A few weeks after Parker was born,we moved to Utah and discovered that he had a serious defect that would require an invasive neurosurgical repair. Primary Children’s Hospital was where I found myself, waiting for the news that I didn’t want to hear. Cradling my newborn son in a waiting room, I pretended not to hear the other parents talk to one another about the illnesses and defects that beset their children. It seemed odd to me at the time, considering the very serious diagnoses and obviously heavy burdens, that they were so calm and seemingly connected with one another.
My son’s surgery was traumatic but was completed without any complication. Within a few days, his condition had improved and he was clearly on the mend. Unable to sleep as I lay on the cot beside Parker's crib, I watched as the night nurse tended to the infant who occupied the opposite side of the room. This tiny baby had been in the room since before we had arrived and, although I had been aware of him, I had been so preoccupied with my own situation that I never really noticed him until then.
It was while watching the nurse that I witnessed how the power of kindness. After completing the medical tasks, she returned to the infant’s bedside. With love in her eyes, she quietly spoke to him as she placed her hand on his tiny body and stroked him with her thumb. As I watched this tender expression of love, my heart melted. And it was in that moment, in the dim, soft light of our sterile hospital room that my perspective began to change.
I spent several hours seriously contemplating what I had witnessed. Had the nurse really cared as much as it appeared she did? If so, why did she care that much? It wasn’t in her job description. And yet, she freely shared a piece of herself with this tiny human being who was desperately in need of both medical care and human connection. Her simple gesture had incredible power.
As I replayed the events of those past few days, I realized that my little family had also been the recipients of many expressions of kindness and love. Only now, in the early morning hours did I start understand the impact those unsolicited acts of service had on our family’s experience. During our stay, with the help of friends and family, we rotated in shifts so that my son was never alone. Now keenly aware of the little one sharing our space, I couldn’t recall him having visitors. My heart ached as I wondered where his family was and why he was alone.
Early the next morning, I carefully approached and peered into his bed. His little body was deformed, twisted, and rigid. He was wearing only a diaper, tiny socks and his eyes covered with a blindfold. I watched as the spaces between his ribs pulled tight with each rapid, shallow breath. It was heartbreaking. Instinctively, I reached out to touch him. Just as I had witnessed the nurse do the night before, I gently placed my hand on his back and stroked him with my thumb. His breathing slowed. His stiff body softened and seemed to relax immediately. It occurred to me that it didn’t matter why he was alone. What mattered was in that moment I was able to offer what I could: a few minutes of my time, a tender touch, and the genuine desire to comfort this suffering child.
The morning that we left the hospital I felt relief and gratitude coupled with the painful realization that there were some who would be leaving broken hearted and recognized that my experience was limited to one room, on one floor, of one hospital. Indeed, the magnitude of suffering can be overwhelming.
It was within the walls of Primary Children’s Hospital that I first learned that small acts of kindness have tremendous power. This experience led to a profound paradigm shift that granted me a new perspective. Though I may not have the ability to change the world, I did possess the power to positively affect the lives of others, limited only by my ability to recognize a need and my willingness to act.