It was 4 am. I stood in an alcove outside my father’s hospital room, having just been shooed out.  Inside the room, Dad’s flannel shirt and jeans were being sliced off him and an emergency surgery prep and intubation were being performed on him. 

Dad had called me about 3 hours earlier saying his head hurt and he’d called himself an ambulance. I knew it was serious because he hated hospitals. In fact, just the previous day he’d joked that the next time anyone told him he was sick enough to go to a hospital he’d stay home instead, and they could take him out in a pine box. So I was certain it was bad.

I phoned my brother and we’d rushed to the hospital and had spent the previous 2 1/2 hours with him as he lay on his back in a bed, moaning in pain and occasionally vomiting. Bleeding inside his head was quickly suffocating his brain.  

My strong, smart, capable dad who had taken care of my chronically ill mom for over ten years until her death just a couple weeks previously, could now not even sit up to spit. Time after time my brother and I lifted his upper body up to help him breath. I’d repeatedly run to the nurses’ station to beg them to hurry to suction his throat because he was choking.  I’d finally resorted to screaming for their help. 

Now my brother had gone to the waiting room to call his wife. I stood there, leaning on the wall, not wanting to be far away. And because I wanted to do something—anything—I made calls. My husband, my other siblings. My best friend.  I passed on the news and asked for prayers. I was exhausted, afraid and so, so sad. I wept until my eyes swelled. I had no idea I had so many tears in my head. 

Meanwhile, nurses, doctors, cleaning people all passed me, busy with their duties. I didn’t expect anything else. I’d worked in a hospital for many years and knew everyone had important work to do. I should’ve kept a check on my own energy level as I have MS, but I sure didn’t have any self-awareness that night. 

It was just the wall I was leaning on and my dad on the other side of that wall. I may have eventually just collapsed on the floor before I thought to look for a place to sit. 

But then someone brought me a chair. Put it in my little alcove for me and walked away.

And I sat. I’d been running on adrenaline, but it was quickly wearing away. I had no idea how exhausted I was until I sat in that chair. That chair brought me so much needed respite. I sank into it, my knees hurting as they bent, my spine grudgingly curved, my fingers numb, all my muscles ached with relief. I leaned my head on the cool wall, closed my swollen eyes and took deep calming breaths. 

Dad died a few days later. Somehow my family and I got through the quick loss of both Mom and Dad. Friends and extended family were wonderful, –super-heroic even — in their efforts to feed and comfort us. We are so lucky to be surrounded by such support and love. I’m thankful for them every day.

That was nearly seven years ago. Weirdly, though, my mind keeps returning to that chair. I hadn’t asked for it. I didn’t know I needed it. I can’t remember who brought it to me—Man? Woman? Nurse? Doctor? Janitor? Black? White? Latino?  I have absolutely no memory of them. I don’t even think I thanked him or her. I may have even given them a dirty look, and surely turned an ugly crying face on them.  But because I was finally able to sit and relieve some fatigue I could stay there and be close to Dad, face the maelstrom of surgeons and other doctors’ and nurses’ questions and instructions, sign papers, and advocate for his care.  And not become another patient. That chair got me through the rest of the night.

My husband’s clever Aunt Maureen used to say, “You never know where your influence ends”. Whether a chair, a hug, a quick visit or a smile, any act of kindness, no matter how seemingly small can have ripple effects that one doesn’t intend or count on. I’m sure whomever brought the chair had no idea how that small act affected me. He or she probably walked away and forgot about it.

So, Chair Bearer, and all the people who bring “chairs” to others in need, Thank You. 

You don’t know how much your small kindnesses matter. 

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