A recipe for the ultimate elixir

When you hear the word ‘elixir’, you might think of the common definition meaning something used in medication as a flavoring.  You might think of movies depicting the travelling salesperson selling a magic potion out of the back of a wagon.  Or, if you are a Lucille Ball fan, you might remember ‘Vitameatavegimen’, an episode that was ranked as the #4 of TV Guide’s Top 100 episodes of all time.  But I’d like to suggest an alternative formulation.  One that does not require you to spend any money or risk any unhealthy side effects.  The ingredients?  Gratitude and kindness.

I wrote about the benefits of being proactive and shared my story of getting a heart valve replacement.  During the entire ten-month process, I had the opportunity to meet, get to know, and receive care from a diverse group of people, all parts of the UNC Rex Healthcare system.  Early in the process, I was so impressed with the consistent level of compassion and care I received from every single person, that I felt compelled to write a thank you letter to Ernie Bovio, the President of UNC Rex Healthcare.

I received a personalized letter back from him, prior to my surgery, thanking me for sharing my experience.  I’m guessing letters like mine are the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to routine feedback. 

Prior to my operation, I wanted a unique way to express my gratitude to those who helped and supported me on this journey, including some of our customers at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  I reached out to Jim and Patricia Bell, who owned and operated Under the Oaks Pottery and used to make custom dishes we sold as gifts with our cookies.  I asked them to create small clay hearts to hand out as a token of gratitude.  Patricia added her creative talents by imprinting each one with a unique profile of a small plant.  They were beautiful and since I would not be distributing them until after my surgery, gave me something to think about, a bridge to the other side.

After my operation, Debbie and I were coming out of the doctor’s office at Rex Heart and Vascular Center.  Walking down the sidewalk, I looked up and recognized Ernie Bovio.  ‘Ernie!’ I exclaimed.  ‘I’m Chris Duke, I sent you a letter’.  Looking a bit startled and probably expecting to be accosted by an unhappy customer, he stopped, and I explained.  He had a slight memory of the letter and we chatted for a few minutes.  I thanked him again and let him know what an unbelievably great experience I had at his hospital. 

After that chance encounter, I sent him a thank you card, along with a couple of the hearts.  A few days later I was back at the hospital for some reason, and once again, I ran into Ernie on the sidewalk – imagine that.  I said hello, his face lit up when he recognized me (I do wear a mask everywhere) and he asked if I could step aside for a minute and chat.

In his hands, he had my original letter, my thank you card, and a book I recommended that he read, Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with the Why’.  He explained that he had just left a meeting with his staff where he shared my letter, the book, and gave them the hearts.  It choked me up and I let him know that sharing this story made my year.

The weeks went on and after being cleared to return to normal activities, I started my Cardiac Rehab Therapy, again at Rex.  Shortly after that, I received a custom-made card in the mail.  The cover of the card had a photo of my cardiologist and several of the staff in the Catheterization Center.  They were holding one of the clay hearts in their hand, and there was a picture of it framed.  The letter was from Sandra Page, Director of Invasive Heart and Vascular Services, and she explained how Ernie had shared my story and the hearts with them.  They wanted the staff to see it, so she had one framed, and it now hangs on the wall for all to see, along with a selection of the kind words I shared in my letter. 

Once again, my eyes swelled with tears reading the card.  I arranged a visit to see the heart after one of my rehab sessions and chatted with Sandra.  During my visit, I met Jessica, a Cardiovascular Specialist, who was the Technologist on the team that took care of me that day.  She was smiling and I could tell this small gesture meant a lot to her, knowing that someone took the time to express gratitude.

We bake, pack and ship cookies and brownies at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies almost every weekday (and on Saturdays during the Holiday Season).  Every package we send out has a card and, in many cases, it contains a message of gratitude for something.  Sometimes it is a gift to offer kindness for someone going through a challenging time.  We never take for granted the fact that the people who order gifts from us to be sent to someone are, in effect, giving them more than a box of cookies.  They are sending the elixir of ‘gratitude and kindness’. 

One of the best things about this elixir is that the recipe is totally up to you.  You might mix equal parts of gratitude with kindness, or you may have more of one than the other.  The more you mix and distribute, the easier it is to get just the right combination.

There is no way I will ever be able to express my full gratitude to the host of people who cared for me at UNC Rex Healthcare.  From the transportation staff that wheeled me around the hospital, to the meal delivery personnel, to the nurses, doctors, and assistants, to the skilled surgeon who literally held my life in his hands.  But I will continue to think about and share the elixir of gratitude and kindness whenever I can.  It might be for someone I meet on a sidewalk, like Ernie, and it will certainly be in every gift we send out from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.  And unlike our ‘Secret Recipes’ for cookies and brownies, this is one I’m happy to share.

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