2007-03-14 / Front Page

Amy Rosen

Around Town

Being kind is not

a major operation

I've always secretly wanted to be a singer, but don't have the voice to follow through. I'm told I recently had my five minutes of fame when I got to sing in front of others, but just my luck, I remember none of it. I was under sedation.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my audience who endured the performance, but I can say they are the ones who should be applauded.

Their excellent care and dedication to perfection allows me to stand now without pain. I'm talking about the doctors and nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, who recently cared for me when I needed back surgery. They have dedicated their lives to helping people in need and that spirit is something that should be propagated.

I'll tell you about the singing a little later.

Surgery is something I've always feared, but the thought of being able to recapture a pain-free lifestyle propelled me into the operating room. One week after surgery, I know it was the right thing to do.

My overall experience was a positive one. During preadmission testing at the hospital the week before surgery, I was told to put on two gowns (one opening to the front and one opening to the back - a great way to avoid embarrassing drafts), put my clothes in a bag and have a seat in the "gowned waiting area." There I found other ladies dressed as I was with our gowns on and our bags on our laps. It struck me as funny and I commented about us all being dressed appropriately for the room. That broke the ice and we all started chatting. It was actually quite pleasant. Complimentary hot coffee and pastries were waiting for us after the testing, and I thought, "This is not so bad."

Two of the other ladies realized they had the same doctor and I asked what the doctor's specialty was. When they responded, "breast cancer," I was sorry I had asked. We all got kind of quiet and it began to sink in that this was a hospital and people were dealing with frightening realities in their lives. I completed my testing and we all wished each other the best of luck.

On surgery day everything went as scheduled. The outpatient department staff was great and even the orderlies were attentive to the comfort of the patients.

When they wheeled me to the pre-op waiting area, I was reminded of a parking lot in which I was "the back." I overheard them telling someone on the phone that they were awaiting "the heart" and then they would be "all full." I felt lucky to get a good space. Shortly thereafter, the operating room staff took over and readied me for the surgery - and what was to become my musical debut.

Much like a movie, I remember being wheeled into the operating room, seeing the lights and machines and hearing the music. The doctor greeted me with his arms outstretched, singing "My Girl." He said, "Sing with me," and I guess I did. I don't remember anything else, but he said I didn't miss a word before I fell asleep.

When I awoke and was told of my duet, I apologized for my bad singing, but no one seemed to mind. It was embarrassing to be known in recovery as the one who sang "My Girl," but hey, there are worse things I could have been remembered for.

My surgeon, Dr. Steven Reich, is not only the best vocal performer in the operating room, he's the most talented orthopedic surgeon and a passionate person who knows how to put his patients at ease while putting them back together. He truly cares about his patients and that's what it's all about. I am eternally grateful to him and his staff and if my singing gave them a good laugh, I'm glad to help make their day a little better in exchange for them making my life a lot better.

I tend to see the humorous aspect of situations, but having to go to a hospital can be quite sobering. You have to have faith in the people around you. You give up your clothes, all personal belongings, and have no contact with your loved ones. You are on your own and have to trust that those caring for you will remember that you are a person with a life and a family and not just "the back" or "the heart." They are dealing with people's lives and must remember that although it's their job, it's a major event in each patient's life. The kindest thing they can do is take care of us patiently and with empathy.

Everyone came through for me that day (and the heated towels were glorious). I am grateful to all who cared for me and helped change my life for the better. It might have been just another day at work for them, but it was a life-changing day for me. I hope reading this column helps validate their decision to dedicate their life to helping others.

When I got home, my family and many friends comforted me. Kindness in all aspects of our lives can never be a bad thing. One act of kindness can set off a ripple effect of good deeds that make the world a better place.

For instance, prior to surgery I limited my shopping time because I couldn't stand too long in one place. One day a cashier (and back surgery survivor) noticed I was in pain and insisted on helping me out with my packages. Her kind act impacted my life that day and I plan to follow suit with others. You never know what's going on in a person's life, and taking a moment to perform a simple act of kindness - even a smile or a "hello"- doesn't take much effort, but can make the difference in everyone's day and possibly their lives.

Hopefully our children will embrace our actions and use it in their lives. Despite the best efforts of schools, sometimes the desire for popularity brings out the worst in some kids at the expense of others. They may not realize how severely their actions can affect a fragile soul. Parents who teach children to be intolerant of unkindness and reward acts of compassion help all kids grow leaps and bounds in the right direction.

We may not all be surgeons, but we can all do our part to take some of the pain out of the world whenever we can with simple acts of kindness. It can't hurt.

Amy Rosen is a Greater Media Newspapers staff writer.

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