This unexpected snowy day got me to thinking about a day when Wendy was in the hospital, many years ago. She had been there for months, literally, and one day in late December there was a heavy snowfall.
Looking from the window of the 17th floor of the Ellison Building at Massachusetts General Hospital, the whole city of Boston looked so clean and amazing. We were on the river side, and the Longfellow bridge looked like it was topped in cool whip. Being a child from Vermont, Wendy desperately wanted to go outside, but it just wasn’t a possibility. She was in heart failure, and we were measuring every ounce of liquid that was going into her. There was no way we could account for how much snow she would eat, and how much liquid that would be equivalent to.
Wendy was so disappointed, but there wasn’t much we could do as parents.
However, the staff came up with a plan.
The PCA (Patient Care Assistant) went down and got a bowl full of snow. Wendy’s nurse measured it out, put it on a scale, and slowly let it melt. They then poured it in a graduated cylinder. After they figured out how much snow by weight equaled how much water, the PCA went down to the quad again and got Wendy some new, fresh snow. Can you imagine, a child who has only seen the inside of a hospital room for months, who only knew the sounds of the machines and the buzzers ,the television, the woosh of the forced air, who only knew the sterility of the meal trays, the plastic covered hospital bed, the stethoscope hanging over her head, getting a bowl of snow?
It is those moments of compassion and spontaneity that we are grateful for, now, looking back. It’s easy to forget the monotony of the endless days that stretched together during her recovery. But that one moment of brightness, that is one moment that we will never forget. They sustained us then, and they sustain us now.
I was recently reminded of the story when I heard of a similar one on NPR. The Show is Called “On Being” and it airs on Sunday morning. One morning in January, I was listening to a man who had tragically lost three limbs through an electrocution accident, and the one thing that brought him comfort in the burn unit was when one of his nurses brought him in a snowball, connecting him back to the real world in profound ways. I highly recommend taking the time to watch his TED talk which I’ve posted here. Somewhere in the middle, he tells the story of the snowball. He now works a as the executive director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, where the idea is that life still happens even when death looms and it is a combination of compassion and dignity that makes a medical caregiver a healer.
Whether it is called compassion, palliative care, or hospice, the world needs more healing moments.
Photo: Wendy, the year after the long hospitalization, finally making a big snowman.