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My Gathering of Kindness

By Sue Robins

One summer day five years ago I boarded a plane to Australia from Canada. The entire trip took 33 hours – with bad weather, delays, missed connections and four flights. I finally arrived at the Melbourne airport, bleary-eyed and having lost a day off my life. Dr. Catherine Crock was standing there waiting for me to take me to her home.

Catherine Crock is a mom, pediatrician, founder of the Australian Institute for Patient and Family Centred Care, the HUSH Foundation and the Gathering of Kindness. She is a force and a rabble rouser – a whirlwind of energy, ideas and action.

I sat on the long flight to Australia, wide awake, crammed in a middle seat in economy class and quaking with fear. I had never been so far from home. I was going to present about Meaningful Patient Engagement at a Consumers Reforming Health Conference, which was hosted by the Health Issues Centre in Melbourne. It took every ounce of my bravery to get on that plane.

Here is a story about what kindness looks like in real life. I was covering my own costs to Australia, as I was talking only in a break-out session and was not a plenary speaker. When my abstract was accepted six months previously, my husband and I decided to cough up the thousands of dollars in airfare because the chance to speak in Australia was the opportunity of a lifetime. (Note: If you don’t pay patient speakers, it is only us privileged speakers who are able attend).

Cath knew I was funding myself. She offered that I stay with her and her family at their house in Melbourne to help with my costs. I politely said in my Canadian way: oh no, that’s too much! But Cath countered in her welcoming Australian way and insisted. This made me a bit nervous too. I’d never been billeted with anybody before.

In the end, staying with Cath and her big family was the best part of my whole Australia experience. I spent loads of time with her, soaking up her Cath-ness and travelling back and forth with her by public transit to the conference. I met her five children and experienced the love in her full lively house. I slept in the guest room at the back of her home where there was a kangaroo living outside my patio door. Her family welcomed me, fed me and cared for me like I was one of their own.

The night before my presentation, I rehearsed in front of Cath and her husband Rod in their living room. I was taking another risk and using what I call the Dick Hardt style of presenting. I had 133 slides for 15 minutes of speaking. (Yes, I flew to Australia to speak for 15 minutes). Cath and Rod generously helped me polish my speaking notes.

Despite my jitters, my talk was well-received. I was a foreigner with a weird accent and a strange way of presenting and this helped me stand out. (Afterwards, I wrote an article called Meaningful Engagement or Tokenism about my talk for Australia’s Health Issues Journal).

Cath and I have kept in touch ever since. I was supposed to visit her in Australia with my own family this past March. She had kindly offered up her cottage for us to stay at. But then I got the damn cancer, so we had to cancel our trip, which was scheduled two weeks after my surgery. This was so disappointing.

I have vowed to bring my husband and son to Australia in the next two years. I want to attend the next Gathering of Kindness, which is an annual event organized by Cath and her colleagues. This year’s event is on October 30 and is for health care professionals, artists and innovators. The 2016 Gathering of Kindness is described as this:

The GOK 2016 invited 100 participants – actors, healthcare clinicians, artists, musicians and innovators to imagine that kindness, trust and respect were the fundamental components of the healthcare system, and that bullying was unacceptable. Collectively they proposed a better way forward.

I can’t be there this year because I’m still healing from the damn cancer. But this blog post is a very long preamble to say that I was pleased to support this important initiative by contributing an essay about kindness for the Gathering of Kindness blog. I called it All the Warm Blankets. Please read it and also check out the rest of the Gathering of Kindness site. If you are someone who works in health care this will remind you that all your kindness matters, every single time.

Dr. Catherine Crock’s generous heart and fingerprints are all over my essay. She works hard to bring compassion into health care settings, through her own actions and by leading initiatives like HUSH Foundation (which introduces healing music into waiting and treatment rooms in hospital environments) and the Gathering of Kindness.

I’ll never forget how Cath welcomed and cared for poor, scared, jet-lagged me five years ago. We need more Dr. Catherine Crocks in this messed up, beautiful world. She’s one of the great healers who is handing out warm blankets to everyone, everywhere she goes. xo.

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