On Halloween, my husband and I received news no parents want to hear. Our daughter who lives in the Pacific Northwest, the medical researcher, had suffered a stroke the evening before. Only 30 years old, our slender daughter stays physically active, eats healthily, has low blood pressure and cholesterol, earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and regularly practices yoga. In other words, she was the least likely person I know to have a stroke, or so I thought. Fortunately, she responded quickly to her symptoms, going straight to the hospital emergency room even though she tried to convince herself she was overreacting (“This can’t be a stroke. I’m only 30!”). My husband and I flew to Washington that very afternoon, as did our other daughter, the medical resident who currently lives in New England. She was able to stay a week, and my husband and I were there almost a month until our older daughter was released from the hospital and we could bring her home to further recuperate.
An acquaintance whose taste in reading leans toward dark, grim, anti-hero tales once told me the books I write are filled with people who are “just too nice.” She wasn’t sure that was entirely realistic, since her world-view is more pessimistic than mine. Unlike my cynical friend, I’ve always chosen to believe that most people are basically good and well-intentioned. After the past month, I am even more firmly convinced.
Diane, the agent at American Airlines who made the initial arrangements for our flight out, gave us compassion fare on a flight leaving only a few hours after I called. Of course, I was upset and rattled when I made that call and she was very patient with me while I scrambled through papers and cards and tried to answer her questions coherently. She sincerely wished our daughter a quick and complete recovery. Two later agents changed return dates for us when the hospitalization was extended longer than we expected, handling all the details and also wishing us well. Our daughter’s coworker and her husband picked us up at the airport at almost midnight and delivered us to the hospital, even though both had to work the next day. Another coworker had dropped everything at our daughter’s call to take her to the hospital that Saturday afternoon of October 30. Her boss and all her other associates visited often, encouraged us to call if we needed anything, and brought food and gifts and silly cards to make our daughter smile. Her pastor, yoga instructor and members of her church came by with encouragement, sent cards and soup, and delivered a pretty, cheery lap quilt made by a church quilting group. The children in her church drew pictures for her, which meant so much to her when we hung them in her room. My husband and I received several invitations for Thanksgiving dinners, even though we were strangers to the people warmly inviting us to join their family festivities.
The staff at the University of Washington Medical Center — from doctors to nurses to technicians to therapists to clerical staff — were all so amazingly kind, professional and caring. We were confident from the start that our daughter was receiving excellent care by people who wanted the best for her. Volunteers brought sweet-natured dogs to visit the hospital wards, delighting our animal-loving daughter who enjoyed petting the friendly border collie and golden retriever she met in consecutive visits.
Friends from home called frequently, volunteered to take care of things at our house, picked up our mail and newspapers, and asked about my husband’s elderly mother, who he usually visits and cares for daily. On-line friends I’ve never met in real life sent notes of encouragement and much-appreciated prayers. My agent and editors called and sent notes offering any assistance I needed. Extended family members made sure our college-senior son had a nice Thanksgiving, even though he was separated from the rest of his immediate family for the first time on that holiday. My husband, daughter and I had a quiet Thanksgiving meal in her apartment, giving her a chance to rest and prepare for the long trip the next day and all of us the opportunity to express our gratitude that she will recover from this medical crisis.
The return flight home on the Friday after Thanksgiving, two days after our daughter was released from the hospital, was somewhat grueling, especially for her, but we’ll never forget the kindness of the flight attendants who helped us with pre-boarding, with stowing the bags, wheelchair and walker we brought home with us, with arranging an escort to help us change planes (and terminals) during a too-brief layover in Dallas. Our daughter will continue her therapy here until she is able to return to the active and productive life she was leading prior to the stroke, hopefully soon! Already we’ve encountered many acts of kindness here from family, friends and medical providers.
So, to my cynical friend, I’ll say that the characters in my books aren’t perfect. They have flaws and vulnerabilities. I include a few “bad guys,” just as there are bad people in real life. But most of my characters are basically good, well-intentioned individuals — just like so many of the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet in my real life. I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all.