The kindness of intimate strangers
Originally posted 12/9/14
Today we returned to 900 Walnut St. for a CT scan, almost 3 months into our new lives and 7 weeks from when Pat was a patient in the NICU. We approached the security desk, and there he was—William. In his Jefferson Hospital green blazer, he shouted out my name, ran over, and hugged me. He then rushed over to Pat, shook his hand, and told him, “We’ve said a lot of prayers for you.” It was the first time they met, but we have a deep history. Combined, I spent more than 35 days walking past that desk. William knows my older children, has seen us cry, comforted us, and vowed to pray for our family. Today he told me, “It’s hard, because you feel so limited in being able to help in this position.” This letter is to William:
Your ability to help is boundless. You and your coworkers have served as an anchor for me in a way that no one else could. While friends and family couldn’t be with me every day, you could. Every day, you looked directly at me and checked in. You noticed the days when I had strength and the days when I was struggling. You were my yardstick. When Pat was moved to the hospital around the corner, I continued to park at the Neuro Hospital, because you and your coworkers felt like home base to me. I preferred to walk the several blocks in the rain for weeks over being anonymous. You are anything but limited.
Now we are at the rehab hospital, and there are new yardsticks, new touchstones. The doctor and nurses, therapists and aides, of course. They keep Pat well and improving. They are a great support to our family. But they aren’t the only ones: The ladies at the front desk, much like you, see me cry with regularity. Because you can only keep a stiff upper lip for so long. It tends to fall by the end of the day, and their genuine caring and kindness get me though. One of them told me this morning, “You’re doing ok, because you’re still on both feet. You’re still standing.” So I continued to stand.
The manager and staff at the cafeteria, who have understood more than once when I’ve forgotten my purse at home because I’m focused on remembering to pack Pat’s clean laundry or Jamie’s lunch. The concierge, who set up and decorated a conference room for us to have a private Thanksgiving meal. Who sees me, tilts his head, then crosses the room to give me a fist bump or a high five to remind me that he is with me.
Each day, it’s the combined efforts of the entire staff that keep me going. It’s people who don’t know me but somehow hold me up who get me through each day. People like you, William.
I have never been good with names, but now there are dozens locked into my mind. Being a recent student of brain injury I will say this: I feel confident that should there ever be a time when my memory is less sharp, when it’s a challenge to remember what I ate for breakfast, I will remember you. Perhaps not your name, but I will always remember this feeling of love and caring from intimate strangers. Your impact is profound, and it is ongoing.
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