of the Book
And now, I would like to elaborate on ways my application of the wisdom of this book helped transform this near disaster into cause for celebration. Upon reflection, I realize that I applied several of the core concerns instinctively as my survival mechanism kicked in. I was first assigned to a ward that was mostly populated by patients who were near death. There was miscommunication between the surgical staff and the overworked ward nursing staff. My diet was not corrected, and nothing was being done to stop the internal bleeding. I was walking the floor at about 3:00 A.M. in desperation when I finally found a compassionate female doctor who spoke enough English that I was able to convince her of my urgent needs, and who was willing to assert herself on my behalf. She intervened even though I was not in her ward and I was transferred to a high quality wing.
That’s when appreciation kicked in, and I made sure my rescuing doctor understood how grateful I was.. While the hospital had been treating me as having virtually no status, by acting out my role to survive and asserting myself, I was able to elevate my status quite remarkably.
The bonding that occurred in my new room provided much needed affiliation. My roommate Silvano compared our situation with that experienced by military comrades during combat.
Even in this greatly improved ward, I found it necessary to assert myself and assumed a new role. Each suite of two rooms and eight patients shared one bath and toilet facility. It was constantly running of toilet paper, so I took on the role of making sure there was always a spare roll.
As to autonomy, I was glad that I had taken an eye mask and ear plugs that allowed me to sleep at will, even when the room was full of family visiting my three roommates.
I am so very grateful to the authors of this fine book. As I read it and applied its teaching, I became more and more positive in my attitude, grateful for the fine (squisito) care I finally received, and for the lessons I continue to apply from this experience. As I expressed my appreciation to the doctors and nursing staff, I in turn received appreciation.
Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to share this with each of you.
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