May 1, 2017
I have a confession. One of my biggest fears is being stuck in an airplane bathroom. Not being able to move the bar over to ‘Vacant’ and get out of that little box causes me to panic no end. So when I was in Madrid a few weeks ago at a museum and couldn’t get out of the bathroom stall, I had a mini-panic attack. Sweating, I recalled the word “Ayuda,” which I was sadly reminded of just outside the museum, as it was spoken to me by a homeless man on a side street near to the museum door. So, in short, anxious breaths, I yelled, “Ayuda” a few times, growing louder with each one, and the cleaner came over and opened the door. She was smiling sweetly, as were two kind women looking at me from the sinks, compassion on their faces. I expressed my gratitude as best I could, and got out fast. It was embarrassing! 50 years old and afraid of locks on bathroom stalls seemed silly.
A few days later I was eating dinner with three new colleagues in Barcelona. We had convened to have a meal after meeting at a cocktail party at the conference we were all attending. We didn’t know each other’s full names and we were working in different parts of Europe and the US. The colleagues were delightful company for the evening. It was to be a fun night out with new buddies. And then…
The youngest of our companions came back from the bathroom midway through the meal and announced she had a peanut allergy. She was growing red around the neck. She couldn’t breathe well. She must have eaten something with peanut oil or a nut in it mistakenly, and she told us she needed to go to the hospital NOW.
We responded. The waitress, and restaurant manager, and all the staff at the hotel were remarkable. So was the colleague who spoke Spanish and helped our new friend get admitted speedily (the hospital was a block away, thank god). It was a long night in which we all learned about Spanish emergency rooms, but my colleague is fine.
The next night, bonded for life, the young colleague spoke of having this allergy her whole life and her comment to us was that with this allergy she had learned the lesson of speaking up. That people die from being too embarrassed to ask for help. They go to the bathroom and go into shock alone so as not to be in the midst of others, embarrassed, while having their attack and able to ask for help. She said, “I have learned to ask for help when I need it.” Brava, Girlfriend.
We won’t die of embarrassment if we speak up. Ask for help. Your life – metaphorically, figuratively, and literally – could depend on it.
If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
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