I once worked in a very stressful place. It was an emergency hospital, always about 3 staff members short of a full crew and 25 people piled in the lobby waiting for treatment. It was a large staff of doctors, about 10 at the time, and as how things tend to happen in nutso environments the staff would get nutso a little bit as well. Stress does that to people.
You never sat still at that hospital; it was run run run, a dog bleeding out in room 1, a dyspneic cat gasping in room 2, five clients wanting updates on the phone. We didn’t catch up on things there so much as run as fast as you can so as not to fall further behind. The whole place had a surreal Through the Looking Glass feel to it, now that I think about it.
In the midst of this chaos, one or two of the more enlightened veterinarians managed to float above it all. Dr. Naidus was one of them. Needles would be flying and people screaming and papers falling to the floor, and he would be solemnly nibbling on some healthy snack or another, surveying the scene with an amused glance before going back to whatever it was he was doing.
The interns and newer veterinarians such as myself were drawn to him like an acolyte to a guru, trying to figure out the secret of his zen-ness. He’d laugh and tell us when we were old we’d be too tired to get worked up over the small stuff too. (He was right.)
Clients loved him as much as we did. Every Christmas, when I considered myself lucky to get a hand soap from the rare client who could remember my name, baskets would start showing up in the treatment area with his name on it. Baskets and baskets and baskets. He always shared.
Dr. Naidus got more gifts than the rest of us put together, including the owner and the boarded surgeon, and when we tried to figure out the secret of people loving him as much as they did it was simple: he gave them what they wanted. Treatment, or palliation if they didn’t want to pursue heroic measures. We were in an economically depressed area and people spent a lot of time confronted with estimates they couldn’t realistically afford.
He was always kind and understanding and worked with them based on what they could do. It wasn’t, as he kept reassuring us, rocket science. Be kind. Laugh, for goodness sake, it’s not that bad.
He took the same approach with the terrified interns, who were performing under a great deal of pressure without a lot of knowledge under their belts. We’d come up to him, all of us including him up to our eyeballs in paperwork, for advice or a ‘can you take a peek’ or ‘HELP!’ and he always did, with nary an eyeroll or a sigh or a ‘in a few minutes.’ In a place where people routinely lost their sanity trying to stay afloat, I never saw the guy lose his cool, like, ever. He surrounded himself with a bubble of laughter impervious to the anxiety around him. It rubbed off.
I worked with him only briefly, but have heard news of him through my friends who remained and considered him a dear friend. I knew he had been battling illness for a while, and had dealt with it with his characteristic humor. He did well for a very long time and went on to charm many more clients in the years since we sat side by side in that chaotic treatment area, watching the world swirl by.
In Through the Looking Glass, Alice happens upon the Red King, napping beneath a tree.
“He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he’s dreaming about?”
Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.”
“Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”
“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.
“Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You’d be nowhere.”
Dr. Naidus was very much this type of quiet force in many lives. I am sure he was greeted today by many pets he has helped over his long career, as they welcome him home. Perhaps he and Kevin are sharing a brew; it’s been a long journey. Life, what is it but a dream?
Rest well, my friend. Thank you for being you.