As I’ve told you on previous pages, I volunteer at one of the local hospitals every Wednesday afternoon. Whenever I get a call to discharge a patient from the tenth floor, I rush to grab the most comfortable wheelchair and plaster on my perkiest smile, no matter what my mood of the day might be.
That’s because ten is oncology, the cancer-treatment floor, and I figure no matter what problems I’m facing, this patient is probably experiencing something worse.
For the most part, oncology patients are the best-natured folks in the hospital. Don’t know how they do it, but they manage to pull it off 98% of the time. That’s pretty inspiring for someone of my black-Irish nature, who sometimes grouses at even minor inconveniences.
Correction: I don’t grouse that much. Just occasionally, on really-bad-hair days.
In my condo, I have what is called an atrium. It’s a mini greenhouse in which plants and flowers grow—even for folks like me with zero green on their thumbs. I love this space and care for it religiously.
In my tending to oncology patients and my plants, something has occurred to me. Sweet fauna and sweet flora get better treatment than miscreants.
Case in point, fauna: Recently, I was called to do a discharge for a woman in Oncology. I wrestled the comfiest wheelchair away from another volunteer and took off. When I got to the room, the woman looked healthy enough but really gnarly. My greeting was met with a mini-snarl. She didn’t like the wheelchair—didn’t like the process of discharge—and, clearly, didn’t like me.
When I called the room in for cleaning, a standard procedure at discharge, she protested, though it took seconds. When a nurse entered the room, the patient apologized to her for having been difficult. Nice, I thought, but probably a bit late. As I wheeled her toward the elevator, she mumbled something under her breath.
I explained that my hearing is poor and that I couldn’t understand what she had said. I got a disgusted eye-roll. So, she kept mumbling and I kept pushing, hoping none of her murmurs were more than grumbles.
Case in point, flora: In my atrium, there was a plant which acted exactly the same as this woman. I watered it, fed it, talked to it, and tried to restore it to blooming health. It just sat there, sullen and browning, week after week, cluttering up the floor with dropped leaves. I really wanted to save this plant, but nothing I did resulted in any positive response
Finally, I had no choice but to replace it with a ten-dollar wandering Jew from a discount store. I felt really bad throwing out the withered brown plant and think it even shot me a dirty look before I put the lid down on the trash can.
However, my new plant loves me to pieces. All I do is water it once a week and it practically wraps itself in gratitude around my fingers. It grows like crazy and is now even showing me some beautiful purple leaves mixed in with the green.
Quite simply, this new plant appreciates me, clumsy, imperfect gardener that I am, because it knows I’m trying.
Back to the lady in the hospital: When I finally got her to the front door, a surly man pulled a car up to take her home. She looked up at me and said, “You must be a saint to put up with people like me.”
I laughed. “Trust me. I am anything but a saint. I’m just doing my job because the pay’s so good.” I think she missed the irony of the fact that I’m a volunteer.
As the two of them drove off, I mused how much more pleasant her stay in the hospital could have been, in spite of her illness, had she been just a bit sweeter, more appreciative, more giving.
My next discharge was also from the tenth floor. It was a former nurse in her seventies who told me she has stage-four ovarian cancer and has told her doctor to discontinue treatment. When I offered my sympathy, she laughed. “Oh honey, I’ve had a great life, and I’m ready to discover what the next adventure is all about.” She chattered all the way to the front of the hospital where she was met by a smiling woman, clearly happy to take her home.
She hugged me when I put her in the car, and her smile lit up my world.
I am not a Pollyanna by any stretch, but those observations of fauna and flora incidents have taught me the wisdom of appreciation. I mean really, from a purely selfish standpoint, you’re gonna get treated better if you’re nice to people. Just nice. Is that so hard?
That old song, Put on a Happy Face, might just be pretty profound music. Funny, isn’t it?
Jeanne Charters is a writer, wife, mother, grandmother, and happy faux-Southern-lady since moving to Western North Carolina nine years ago from New York. Her book funny, isn’t it? is a collection of her favorite columns, and makes a great gift of laughter for you or a friend. The book is available at Malapropos, Mountain Made Book Store in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com. Jeanne recently completed her second novel, and resides in Asheville with her husband, Matt Restivo. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org