Kindness is still everything

Sep 8, 2017 by

Gillian Bouras –

The old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be: so the song says. Well, I’m definitely grey, but thought I was trotting along satisfactorily on the sands of time until about a month ago, when I was calmly crossing a Kalamata street.

Kalamata ambulance
I remember stepping on to the pavement, and then nothing more until a passerby was helping me up and dabbing rather ineffectually at my face and shirtfront: there was blood everywhere, and I very soon began to look as if I’d gone a couple of losing rounds with Muhammad Ali.

The passerby was extremely kind and considerate, as was the woman who emerged from the posh dress shop near the scene of this little drama. She carried a stool, a bottle of water and reams of paper towel. Overriding my feeble murmurings about my nearby doctor, she insisted on ringing for an ambulance, which appeared in record time.

And the ambulance men were also very kind and considerate, settling me tenderly before whizzing me off to hospital. I’d never been in an ambulance before, and was struck by the alteration of perspective. Although I was travelling a familiar route, I was viewing my surroundings from a new angle, as visibility is quite limited from inside such a vehicle. And was the journey a metaphor for the incident? So I wondered later.

I was admitted briefly to a general ward, where the little paper icons slotted above the banked lighting gazed benignly on me.

But it wasn’t too long, after various tests had been run with no decisive results, before I found myself in the ICU, hooked up to various drips and monitors, and in receipt of new knowledge: the word idiopathic seems to mean the same thing in two languages, and is doctor-speak for: We don’t really know what’s going on here. Eventually it was decided I’d had a heart attack, even though I don’t tick the usual boxes.

I’ve lived in this neck of the olive groves so long that I’m almost part of the scenery, and sure enough, there were family connections in the shape of one doctor and two nurses. But people continued to be very caring, whoever they were, and also provided entertainment in that unconsciously zany way that is also part of Greek scenery.

I wished my vascular surgeon cousin, who works in Melbourne, could have been a fly on the wall to see the senior cardiologist walking towards me while eating one of the rusks that are a favourite food here: he scattered crumbs with reckless abandon while barking instructions to a bevy of his juniors who, in that time-honoured Greek way, were all talking at once. Then there was the doctor who seized a moment to practise his dance steps with one of the nurses: I didn’t know people still favoured the fox-trot. Another doctor, clearly interested in his food, discussed the merits and demerits of a certain restaurant while applying post-test weights to my middle.

“An interesting thing about this episode was my lack of fear. Had I become fatalistic in my old age? Was I resigned to my particular fate, whatever it might be?”

Food: it’s always a big thing in hospitals. A Piraeus medical centre chef is getting quite a reputation for his ability to create gourmet meals on a budget, but he has no counterpart in Kalamata. How many times can one eat vermicelli soup? I asked myself after the fifth round. And I’ve never liked it, anyway. In the fullness of time a boiled chicken leg appeared, and that was about the extent of the menu, at least as far as I was concerned. But, thankful as I was to be eating at all, it was not for me to complain.

An interesting thing about this episode was my lack of fear. Had I become fatalistic in my old age? Was I resigned to my particular fate, whatever it might be? I still don’t know. What I do know is that I suddenly remembered Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Laureate and writer in Yiddish; he it was who asked what he called the eternal questions about suffering and death, innocence and evil. He also expressed a thought that is true, simple and memorable: Kindness, I have discovered, is everything in life.

I have been unable to track down the passerby, but soon after my discharge I visited the lady in the posh dress shop. And thanked her for her καλοσυνη, her kindness.

Source: Kindness is still everything – Eureka Street

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