Over the years, I've had the privilege of bringing a holiday gift to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. I'm sure many of you have done the same.
One year, I gathered up knick-knacks from around the house. My basket of gently used treasures included stuffed animals, ceramic birds, cherubs and other small, safe items that either could be held or displayed.
One patient, who had received bad news around the holiday, had no family visiting and no cards. So I went to a dollar store and bought a small, battery-operated, fiber optic tree and some trinkets to place under it. When she saw the tree on her bed stand, her eyes lit up and she broke into a broad grin.
Linda Kay Goodwin
Several years ago, I also did a project for West Virginia University Hospital called a "mitten tree" with my daughter's elementary classroom.
A mitten tree is a fun and inexpensive way to provide a little comfort and warmth for pediatric patients. Students bring in new mittens and gloves of all sizes and place them on an artificial tree and then nurses distribute them as a measure of comfort.
Angelea's class decorated a mitten tree for four years, and on behalf of her class, my family and I would deliver the artificial tree decorated with mittens and gloves to Children's Hospital.
We'd always place the tree behind the nurses' station to avoid little ones putting tags or decorated mittens in their mouths.
It was fun to watch young patients decorate their IV pole with a pair of mittens. Other children used them as "cuddlers" during difficult procedures.
Some parents used the mittens as a diversion. Other tikes and teens would go home with a brand new pair of mittens or gloves to guard against the chilly blast of winter.
One year, however, after delivering the mitten tree to the nurses' station, a mother approached my daughter and me. She told me how much she admired the tree.
She asked me about the project and listened intently as I explained that the students in my daughter's classroom donated mittens and gloves to pediatric patients during the holidays.
"I have a child here," she said, pointing to the step-down unit.
I quickly asked if she would like a pair for her child. A grievous look curtained her face, and she said, "He wouldn't know."
I paused and took her hands knowingly, "But you know."
"Yes, I do. Come see him," she insisted. This well-dressed mother went on to explain about her child's brain tumor and how swollen he looked, but she was hoping for a miracle.
She looked at my daughter, smiled at her and said, "You come, too."
I took Angelea by the hand, followed the mother through the door and stood at the bedside of a little boy in a coma.
The boy was pale, puffy and bald with many tubes connected to him. We stood for a few minutes at the bedside, and I gently touched her son's hand.
I turned to his mother and placed a pair of mittens in her hands. "These are for you," I said.
The mother wept in my arms as only a mother weeps, and there was absolutely nothing I could do except be there.
The nurses from the step-down approached me and asked me if I would mind moving the mitten tree to their area this year. "We never get anything back here, and that's a nice idea," they said.
So that December, we placed the mitten tree near the entry to the step-down. I encouraged the nurses to distribute the mittens and gloves as they saw fit, so as to provide a small measure of comfort to children and their families.
When we left, the boy's mother was composed and smiling, chatting with my daughter and me. She became a part of the picture we took for the classroom holiday project, but the most cherished picture was the one in my heart.
A light snow was falling when my daughter and I left the hospital, and I looked up to the heavens and prayed for her miracle.
It was peaceful outside, and I found myself gripping my daughter's gloved hand a little bit tighter than usual. I thanked God for the warmth of her hand, the spring in her step and all the chatty questions she asked on the way to the car.
I was reminded of the Bible verse in Matthew that teaches us that we do not know the hour when our Lord will come. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for small things, simple, decent and good.
Linda Kay Goodwin, RN, BSN, MBA, is a nationally award-winning columnist and recipient of the American Academy of Nursing Media Award for Excellence in the presentation of Health Care Information to the Public. She is employed by Mount Nittany Medical Center and West Virginia University Medical Center.