A few years ago I lived in a trendy downtown condo on a busy street in Portland, Maine. I loved the location because I could take the elevator down to the first floor lobby filled with retail shops and then walk to just about anything nearby. There were always lots of people walking both ways along the sidewalk with a plentiful assortment of “in-town characters.” Some could be regularly observed at predictable times of the day while others were more random. One predictable character wore large headphones and whistled constantly, apparently to whatever music he seemed to be listening to, without acnowledging anyone along his path. His constant whistling, however, created an annoyance in the community; and, consequently, some sort of new law was passed that banned whistling in public areas. Another notable character who made more random appearances was a long-haired guy riding a bicycle, no-handed, while playing an electric guitar which was plugged into an amplifier that was strapped on his back. The amateur sound that came from the “spectacle on wheels” echoed between the tall buildings and definitely caught everyone’s attention.
There is one other character that had caught my attention, though. Unlike the many of the others, he passed along the in-town sidewalk and went unnoticed by anyone but me. It’s the man in the red hat. No whistling…..no electric guitar playing. No sound at all, actually. If he did make any noise, I wouldn’t have been able to hear him, with all the constant noises from in-town Congress Street…..busses, cars, occasional fire truck sirens, footsteps along the sidewalks and pieces of conversations from people passing by. It’s not even the red hat that caught my attention. I think being a nurse is what made me notice something about him that was louder and even more noticeable than the others, without thinking there was anything disgusting about it. His nose was dripping. One, long, mucousy, runny drip, as he stood still in the sidewalk while everyone else, including me, rushed past him. I didn’t really think about it until I got back home with my delicious takeout pizza that I had been rushing home to eat. There are many people in the sidewalks and some of them freely ask passers-by for money, but the man in the red hat wasn’t asking for anything, even though his silent, dripping, runny nose announced loudly that he did.
I’ve wanted to write about this experience ever since then; and since the holiday season is upon us, I thought this was the perfect time. My point is that we all need to give each other some extra consideration and empathy. Some people are comfortable in clearly sharing that they need this, while others are not. How often do we check in with co-workers to see if they need help? We are of course “flat out” ourselves usually, but even a few minutes of teamwork can take a lot of stress off and probably save time for everyone. Got challenging patients and family members? Those challenging behaviors are often from fear and uncertainty about what will happen with the patient. A teaspoon of education goes a long way there, too. We all come from a set of perspectives that affect the way we behave, think and respond.
After I finished my pizza, and for the next several days, I thought about the man in the red hat. I looked for him every time I went out, but I never saw him again. It is now years later and I still worry about him. It’s the silently dripping nose that spoke so loudly that someone really needed help. So I just keep in mind to help people when I can, at the time, especially at work. I hope my message will carry into the bright, new year ahead of us and not just fizzle out after New Year’s Day. Just a little policy to go by: the more stressful a (work)place or situation is, the more we need to be considerate and supportive of each other, especially our fellow nurses! You may be the one sometime with the silent, dripping nose and wish someone had taken this suggestion.