Struggling With Cancer, Patient Performs Inspiring Acts Of Kindness
Years ago, I took care of an unforgettable cancer patient. She had lost her hair, but not her spirit. She quipped about her bald head and how funny she looked, calling herself “squirrel head.” I often reminded her how beautiful she was, but she’d just wave her hand at me. Life wasn’t about her beautiful hair; it was about making the world more beautiful for everyone.
Ms. S always seemed to have her own adventures. One night I found her shuffling down the hall with a painting in tow, and since my patients were mostly asleep, I escorted her. She was planning an Art Heist. The picture in her room was depressing her, and she wanted something cheerful to enjoy. Like international jewel thieves, we crept into an empty room with a different print on the wall, and we switched it for hers.
Another night she was walking the halls and discovered a woman from her Neighborhood Garden Club had been admitted with a stroke. Unable to speak, she could only communicate using a series of eye blinks. Ms. S visited her friend, speaking soft words of encouragement. Afterwards, she approached me. Ms. S was planning another Art Heist.
“I noticed that she didn’t have a painting on her wall at all. When you’re alone in a hospital bed most of the day, those pictures bring a lot of cheer. Besides,” she paused sadly, “She really loves flowers.”
We wandered from room to room, searching for an unused painting. She recognized the name of a male patient, who, believe it or not, was in the same garden club. So Ms. S went in to visit with him. They shared a smile, and as she was leaving she noticed that he had two prints in his room. One was a beautiful pink lotus flower. Perfect.
“Could I borrow this lovely print?” she asked. “Our friend is also in this hospital, and she could use some color in her room.” He agreed readily.
I carried the painting for Ms. S, as we quietly uttered prayers for the gentle flower picture to soften her friend’s final days. When we arrived, she was appalled that there was no hook to hang the painting on. Unrelenting, she pulled a chair to the corner of the room, and we propped the frame up where her friend could see it. Ms. S charged me sternly, “Please make sure maintenance hangs that print in the morning when they come in!”
A month passed, and I saw less of Ms. S on her hallway adventures. One evening I walked past the room with the pink lotus painting. I was shocked to see Ms. S in that bed. She was almost unrecognizable, short of breath, barely conscious — dying from her cancer. Her only family, an estranged daughter, had not come to see her yet.
I went in and spoke softly to her, touching her hand, but I don’t think she recognized me. I felt so saddened that she was alone. Her eyes were fixed on the wall. Hanging there was the lovely pink lotus print she had moved for her friend one month prior. One month prior, that wall had been empty. In brightening her friend’s final days, she had inadvertently brightened her own.
I can’t help but wonder if her friend was there keeping her company and waiting for Ms. S to join her. Regardless, she was not alone, I know. The world was more beautiful because Ms. S had been here.