The truth is we might not always know the effect we have on others. But still, we intertwine as human beings and we move along and we grow, we wake up and we go on about our day, and sometimes without notice, we come across an opportunity to do something so incredibly simple —like say, to shake someone’s hand or simply talk with them or listen, and then almost unbeknownst to anyone, a simple act of common courtesy was enough to help someone stand up when otherwise, they wouldn’t have the strength to stand on their own.
I spent a year working as a specialist for a program that visits patients at bedside after a heroin overdose. In many cases, the clients were not receptive to change their patterns. In some cases, however, the clients chose to create a new path for themselves.
The job here was to offer a branch of hope . . .
One night, I was deployed to a hospital where the client was mainly unconscious. I waited outside of the patient’s room and stood out in the hallway where unfortunately, the hallways in the emergency department were busy with other patients. I came across a man that lay desperate. He was under suicide watch and mainly homeless. There was no family at his bedside and no one around to lend him warmth or least of all, smile at him and give a friendly, “Hello.”
My client was hardly awake, and when the client did wake and chose to engage, at best it was safe to say that communication was difficult. Although the client did agree to enter a detox program, it was unclear if the client understood what was agreed upon.
Meanwhile, the man on suicide watch was out in the hallway. He was alone, humiliated and regretfully sad. Meanwhile, the traffic around him was busy. Nurses and doctors passed by. Everyone moved fast and rushed around. The hallways were busy with the families of patients that lay in beds inside rooms; however, the man on suicide watch was not in a room. No, he was in the hallways because the hospital was waiting for a room to open up.
To a man on suicide watch and to someone that tried to end his life, there was nothing around but the reminder of his recent events..
A simple word or two was all he needed. And, since all I could do is wait until my client’s bed and treatment plan was set, I entered into a conversation with the man in the hallway. I didn’t judge or act as if it was a favor. I just spoke plainly. I didn’t ask silly questions like the ones he answered several times already. I didn’t ask the “Why” questions or say things that while, although the intention is caring —however, to a man on suicide watch, certain questions and comments often seem degrading, and while unintentionally degrading, in times like this it is enough that someone say the simplest thing because in times like this, the simplest thing is usually the kindest thing.
I had to undergo a similar hospital visit back in the summer of 91 where a man came in a white coat, a stethoscope around his neck and clipboard in his hand. He spoke to me the way someone condescends to a person of lower intelligence. Everything about this man was an insult to me. And equally so, everything about this hospital visit was humiliating to me. I had survived an act that I did not plan to survive.
Broken and sad, I felt myself cloaked with a blanket of shame, which wore to heavy on me and made it difficult to breathe. I was embarrassed for my behavior. I was embarrassed about my life and ashamed of who I was and who I turned out to be. I did not expect this to be the outcome of my events. Instead, I had planned to slip gently away so that at last, the shame could end.
In my eyes, although the method would result in pain for others; as I saw it, the others in my life would eventually heal and be well enough to move on and go forward. In time, I would be forgotten. It isn’t that I wanted to die as much as I wanted the world to stop moving.
I wanted to rest, but there was no rest in sight. My thought machine would not and could not relax. Nothing I tried seemed to work. Nothing I did seemed to help change my mind. As I saw it, happiness was fleeting and momentary. Depression, however, was always lingering and always over my shoulder like a voice, which constantly whispered in my ear to say things like, “See? I told you so!”
I had to answer questions after question. Most of them were repetitive and all of them felt intrusive. And all felt humiliating. There was nothing I could do though. I had to take it and face the consequences that I failed in my attempt. I explain this because the word failed was a perfect description of how I felt. I believed I was a failure. I believed in the melancholic lies and the ever-present whispers of my depression, which wore upon me and left me feeling weak and tired.
At a time when all I heard was, “But you’re so young,” and “You have so much to live for,” I could tell the people that spoke to me, although fully trained on matters such as this —not one of them had the sense of warmth to speak with me like I was a human being.
None of the conversations I ad with anyone in the hospital felt real or genuine. In my thoughts, I believed they spoke to me because they had to —and not because they wanted to. I believed I was nothing more than an inconvenience. And because of this, I did not regret my attempt to kill myself. Instead, I only regretted the fact that my attempt was done halfheartedly in the sense that I wished for a second chance because this time, I knew I would be able to do it right.
It was not the doctor that made me reconsider my ideas of dying. I was not the nurse that came in to check my vitals and look at the marks left behind from a poorly constructed noose around my throat.
However, there was another nurse on duty. She didn’t ask me questions. She didn’t seem like it was too much for her to talk with me. And I say it this way, “To talk with me,” because others in the hospital would only come in to talk to me or at me so to speak.
To me, this was the warmest thing during a cold time. In the worst of it all, the questions I was asked and the conversations I had to interact with were nowhere near helpful. Instead, the most helpful remedy was a genuine smile that came to me without judgement. Therefore, when it was my turn to return this kindness, I did my best to pay forward the kindness that was once shown to me.
When interacting with the man I met in the emergency room, I spoke plainly. I was genuine. I listened and explained a little about myself when the opportunity presented itself. Eventually, the man on suicide watch was taken off to wherever the hospital planned to take him. I finished with my client and returned home.
The next day, I received a call from one of the doctors in the mental health facility to ask me about my interaction with her patient that night in the emergency room. As a result, this man chose to willingly submit himself into treatment. My client, however, unfortunately, went back to the same routine.
Months passed and the names of clients sort of blended with one another. The success factor is a low number when it comes to addiction. Even after near death experiences and trips to the emergency room, addiction is still addiction, and the grip it has is strong enough to kill someone regardless to the fact of a second chance at life.
One morning, I walked into a classroom at the shelter where I coach one of my empowerment classes, and there he was, the man I met in hallways several months before. He completed treatment. He found shelter and then he successfully found housing while living a clean and sober life.
This is a result of his work. This is a result of a decision that was made on his part. It all goes back to what I mentioned in my opening paragraph. The truth is we might not always know the effect we have on others. But still, we intertwine as human beings and we move along and we grow, we wake up and we go on about our day, and sometimes without notice, we come across an opportunity to do something so incredibly simple —like say, “Hello,” when the rest of the world is too busy to even say, “Hi.”
Simply being nice can be the most life-saving thing.
Trust me on this one