On September 11, 2001, I was nearly a year into a two year hospital stay for a myriad of medical problems. My first heart transplant was done almost a year before, my kidneys were completely useless, my liver was very scarred with damage, and I had lost so much weight that my body starting to feed on itself.
I had a perpetual electrical tingling in the nerves of my feet, so when a nurse would greet me every morning with a quick grab of the foot and a hearty,”Good morning, Mr. Kozma,” it was instant agony. Like a sudden lightning strike directly on my feet. They’d apologize forgetting my issues with nerve pain and informed me that morning I had to go for a series of MRIs. It was before 6am MDT when I was off to a myriad of tests.
Through innumerable rumbles of the MRI machine, being transported from one testing room to another, I heard whisperings of a plane crash in New York City. Being in Edmonton, Canada, New York wasn’t just a world away for me by simple geography, but being largely isolated in cardiovascular ICU, the road outside was an equally foreign land. After the morning faded to near noon, I was back in my hospital room, a tiny 8″ hospital TV screen telling me the extent of the horrors of the events in New York. It seemed unreal, but the extent of suffering shared through almost every television network became draining for me.
I tried to empathize with the suffering outside, in this foreign world, but when a doctor was at my bedside almost every hour throughout the day, every day, the horrors of others diminished in my consciousness.
“Mr. Kozma, we need to do another scan to see if your damaged liver is developing cancer.”
“Mr. Kozma, we need to tap the excess fluid again from your abdomen or you’ll get sepsis and die.”
“Mr. Kozma………test………only option or you die…….”
On and on the tests came, I focused so heavily on the next test, the moment in time, that the outside world became less and less relevent.
The one doctor who periodically drained the excess fluid from my abdomen happened to be from Saudi Arabia, so over the coming days, he became more despondent. A once cheerful man, who loved his job in Canada, was becoming more and more guarded as people looked at him differently. He quietly admitted to me, as he drained another several litres of fluid from me, that he was getting quiet, discriminatory looks because he was Saudi. I cheerfully said to him,”You make me feel better every time I see you. You’re great to me!”
He sheepishly smiled and thanked me for my kindness. He continued to dutifully do his weekly task with me. The visits became less frequent as my liver slowly healed over the months ahead, but to this day, I still have the utmost gratitude to the wonderful Saudi doctor on and around the events of September 11th.
A single day of terror does not erase the single acts of kindness and care on a daily basis by regular people. The hero for me on that day and many other days thereafter was a single doctor, but heroes show themselves in quiet moments in time. We just need to keep our eyes open to see them, however brief they may be.