“This needs sugar!” a woman barks from the table behind me. A nurse gently tells for the 10th time, “I already put sugar on it for you, Alice.” “Well it doesn’t taste like it!” her surly charge growls.
“Help! Help! Help!” the woman two tables away shrieks. The first time I heard it, I was shocked when no one jumped up and ran frantically to her aid. Eventually I realized it’s the only word she ever says. Walking the halls later in the day, I can still hear her yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
Then there is the woman who eats her lunch while chanting, “I want to die and I don’t know why.” She says it almost as one would recite a childhood nursery rhyme. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
My dad shouldn’t be here. Two months ago he was flying to South Carolina for a family vacation with my sister. In my eyes, he is strong, healthy, able. He is not old in the way these people are old.
My dad was playing cards on a beautiful summer afternoon when his hand went numb. His friends called the ambulance. Stroke.
Now my father is weak, thin and unable to form cohesive thoughts, use the bathroom, or even sit up by himself.
I’ve been sitting by his side for a week, soaking in the cadence of this new life; the beeping of an alarm every time a nurse is called, which happens at least every three minutes. When do they ever sit down? The smell of disinfectant that becomes a welcome aroma as it masks the other odors that happen when one can’t control one’s bodily functions.
I hold my dad’s hand and brush his hair and kiss the part of his face that still has feeling. It’s a blessing to be here. I thank God, not for the pain we are going through (I’m not there yet), but for the joy that exists alongside it. I get to be with my dad. I get to tell him I love him and that he is a good man.
After a week, I have to go home. I’m a mom and a wife and my little tribe needs me.
It’s heartbreaking, wanting to be in two places at once. But there is something else I’ve noticed while sitting in this rehab facility/nursing home: this place is filled with kindness. It is filled with people who have been created to help. They change stinky bed pans and cook warm meals and cover medicine in applesauce to coax it down a dry throat.
My dad and the other residents are in a vulnerable spot. They have to rely on the staff to tend to their every need. It’s stressful for the patients and the nurses. It has to be. I’ve never once seen a nurse sitting down.
But I have seen them laughing with the residents and listening patiently to their concerns and smiling cheerfully as they greet each one by name. This isn’t just a job for them, this is a calling on their lives.
Suzanne, the CNA, just brought my sleeping dad a glass of fresh water. She readjusts the blanket around his feet and whispers to me, “I just hate it when my toes are tucked in too tightly.” Then she winks and walks away.
It’s the little things that resonate the loudest when there’s not much else that can be done.
My dad is so far away in so many ways, but he’s coming around. And I’m grateful to know that until that happens, he will be surrounded by people who are filling the road with kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.