From My WindowIssue Date: February 8, 2017
A Lesson In Diversity
By Jane Thibodeau Martin
This week, I drove from Tulsa to Houston, Texas, to visit a gravely ill friend and ex-coworker who was at the M.D. Anderson Cancer hospital there. M.D. Anderson was rated the top cancer treatment center in the United States by U.S. News and World Reports, so I had heard a lot about it before my visit. That didn't change the fact that I was blown away while I was there, and struck by the juxtaposition of what I was seeing in front of me and the topical news of the time.
The enormous facility is located in the sprawling Texas Medical Park, where there are other major health care institutions besides M.D. Anderson. It took me a couple of days to learn to navigate myself around confidently both outside and inside the massive facility.
Of course, only the very luckiest of patients are able to seek treatment there " those with good insurance from their employer, like my friend; or those from foreign countries who can afford private pay. The fact that the patients and their families are blessed to be at the excellent facility doesn't change the fact that it is often a place of stress, sorrow and grief. As I walked around, I saw stunned families, people sitting on chairs weeping, and some lying on the floor, covered with a jacket, stealing a few moments of sleep.
What soon touched my heart, though, was the continual demonstration of kindness, compassion and empathy being given and received by everyone there. I was the recipient of some of these gestures, and in this atmosphere, soon began to look for chances to pay those forward to others. People allowed others in line ahead of them at the coffee shop; shared a box of cookies; passed around reading material or asked, and then listened, to the status of a stranger's daughter's treatment. People shared outlets for charging phones, helped each other find their way around; and offered information on close-by restaurants or hotels.
I have witnessed this before in places like the hospital in Marshfield or here at St. Francis in Tulsa, where my husband has been treated several times. But what was so amazing about M.D. Anderson was the multi-cultural participants " some of whom could not speak one another's languages, but made do with smiles, hand gestures and other non-verbal communication tools. Sitting in the lobby one day I could hear a translator explaining a procedure to an Arabic family; Spanish, German, an Asian dialect, and other languages I couldn't even guess at. So many skin colors, but of no matter. People were just treating one another like the hurting people they were.
And the staff at M.D. Anderson is a rainbow of nations, faiths and languages as well. The staff, from doctors to nurses to building maintenance, were uniformly professional and helpful to my friend and to me. Because the facility is known for research and innovation, it attracts the best and brightest from around the globe. The environment allows them to grow their skill set, teach and learn, and the patients and their families are the beneficiaries.
When the goal is healing the sick, we are able to overcome our prejudices, our hate and our suspicions and see the basic humanity that underlies our differences.
One of the biggest buildings on the campus is the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan building " the Sheik gave a $50 million donation to M.D. Anderson for clinical research trials. No matter that the facility is in the United States " the war on cancer knows none of our artificial borders.
As I walked the facility I saw retreat rooms for those of every faith " Muslim, Christian, Jewish. In times of stress those of faith seek comfort and strength in their religion " and this is another characteristic many of us share.
It was hard to reconcile this demonstration of our shared humanity as protests continued at the airport in Houston over the Executive Order Muslim Country travel ban. Houston welcomes more arriving refugees than any other city in the United States. It is the diversity of Houston as a city that makes it the vital, remarkable place it is.
My friend was moved from intensive care back into a regular transplant room while I was there. I was in the room when they told her she was well enough to leave ICU after 8 days, and it was hard to stop the tears. She is being helped to recover her health by the diversity of people who care for her in a place that is color and faith blind.
In Houston during my visit, the best of the United States, and the worst of us, was on display.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
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