Kindness in the Healthcare Profession


A happier memory of a cycling—Matt in Greece

Monday August 5th started wonderfully. A day after being on hospital call, my husband, Matt was looking forward to enjoying the last day of the Civic Holiday long weekend. The weather couldn’t have been nicer. We had breakfast outside and then he and our daughter, Alyssa headed off on their bikes, excited to ride the dirt trails at a nearby conservation park.

Maybe 40 minutes later I get the call, the dreaded call. Alyssa’s voice full of panic—Dad fell off his bike, hit his head, he’s moaning, not moving, not talking, the ambulance is coming.

I rushed to them, all the while thinking, please let him be okay, please let him not be paralyzed.

My daughter called a few minutes later—Another cyclist, who unbelievably happened to be a firefighter, stopped to help. This kind stranger took over the 911 call from my distraught daughter, assessed Matt, and stayed with them while they waited for park patrol to find Matt and bring him to the parking lot. I will forever be grateful to this amazing and compassionate person.

After a gruelling 20 or 30 minutes, an ATV drove out of the shrub, pulling Matt along on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance.

The paramedics were great. They quickly assessed Matt and drove us to Milton District Hospital. He was seen quickly. X-rays and CT scans were performed, and his pain, which was excruciating, was tended to. Hospital staff  were professional, competent, and understood our stress and worry, and were willing to answer questions, in a kind manner.

The x-rays and scans showed he had multiple fractures in his back and one in his upper rib. It was decided to transfer him to the nearest trauma centre, Hamilton General Hospital.

The trauma team was waiting for him. He was again assessed and re-scanned and then taken to a spot in the emergency . . . this is when things took a turn for the worse.

I understand it was a busy day,  there were several traumas to deal with, but it is cruel to keep someone with so many broken bones in agony, without any pain relief. Hamilton General Hospital is a teaching hospital, so the residents are often the primary contact. Apparently, the residents (many of whom had only graduated from med school a month prior) were overwhelmed with the number of traumas and were backlogged in writing pain medication orders.

Matt suffered for hours on a backboard with no pain relief. But that wasn’t the worst of it. One particular nurse in the ER department, who I’ll call Shelly, made one of the scariest days of our lives, unbearable. She was condescending and rude when I asked for an update about his orders. Any request was too much, even a blanket to help with his chills.

Later that night, when he finally had some pain meds and we were told that his breaks, though substantial, were all stable and would eventually heal on their own, Matt wanted to try and walk to the bathroom. He called for Shelly, and eventually she came and said he could go to the bathroom, and that was it. She didn’t even escort him to make sure he didn’t fall. Instead she went back and sat at the nurse’s station.

Shelly’s treatment of Matt and our family was awful, but two other patients received even worse care—an elderly man suffering from some form of dementia, and a woman suffering from some form of mental illness. They were confused and scared and wanted to leave. Instead of speaking to them in a kind and professional manner, Shelly yelled at them, mocked them, even said the woman was ‘off her rocker’ to another nurse. She escalated their distress to the point security had to be called. It was a terrible thing to witness.

Perhaps Shelly was having a bad day,  maybe there was something going on for her personally, but she is a nurse in the emergency department of a trauma centre, where patients and families are possibly going through the worst day of their lives. I think it’s fair to expect a little compassion and kindness from healthcare professionals.

Fortunately, the shift changed, Shelly left, and a new crew of nurses arrived. They were great. They actually checked on Matt, asked him about his pain, provided pain relief in a timely manner, and generally treated him well. They were also great with the elderly man and woman. Instead of escalating these individuals’ distress, they diffused it.

Matt’s time at Hamilton General showed us how important it is for healthcare professionals to be kind and compassionate and what a difference it makes.

On the opposite side of the kindness spectrum was the outpouring of support and love we received from family and friends. Our children drove hours to come to the hospital, missed work to stay by our side, and also helped ensure our animals at home were taken care of. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than Matt getting well enough to leave the hospital.

And then there were all the offers from friends— to keep me company at the hospital, bring food, provide transportation, even grocery shopping! Matt’s colleagues also have gone above and beyond. They stepped in and have taken over seeing his patients in hospital, nursing home, and his office. This has been a great source of relief to Matt, knowing his patients will continue to be looked after until he is well enough to go back to work. And of course, so many people filled the universe with positive, healing thoughts for him.

Yes, we saw the bad side of one person in particular, during this difficult time, but we saw an abundance of good in so many more.

I have much to be grateful for. First,  Matt will heal completely and second, we are surrounded by so much goodness.

With much love and gratitude, I thank all of you who kept Matt in your hearts. Eventually, the memory of that awful nurse will fade, but I will forever hang on to the kindness shown by so many more.



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