Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Cream Cheese and Kindness

Bagels & Cream Cheese


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

-Mark Twain


We heard the thrump-thrump of the rotors and saw the belly-bloated helicopter with its  precious cargo—a child with presumed epiglottitis and airway obstruction and his terrified mother—settle on the helipad. Just 30 minutes before, the mother and infant had been loaded into the helicopter by a black flight-suited, helmeted team, the “guides” for her and her child’s first helicopter flight. The  pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admitting team for the day rushed to the OR receiving area to meet the transport team which bypassed the PICU due to the urgency of securing this child’s airway.


As I descended in the elevator, all I could see in my imagination was a red, swollen epiglottis rapidly filling up a tiny larynx. In the OR area, the baby was sitting on his mother’s lap as she remained strapped to the transport stretcher. He was  leaning forward, tripod style, drooling, grey, stridorous, and barely awake. His mother, trembling and weeping as the steely-faced surgeon and anesthesiologist quickly explained what the procedure of examining his airway would entail, then rushed the child into the operating room. During the anesthetic induction, the child barely breathed, oxygen saturations falling but adequate for life. As the endoscope was placed, the diagnosis was obvious—acute epiglottis. An endotracheal tube was inserted with difficulty. The relief of all present was visibly palpable.


A while after the child had been transferred to the PICU, I walked by the patient’s room to check on how he and the mother were faring. From the door I saw the experienced nurse who had coordinated the transport talking with the mother, who was now relaxed and smiling. “Would you like some cream cheese on your bagel?”


This event occurred several years ago, and the anxious feelings I experienced that day have mostly faded. But not the impact of those words. Such an act of kindness encompassed by that simple question has long stayed with me and I’m sure with the mother as well.


This nurse didn’t have control over the critical events of that day, but she showed that reaching out to this stressed, exhausted parent made a positive difference. She was kind. Kindness towards the mother may not undo the worry and concern over her sick child on a ventilator, but it may lessen the power of those fears. These gestures help healthcare professionals, patients, and their families feel connected. The burdens of the recipient are lifted and shared and the giver of this gift feels fulfilled and uplifted as well. It reminded me of something Maya Angelou said,


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”