I was sat in the waiting room of a hospital in Randwick. I was feeling nervous about the procedure I was about to have. The corridor where I was waiting stretched for miles, and at the other end I could see a woman slowly making her way towards me. She came and sat down next to me and I instinctively did what so many of us do these days - I reached for my phone and avoided eye contact as if my life depended on it. After a few minutes had passed she asked where the receptionist was, and that seemed to break the seal - we started talking, and after a few minutes more, I put away my phone and asked her name.
Jana has lesions on her spine, acute migraines, blurred vision and tingling in her hands and feet. She said she spent most of last year in bed. She was at the hospital that day to have a lumbar puncture. It sounded painful. She seemed calm and quite cheerful about the whole thing, even joking with the nurse who was taking her blood pressure. As she had been so open with me about her background, I started telling her a little about my medical history and why I was having the test. As I was talking, she put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eye and said "you can't have children, can you?". I was surprised that she could guess this - I hadn't mentioned anything about it. "No" I said. "But you never wanted them in the first place" she said. Not a question, a statement. "No" I said. "And your partner doesn't want them either." Again, no question mark. She knew. "No."
"So why," she said, looking at me more intently still "are you still feeling guilty? Why are you letting other people mould you into something you don't want to become?" At this point I had to laugh. "Jana, are you a fucking....guru or something?". I couldn't get over how she was able to read my situation so clearly. She continued: "you feel guilty a lot of the time. You think deeply, but you also worry a lot. What you need to remember is this: you are enough. You don't need to try and be anything else. Why can't you accept that?" Before I could answer, the nurse called me into the next room.
I thought a lot about my conversation with Jana, even after I left the hospital. It seemed significant. I don't believe in psychics or mind-readers or anything like that. But I do think that there are people, like Jana, who are more attuned to human nature, and can see and feel things more clearly than others, and have the wisdom to get to the heart of things straight away; no bullshit, no concern whether something is 'polite' to say or not. Just say what is true.
The kindness of Jana, her willingness to open up to me straight away, and her wanting to help me, got me thinking about all of the other people who have helped me over the past few months. My doctor, Kerry, who is compassionate, so smart and so determined to get to the bottom of my health issues. My counsellor, Mary, who listens with empathy and good humour, even though she's probably heard problems like mine a billion times before. The countless nurses, doctors and hospital staff who have put me at ease when they have seen that I'm nervous about a procedure and have gone out of their way to make it as painless as possible. I'm lucky to have experienced not just the kindness of my nearest and dearest, but so many good-hearted people that don't know me from Adam.
If there's anything I learnt from this experience, its this: Be open, help people, and look them in the eye. Set 'kindness' as your default position. Most importantly, put away your phone and talk to the person sat next to you in the waiting room. They might teach you something about yourself.