Editor's Notebook: Two empathetic examples

In an age of social media frenzy, one admirable quality that strikes me as lacking is empathy.

Fortunately, I attended two events Thursday that proved empathy is very much alive and well in 2019.

The first was the 29th annual “One from the Heart” breakfast, a benefit for the local nonprofit Pathways Home Health and Hospice. Pathways provides support for the terminally ill in their final days, as patients and their families come to grips with their mortality. Pathways is all about empathy.

The featured speaker, acclaimed crime novelist David Corbett, spent little time plugging his work, instead cutting to the heart of the turmoil that comes when a loved one is dying before our eyes.

He described the agony of the loss of his first wife, who died of cancer at a relatively young age. She was in intense pain, and the medical staff didn’t seem to have a solution. When Corbett begged a doctor to help, he declined, saying he wasn’t her doctor.

Just as an angry Corbett was about to do something he’d regret, a nurse took him aside and offered understanding. Her empathy stuck with him. “Sometimes it takes someone to just (say), ‘I understand,’” Corbett said. “And that’s what this organization is about.”

Later that afternoon, leaders with the El Camino Heathcare District hosted a donor acknowledgment ceremony and tours of the newly completed behavioral health facility on the El Camino Hospital campus. A handful of local families and medical leaders made it happen – a state-of-the-art, 56,000-square-foot facility that underlines the district’s commitment to treating mental health. (For details, see last week’s story in the Your Health section.)

This is all in the face of a collective indifference from the health insurance industry, so there is no guarantee of financial reimbursement – far from it. But leaders felt it was simply the right thing to do because of patient need.

Such tremendous effort doesn’t happen without empathy and understanding that behavioral health challenges are as valid as physiological ones. Patients can’t make them go away by simply willing it, as health insurers seem to believe.

The above examples are breaths of fresh air in the empathy vacuum of 2019. Good people are still doing good things.

Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.

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