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Kindness is still everything

Gillian Bouras |  04 September 2017


The old grey mare she ain't what she used to be: so the song says. Well, I'm definitely grey, but thought I was trotting along satisfactorily on the sands of time until about a month ago, when I was calmly crossing a Kalamata street.

Kalamata ambulanceI remember stepping on to the pavement, and then nothing more until a passerby was helping me up and dabbing rather ineffectually at my face and shirtfront: there was blood everywhere, and I very soon began to look as if I'd gone a couple of losing rounds with Muhammad Ali.

The passerby was extremely kind and considerate, as was the woman who emerged from the posh dress shop near the scene of this little drama. She carried a stool, a bottle of water and reams of paper towel. Overriding my feeble murmurings about my nearby doctor, she insisted on ringing for an ambulance, which appeared in record time.

And the ambulance men were also very kind and considerate, settling me tenderly before whizzing me off to hospital. I'd never been in an ambulance before, and was struck by the alteration of perspective. Although I was travelling a familiar route, I was viewing my surroundings from a new angle, as visibility is quite limited from inside such a vehicle. And was the journey a metaphor for the incident? So I wondered later.

I was admitted briefly to a general ward, where the little paper icons slotted above the banked lighting gazed benignly on me.

But it wasn't too long, after various tests had been run with no decisive results, before I found myself in the ICU, hooked up to various drips and monitors, and in receipt of new knowledge: the word idiopathic seems to mean the same thing in two languages, and is doctor-speak for: We don't really know what's going on here. Eventually it was decided I'd had a heart attack, even though I don't tick the usual boxes.

I've lived in this neck of the olive groves so long that I'm almost part of the scenery, and sure enough, there were family connections in the shape of one doctor and two nurses. But people continued to be very caring, whoever they were, and also provided entertainment in that unconsciously zany way that is also part of Greek scenery.

I wished my vascular surgeon cousin, who works in Melbourne, could have been a fly on the wall to see the senior cardiologist walking towards me while eating one of the rusks that are a favourite food here: he scattered crumbs with reckless abandon while barking instructions to a bevy of his juniors who, in that time-honoured Greek way, were all talking at once. Then there was the doctor who seized a moment to practise his dance steps with one of the nurses: I didn't know people still favoured the fox-trot. Another doctor, clearly interested in his food, discussed the merits and demerits of a certain restaurant while applying post-test weights to my middle.


"An interesting thing about this episode was my lack of fear. Had I become fatalistic in my old age? Was I resigned to my particular fate, whatever it might be?"


Food: it's always a big thing in hospitals. A Piraeus medical centre chef is getting quite a reputation for his ability to create gourmet meals on a budget, but he has no counterpart in Kalamata. How many times can one eat vermicelli soup? I asked myself after the fifth round. And I've never liked it, anyway. In the fullness of time a boiled chicken leg appeared, and that was about the extent of the menu, at least as far as I was concerned. But, thankful as I was to be eating at all, it was not for me to complain.

An interesting thing about this episode was my lack of fear. Had I become fatalistic in my old age? Was I resigned to my particular fate, whatever it might be? I still don't know. What I do know is that I suddenly remembered Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Laureate and writer in Yiddish; he it was who asked what he called the eternal questions about suffering and death, innocence and evil. He also expressed a thought that is true, simple and memorable: Kindness, I have discovered, is everything in life.

I have been unable to track down the passerby, but soon after my discharge I visited the lady in the posh dress shop. And thanked her for her καλοσυνη, her kindness.



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.



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Submitted comments

You are very courageous, Gillian. But I knew that already from your writing. In Alice Munro's short story "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" there is a lady in a posh dress shop who helps Johanna, the protagonist of the story. I hope you like this excerpt: "Along one wall was a rack of evening dresses, all fit for belles of the ball with their net and taffeta, their dreamy colors."

Pam 05 September 2017

Good luck Gillian for a full recovery. Go well.

Brian and Jane 06 September 2017

Well, I and I suspect many ES readers, as well as your family and friends, am immensely glad your number was not up that day, Gillian. Good you could see the comic in your 'hospitalisation situation'. It is amazing what kindness 'ordinary' people are capable of. All credit to them.

Edward Fido 06 September 2017

Having been aware, though short of finer detail until now, I have felt concern for you Gillian. I am pleased that you are 'sitting up and taking nourishment' as they say. Yes, kindness is so important to us, particularly when we find ourselves in a helpless or worrying situation.

