by Jan Wheatcroft
I walked outside one hot morning just after returning from my trip to England. There on my front lawn was a collection of beer cans and wine bottles. I had returned early from traveling due to an unexpected medical problem and was tired from jet lag. The pile of glass was not a happy greeting.
As I walked down the steps to gather them up and throw them out, a family of four walked by. Both adults bent over to collect the trash and then asked me where they could find my garbage cans. Off they went with their children to dispose of the glass. I was surprised and touched by this spontaneous gesture of kindness from total strangers. It made me think of the role that kindness plays and how it can make a difference in both the simplest activities as well as difficult and unpleasant experiences.
I had carefully and excitedly prepared for my latest trip abroad. It had been two years since I traveled due to pain and subsequent surgery for a new hip, which upset a very enjoyable routine I had been looking forward to—going to London and Sweden visiting friends and doing the antique bead buying I traditionally do for my jewelry work.
I arrived in London and stayed with my dear friend, Frances, in her new place where she was so proud and happy to be. We visited our old haunts—eating at favorite restaurants and going to familiar shops and even a museum, as well as visiting old friends and filling one day full of memories and laughter of past years.
We then traveled down to the seaside town where Frances used to stay with her granddaughter and family and enjoyed a short time there. It was at this point that things began to change. I experienced some medical changes, which at first I did not worry about, but became worse. Finally, we cut our trip short and returned to London and Frances took to me to the A&E (the British ER) where I went through registration and questioning and then was transferred to another A&E for examination. I was finally transferred to a third one via ambulance for treatment. This last one was at a larger hospital and had the type of medical help I seemed to need.
My initial experience was of caring and kindness from most of the people I came into contact with, even in this stressful environment. (It was a Saturday night in the ER environment). It was early in the morning when I arrived at that third A&E and their shifts were changing. All the nursing staff and attending physicians were kind, even at the end of their shifts. A cubical was found for me and I even had a cup of tea. There were long waits between being checked up on and finally I was examined and treated and sent home by private taxi.
Life continued on as planned, although now I was more nervous and felt less free hearted. Eventually the condition returned just as I was planning the biggest and most fun day of the trip full of antique hunting and a special luncheon with old friends and more laughs.
Frances and her neighbor called the ambulance service and they took me back to the big hospital’s A&E while one of the attendants took all the information while we were driving, so all the paper work was completed upon arrival. Again I was admitted into a cubical and treated. And again I was so pleased with the kindness of all who checked up on me, brought me tea and sandwiches and monitored me. I was scared and nervous. Then a woman stopped in and asked for me. It turned out she was the head physician of the entire emergency unit and had seen my name on her computer as a patient just as she was personally writing me a letter regarding my blood work. (The letter was waiting for me when I returned home, personal and handwritten. Another surprise.)
Frances and I asked about charges, as I had not paid anything up to this point. She said I wouldn’t be charged, but that a box of chocolates for the nurses would certainly be appreciated. Frances dashed across the street and bought two large boxes of nice chocolates and we left them for the nurses to share and enjoy. Home again, a bit more shaky.
At this point I decided it would be better to return home to the US and find out what was causing this problem, so I went through the complicated process of changing my return ticket home due to medical problems and was charged a large amount to do so.
I then cancelled the Swedish flights for the second part of my longed-for trip. I cried when I called my friends to say that I couldn’t come and told them why.
I had to return one more time to the emergency room for one more treatment, where I met two of the nicest and kindest doctors who took a great deal of time and care in treating me and explaining what they were doing and why. One of these nice doctors even called me on my way to the airport to make sure I was fine.
I have never been so nicely treated during such a stressful situation, especially one where I was away from the familiar and out of my comfort zone. It made the difference between not being happy and feeling scared to feeling cared for in a very humane way. I can only thank these medical personnel and say how much they helped me get through an unpleasant and unexpected situation.
It was also my friend, Frances’s kindness, caring and concern that helped most. I could talk endlessly to her knowing that she understood and cared. This specific column is not about the pleasures of travel but about the realities and experiences that can interrupt the flow and pleasures of travel and how one can get through it. And, in getting through, it is possible to have kind experiences that help one see the world as it can and should be.