It was one of those mornings. I woke up late; threw on scrubs, threw my hair in a bun and halled ass out the door. I was running late on my way to the NICU and didn't have time to make a proper breakfast. Rounding on NICU patients takes forever, and there was no way I was gonna make it through the morning if I didn't eat something. Luckily for me, in NYC there is always a coffee cart on each block with your order ready. And if you are a frequent shopper, they remember you, remember your order, and have it waiting for you so you can do a drive by and just scoop it on your way to work. And even if you didn't frequent the coffee cart, they were super efficient any way and would have your order in 5 minutes flat. I belonged to the second group, and take pride on making my own breakfast every morning and not needing to stop at the food cart every morning.
On this particular morning though, it was either spend that extra money or pass out on rounds. So I made a pit stop at my local coffee cart. As I walked up to the cart there was an elderly middle eastern male standing behind the trunk smoking a cigarette that he quickly tucked away as he saw me approaching.
At first I wasn't going to say anything as I ordered my blueberry muffin. But it dawned on me, that he was someone's father, or brother , or even grandfather, and he was taking years of his life smoking that cigarette. So I felt inclined that morning to tell him he should quit.
"Smoking is bad for you. You should try to quit." I blatantly said to him. He knew I was a doctor because I was on my way to work and he could see my ID badge and scrubs.
"I know doctor, you are right. But it's so hard!" He replied with an Arabic accent as thick as his mustache.
I encouraged him to do exercise instead or find other creative ways to relieve stress and he explained how he tried to walk but he has back pain and it hurts when he walks and he is on pain meds. I told him to try and cut down on smoking and to take small steps. He thanked me profusely for caring and even threw in an extra muffin in my bag.
Fast forward about a month later, and now I'm on my floor month. I haven't stopped at the truck in a while because as I mentioned previously, I cook breakfast most days. Once again I roll up to the truck and he tucks away his cigarette almost as a reflex, like he does it ever time he has a customer. And then he looks at me and he says,
"Good morning doctor! You are the one who told me to stop smoking."
I smile and I am impressed that he remember me especially since I changed my hair so often. I inquired about how his smoking cessation was going and encouraged him to keep trying and that I would check up on him the next time I saw him. He handed me my muffin and waved good bye.
Moral of the story is, you never know how your words or actions can affect others. You may think what you do doesn't matter, but it does. You may be the person who encouraged someone to stop smoking, or smiled at someone who was contemplating suicide, or held the door for someone who was having a bad day.
In the era of social media we have become comfortable not connecting with other humans, and that is to our own detriment.
We have to use our power, our light, our gifts to empower others. Even if it is small talk over a coffee and a muffin.
Now go out there and hug someone!!!