A place of pain, fear, suffering, uncertainty and confusion. A place of frustration, distress and feelings of helplessness. But also a place of many different kinds of miracles.
I met Karen in Room 3 of the ICU as she stood next to her husband. Steve, a man of 70 years old, was intubated and sedated. The doctors were unsure as to Steve’s prognosis. Though not a religious woman, it was Karen’s steadfast faith in Judaism and the support of family and friends that was helping her get through this ordeal. The hopeful attitude that she exhibited and conveyed to her husband was truly remarkable to see. Karen immediately struck me as an extraordinary person. After a half-hour visit and a mutual bond, I left Karen with my cell number and encouraged her to be in touch.
Surprisingly, close to two hours later, I received a text from Karen asking me to return to Steve’s room.
Karen took me aside, held my hand and, with tears in her eyes, began,”Some time after you left, I decided I needed a break and so I went to the ICU waiting room. While I was there, I met the nicest woman named Carol. Carol told me that her son, Mark, who is 40 years old, is also in the ICU, just several rooms down from where we are! Apparently, he has multiple handicaps and is doing poorly. Carol was crying to me. She has minimal support and not connected to a faith community. My heart was breaking for her. Plus, the family is having huge financial problems and she questions how their bills will be paid.”
Karen paused. She reached into her purse and took out a white envelope.
“Debby, I need you to be my messenger. I need you to take this envelope and bring it to Carol. It’s a little bit of cash that I hope could help the family. I absolutely do not want her to know that it is from me. Please find her and give it to her.”
I was amazed. I was speechless. I was touched. And I felt so honored to be the chosen messenger.
With the envelope in hand, I went to Room 8 of the ICU, where I knew to find Carol and Mark.
As I entered the dimly lit room, I saw a very severely disabled young man lying in the bed, with many tubes emanating from every part of his body. He was hooked up to all kinds of machines. Needless to say, Mark appeared to be in a very poor state.
After brief introductions, Carol began to tell me her story. Through her tears, she told me that she has been divorced for over 20 years and has always been the sole provider. Recently, she had to quit her job in order to take care of her son, Mark, who has cerebral palsy and whose medical condition has become increasingly more complicated. She described Mark as such a unique child who is special because “he makes the people around him appreciate what they do have.’’ Her daughter and family also live with her, in a very small home. The family barely has enough money to pay the bills and Carol feels very alone without much family or communal support. The love and dedication that she has toward her family was quite apparent.
After about 15 minutes, Carol finished her “story” and thanked me for listening.
At that point, I took out the unmarked plain white envelope and presented it to her.
“Carol, someone gave me this envelope to give to you. You must have shared your story with someone who was obviously very moved after speaking with you. That person really wanted to help you out, found me and asked me to give you this.”
Carol had no words. She slowly opened up the envelope. Inside the envelope was a handwritten note which said, “I know you are going through a tough time. I hope this helps you. Thinking of you.” There was $100 cash inside.
Carol looked up at me with tears flowing down her face. She took my hand and said, ”Please tell this person how grateful I am and that I thank this person from the bottom of my heart.”
At that point, it was me who was left with no words, just with tears in my eyes. How fortunate I was to have witnessed, and share in, such a true act of kindness from one person to another.
“I guess there are some really nice people in the world,” she remarked while sobbing.
“There are,” I said. “There really are.”
By Debby Pfeiffer
Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield, New Jersey, with her husband and children. She can be reached at [email protected]