Donut Diplomacy

I once asked one of the nurses, Sharon, if they liked me only because of the donuts. Her response: “No. If you were stupid or a jerk, we’d eat your donuts but talk about you behind your back. We like the donuts, but we like you.” That’s one of the best, most honest compliments I’ve been given.

Sometimes, Sonia will make donuts. Why sprinkles? Because winners get sprinkles.

“And on the seventh day, God rested. And said, ‘Let there be coffee. And let the donuts be plentiful. Let there be glazed donuts, and cake donuts, and long johns, and buttercream and custard filled Bismarcks. But there nay should be jelly donuts, as those are disgusting.’ And so it was. And as God rested, God said, ‘This is pretty good. Keep ‘em coming. And may I please get another cup of Joe?’”

Genesis 2:2, in the original Hebrew, or at least how it SHOULD read.

It’s the little routines that make life worth living. Big things are fine and dandy, but the simple pleasures are where it’s at. My sister was visiting a week ago, and wanted to take the kids to get a donut. Specifically, she wanted to go to MacArthur’s (more on specifics in a minute). In St. Louis, MacArthur’s are known for their cakes, wedding cakes to be precise. (In the St. Louis bakery scene, MacArthur’s, Federhofer’s, Missouri Baking Company, and Duke’s are worth a visit). In my sister’s words, “That’s the best old school donut I’ve ever had.” They are worth it, and maybe the only part of my old life that my kids miss is that I don’t routinely bring home donuts on Saturdays anymore.

(Two rants. 1. The AAP can kiss my derrière. A donut every now & again is good for the soul. Maybe when they start to do more than write policy statements, I’ll listen about having my kids avoid donuts. #lovemycarbs #transfatscanbeyourfriend 2. Fancy, artisan donuts don’t interest me. Don’t over think things. It’s a donut, you eat it with milk or coffee. If you get a fancy-pants donut, it costs $4, you take picture of it like a damn foodie, and you instantaneously become 50% more self absorbed. True story. #leavemydonutalone.)

Why did my kids get donuts when I was on-call? Because on those Saturdays, I’d bring donuts to the nurses. Why Saturdays? Two reasons. The joke reason is that in residency, I was working an ER shift, and a senior resident asked me what I was doing for Hanukkah. I politely explained that I’ll break matzah with her, but I’m not Jewish. This was not the last time I would be mistaken as Jewish, which I found puzzling and hilarious at the same time. As a joke, I’d bring donuts on the Sabbath, which would be Saturday, not Sunday. The REAL reason is that MacArthur’s opens at 6 AM in Saturday, and 7:30 on Sunday. I always did rounds early, so Saturday was donut day. I like the first explanation better.

It became even more specific than that. The shifts changed at 7 AM. If I was running late for some reason, some of the women working night shift would call me to make sure I was showing up before they left to go home. The second best prank I’ve ever pulled was on the last Saturday I was on call. I saved an empty donut box from two weeks prior. I filled that box with Fiber One bars. I went to MacArthur’s and bought donuts. When I walked into the unit, I went to the call room, and hid the real box of donuts. I came out, dropped off the box with the fiber bars, and said, “Why don’t you crack these open! I’ll be back in a minute.” The look on the faces of the nurses when I returned? PRICELESS. I was smart enough to bring the real box out in about five minutes, or I might not have lived to the drive home.

Coffee and donuts with Pastor Liz. I probably owe her more than one cup of coffee and a donut.

(Another aside. The best prank I pulled was enlisting our congregation to fill Pastor Liz’s office with balloons before she returned from vacation. I can still remember the taste of balloons from blowing up so many balloons over three hours. Her reaction? Also priceless. A very cheerful priceless. Here’s that picture.)


So that was my little routine. Donuts on Saturdays. I once asked one of the nurses, Sharon, if they liked me only because of the donuts. Her response: “No. If you were stupid or a jerk, we’d eat your donuts but talk about you behind your back. We like the donuts, but we like you.” That’s one of the best, most honest compliments I’ve been given.

But I don’t think it was the donuts.

You can’t just drop off donuts, do your work, and leave. That doesn’t work; that’s uncool.

You see, donuts are a social event. You have to do your work, then sit down, have a donut, drink a little (ok, a lot) of coffee, and listen & talk. 90% of the time, I was there an extra 15-20 minutes after my work was done. On some occasions, it was longer, but not typically.

“How are you doing?” “How’s your family?” “Have you recovered from your procedure?” “It’s miserable outside.” “Have y’all recovered from last night?” That kind of stuff. If Sharon was working, we’d usually talk barbecue. As a side note, Sonia always knew who I was talking to on the phone without saying any of the nurses names. She knew by what we talked about for 90 seconds once business was done.

Other times, there would be more business. We could debrief after a resuscitation earlier in the week. Or we’d talk about a sick infant that had been transferred, and what, if anything, we could do differently. Or we could talk policy or other aspects of the unit.

But it didn’t really matter. We would just TALK. I had a better feel for the nurses working on the unit individually, and that was important to me. Sure, it’s a team, but it’s made up of individuals. But if I knew how they were doing on an individual basis, I could work better with them. That, and I actually cared about them. When you save lives with people, you are kind of bonded with them, for better or worse. Might as well tilt the scales to “better”.

It never was about the donuts. The donuts were a vehicle, an excuse, to open the door. You can’t be a jerk-of-the-world to someone if you’re eating donuts with them. You HAVE to let your guard down, unwind, remove any tension, and be decent to other people. I’m willing to go on a limb and state that if there were donuts or something of the like in more work environments, people would be more productive and better communicators. But you can’t be super formal about it, or turn it into a huge production. You have to just do it, and remember that it’s not about the donuts; it’s about the people. (I don’t know if this will work for Congress. They might be beyond donut diplomacy.)


They can’t be crappy donuts; they need to be of reasonable quality. At their best, donuts save lives. Donuts help build friendships and bridges. They give you a chance to catch up with old friends and cement new friendships. They are wonderful, delectable little tools that should be used with great care, because you care.

My favorite is the chocolate on chocolate cake donut, as is Sonia’s. Andrew likes custard filled; Allison is a buttercream girl; so is Sharon. What’s your favorite gift to share? Please, listen to Genesis 2:2. Jelly donuts are disgusting, and friendships have been lost over these. Nothing says “I hate you” like a smooshed jelly donut. But if donuts can work wonders at a hospital, imagine what they can do for you and your relationships.

Allison, with a treat from Dukes. They also made these spongy type donut that had a little strip of a light, kind of vanilla buttercream filling. Wonderful.


Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 44 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I blog sporadically, and if there's a theme in here, please tell me what it is!

3 thoughts on “Donut Diplomacy”

  1. Love your blogs. I can hear the love and respect you have for the staff. I know the feeling is mutual. Best staff I ever worked for! (That includes you doc)


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