John Whitehead 06 September 2017

Get well soon Gillian. You are my favourite author on Eureka Street so I hope you are well enough to keep on writing.

Christopher Lancucki 06 September 2017

I agree, Pope Francis and Dalai Lama use the word compassion.

maria fatarella 06 September 2017

Prayers for a full recovery Gillian! Had a very similar experience myself a few months back with a probable ministroke and the lack of fear and sheer joy in my surroundings stays with me .I had not realised I liked people quite that much! Food was indeed a bit grim though.If only hospitals could cook vegetables...!

Margaret Ker 06 September 2017

And more kindness here. Thank you all very much for your thoughts, and for the specific references to evening dresses and hospital vegetables! Gillian

Gillian 06 September 2017

I was on a plane, once, bouncing (quite strongly) around the edges of a typhoon, heading towards SKorea. The 'plane dropped - over and over - leaving my stomach somewhere up there each time. I sat distractedly watching the movie. Thinking concurrently - well if this be the end - I regret nothing - perhaps echoes of Edith Piaf in there somewhere. It wasn't, but it prepared me - since which a couple of medical scares (all solved) have convinced me it is a case of what will be, will be. Of the kindness of strangers I have no doubt. Currently travels. One chap at the airport in Sydney just in from Vanuatu had had laptop, camera, etc stolen there - 26, now en route back to the Netherlands after travelling a year in south-east Asia and Oceania - worked at the back of Roma in a road station. Another chap heading to visit family with his tiny daughter in Senegal - his origin there - then Sydney - now working Perth. Arriving at our Rome hotel - lift too small I walked up 110 steps - my bag grabbed by a young chap just going the same way!

Jim KABLE 06 September 2017

It's amazing how in moments of crisis like this one, Gillian, your fear recedes and everything around you takes on surreal proportions as if you yourself are the fly on the wall. A wonderful if not sobering story. Thanks.

NameElisabeth 06 September 2017

"Kindness in another's trouble, courage in your own" : what a difference a kind word or deed can make in time of need!

Jena Woodhouse 06 September 2017

"Health above all" as we say. This is a heartwarming piece which proves that good souls are everywhere.

Stathis T 07 September 2017

Thank you for your wonderful writing over the years. The latest piece is up to standard and I could picture the hospital. Keep calm and enjoy every day.

Kath Holtzapffel 07 September 2017

Kindness is indeed everything, but what a way to get the proof! The hospital experience sounds interesting. I'm sure the hygiene standards are stricter in surgical wards.I think one does become fatalistic: in similar circumstances I attributed my calmness to my realisation that I was temporarily deprived of all agency and it was comforting. At least such fatalism, if that's what it is, keeps one's hear rate steady, which must be good. Get well soon!

Juliet 07 September 2017

We have often remarked that empathy has a different meaning in Greek. Maybe you don't need to stand in another's shoes to be kind but I am immensely pleased that you found kind people when you needed them.

Maggie 11 September 2017

i hope Gilian has improved. My husband and I knew her years ago in Melton in Australia when she spoke at Mowbray College.

susan Patterson 11 September 2017

Thank you, Susan: I'm fine. I remember you, Alan, and Mowbray College very well: a delightful interlude.

Gillian 12 September 2017

Love this article Gillian! It's the humanness v. sterility that touched your stay in a Greek as opposed to many other hospital experiences. I'll bet you would have joined the dancer if you could! That would have cheered an entire ward. Endorfuns I call them, they work the miracles! Get well soonest xxxx

Nigelle (Zoé) 15 September 2017

Such a shock, Gillian - perhaps for others more than your good stoic self! Mostly we are bombarded by the evils of the world; such is the nature of 'news'. Yet you remind us here of the much more powerful human trait; our capacity for unassailable kindness. Our capacity for love of complete strange. Just a coupe of days ago in Australia a young father of three entered a fearsome ocean to rescue a stranger's four children caught in a rip. All the kiddies were saved - thank God - but this brave man sadly did not survive. He would have known the risk when he entered the water, but this was eclipsed by his compassion for his fellow man. Please stay well and stay with us for decades to come. Your former English student (fri the 1970's), Fiona

Fiona Douglas 15 September 2017

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