A fist bump.
Defined by Merriam Webster as “a gesture in which two people bump their fists together (as in greeting or celebration).”
Fitting the definition of a “small act of kindness” perfectly, a fist bump, offered by my nephrologist, gave me my return ticket to humanity.
A little background is in order. Back in 2006, I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and, as a nurse, I understood the implications of this all too well. Ironically, I’d worked as a dialysis nurse for several years and assumed, as most nurses do, that I was intimately familiar with the physical and emotional trauma that patients with ESRD experience. After all, I mixed the dialysate bath, connected the water lines, injected the heparin into the tubes, and inserted the needles; I knew how it felt to be a dialysis patient!
Unfortunately, I found that life is much different when you’re on the other side of the needle. I no longer had the luxury of deciding to take a day off and not go to the clinic or to schedule a much needed vacation. I now was on a schedule, a rude and uncaring taskmaster that demanded my presence at the appointed time and place for a prescribed 3.5 hours, three times a week.
On one side of the needle, I was an important member of the health care team, one whose skills were sought after and valued. On the other side of the needle, however, I was demoted to the status of patient, who, regardless of what the bright and cheery posters in the waiting room claimed, was the low man on the health care totem pole. All I had to look forward to now was being the recipient of glassy, frozen smiles and semi-intelligent questions asked in high-pitched, sing-song voices, “Are you taking your binders with every meal, Mr. Matthews?”
This particular treatment day started as they usually did, with chirpy aides buzzing around, putting patients on dialysis machines, and cooing gently to lessen the sting of #15 needles sliding into vascular access sites. Nurses, holding clipboards full of paper, waited their turn to ply their trade.
Doctors…ah! There he was, our resident Kidney the Kid, making what I would learn were his Friday morning rounds. I watched him closely, looking for some clue as to what I could expect from him. He was wearing jeans and a polo shirt: inconclusive, since nobody in here was expecting crisply starched scrubs. In fact, he could have walked in naked, and no one would have noticed. Well, almost no one—the lady in the corner was hastily putting on lipstick and eye liner. Dang! I hope she doesn’t poke herself in the eye, I thought.
“Miz Crawford, how do you feel?” he asked her.
“Ohhhh, Doctor,” she breathed throatily, “I’m so…overloaded I just don’t know what to do!”
I almost giggled; I hadn’t seen a Mae West movie in years. “Uh-huh,” he answered, looking at the nurse, who rolled her eyes. She was young; I made a mental note to tell her to keep practicing—she was getting really good at it.
“Well, Miz Crawford, let me adjust this machine to make sure it pulls all of your excess fluid, okay?”
“Well, not too much, Doctor,” she pouted. “It took me a long time to get this fine!” She smoothed her hands over her hips; that took about 45 seconds or so. Miz Crawford had a lot of, er, fluid.
“Huh?” Doc looked momentarily confused, then the nurse tugged at his sleeve. “Come on, Doctor, new patient to see.” He followed her like an obedient, well-trained greyhound.
“Well, well, what do we have…here?” Miz Crawford was still smoothing her hips; we both watched as she completed the operation. A cough made us turn our heads; the nurse eyed both of us sharply. “Your new patient, Doctor,” she said, as she pointed to me. We looked at her, then at each other, a bit guiltily, I suppose.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Matthews,” he said, and offered his fist.
In that moment, we were no longer doctor and patient; we were just two men observing a woman bent on seduction. At that moment, all of the racial, cultural, educational, and professional barriers dropped away, and we made the briefest of contacts.
This simple greeting, celebration of manhood, and small act of kindness made, and continues to make, a profound difference in my life.
About the Author
Keith Matthews was diagnosed with ESRD in June 2005 and is currently a hemodialysis patient. Keith is an LPN and worked as an Acute Dialysis Nurse for 3 years (BMA). He is pastor of Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church and founder of Ambassador Ministries Inc., both of Crowley, LA. Keith is also the author of two books: The Word of the Lord Came To Me—Now What? and He Wrestled With An Angel. He resides in Crowley, LA, with his wife, Annie, and his two children, Charles and Kedra.
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