Kindness matters (and so does Daniel Tiger)

It is amazing how much kindness matters. It is amazing how much expertise matters. It is entirely amazing when they coincide.

Last Saturday night, my son-in-law had to take my 3-year-old grandson to the emergency room.

Judah had been off for days. His belly hurt, he said; he grew increasingly pale, listless, and withdrawn. He even refused to eat. None of this was like him.

My daughter took him to the doctor. It was a stomach bug, the doctor said.

But the babysitter, who happens also to be an LPN on her way to board certification as an RN, knew better. “Take him to the emergency room,” she said.

So they did.

(She will be a spectacular nurse. The pediatric unit that gets Dionna will be very lucky.)

It was appendicitis. His tiny little appendix was not only infected but had ruptured — it happens within a day with kids that young, the surgeon said.

Medicine is amazing. The surgery was done that night. It was laparoscopic; instead of the monumental, war-memento scars that kids used to get, he has three tiny incisions, one invisible in his navel. They took his appendix out through his bellybutton! They also took the pus and gook (I love technical terms!) along with it, through that same small cut. I know that’s not so astounding, compared to the for-real astonishments of modern medicine, but to someone who knows nothing, it is jaw-dropping.

What’s even more sobering is to realize that Judah will be fine, but if he’d been born a century or so ago, he’d have died within days. I’ve been thinking about Jane Austen novels; a character who gets a cold stays in a house just a few miles away for days, because the headache might have signaled an infection, to move her might have put her in even more danger, and she easily could have died. Of a cold.

I’ve also been thinking about Madeleine, the small heroine of Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic 1939 children’s book. Like Judah, Madeleine, the fearless unstoppable little girl who was the smallest in her Parisian boarding school, also had a ruptured appendix. It was because she read Madeleine, we think, that Judah’s sister, Nava, was not scared. If Madeleine was okay, Judah would be too.

We are so very lucky.

Now, the kindness.

Judah is at Saint Barnabas in Livingston, New Jersey, close to where he lives. The staff — doctors, nurses, technicians, transporters, food handlers, and everyone else — is uniformly warm and responsive. They watch, and they listen, and clearly they care. It makes a huge difference.

There was one incident that I still am replaying in my mind.

It was late-ish on Saturday night, probably about 9 or so. We were in the pediatric unit, waiting for surgery, and Judah was finding solace in watching Daniel Tiger videos. (Daniel is the cartoon son of Mr. Rogers’ Daniel Striped Tiger, who is a puppet, but magic is possible in Mr. Rogers’ world. His videos are sweet, calm, and useful.) He was holding onto his father’s iPad with main force, not blinking, just staring at Daniel Tiger.

So the anesthesiologist, a short, trim, gray-haired, sweet-faced kippah-wearing man, asked us what Judah most likes watching. “Daniel Tiger,” we all said immediately and in unison. “My grandchildren love him too,” the doctor said. And then he pulled out his phone, pulled up a Daniel Tiger video, asked Judah to exchange one device for another, and then gently rolled him off to surgery. We said goodbye, of course, but Judah was transfixed. (Hint to parents: the less you let your kids watch, the more potent the screen can be when you really need it.)

That was pure kindness. It also was smart. It worked. We are all eternally grateful.

Judah will be fine. His parents and family will be fine. And I am left with such gratitude — for kindness, for competence, for caring. For decency and goodness. For love.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)