Every patient has a birthday and every birthday is special. However, it has always been the unanticipated story behind the celebration of each birthday that has made this project so memorable and special. Imagine you are a Greek immigrant. English is a second language. You are waiting in the pre-op area at a large teaching hospital Ben Taub in Houston, Texas. For countless doctors and nurses that have seen you over the past month and this morning, this is just a "routine" procedure. But has anyone looked into your eyes and held your hand to simply whisper: "I'm here for you and you will be alright." Does anyone even realize that I'm having this done coincidentally on my birthday?! Now imagine, the look of surprise and the twinkle in the patient's eyes when the doctors, nurses, and other members of the cupcake-man-project suddenly arrive to the bedside with a birthday card, the helium balloon, and of course the obligatory cupcake to wish you a happy birthday.
Did I just see the heart rate drop on the bedside monitor by 10 beats per minute when we sang her "Happy Birthday"? Or was that my heart rate also dropping by 10 beats per minute as I gave her a birthday hug? Another perfect celebration and laughter generated to replace the happy tears as I comment tongue in cheek, "Don't worry, your insurance covers the hug." But wait, she does not want us to leave. She has a surprise for us. As part of the tradition in her family, fresh baklava has been made this morning as part of a good luck ritual prior to her surgery. Before we realize what is happening, the family is at the bedside and each one of us is actually holding a baklava in our hand. It is impossible to describe what I or the others felt at that brief moment in time. There was no distinction between doctors, nurses, students, or
patient. There was just a human connection of mutual trust, happiness, and unconditional love. It was a gentle reminder for me that empathy can be taught at the bedside and that healing does indeed begin with feeling. Promotions and accomplishments can be measured in many different ways. On this day, I learned that perhaps such achievements should be measured one baklava at a time:)