The world just lost another angel. A hero. An ordinary person with extraordinary kindness and love.
Do you ever stop to think how often through your typical day you pass by an angel or hero and simply don't know? Busy, busy, busy. We have things to do, errands to run, and phone calls to make. We keep strangers at arm's length. And the cost of this hurriedness is simply that we fail to share and learn about one another. Every face we encounter holds a history, a story to be told, and sometimes those stories are remarkable and breathtaking. The unfortunate thing is that we will never know if we don't take the time.
Enter Gigi. Someone who always took the time.
Gigi was an EKG technician at our hospital. Almost nine years ago, as I have touched on previously, my son was diagnosed with a rare malignancy that required him to be on chemotherapy for a year. He failed to stay in remission and had to undergo a second complete year of chemotherapy to achieve remission again. Since then, he has been in remission for five years and is an extremely well-adjusted, bright, athletically-gifted boy who makes my chest swell with pride. Through his experiences, I have learned much about life, about love, about compassion, and especially about embracing the daily moments that hold the simplistic joys that many feel come only with big life-events.
What I was learning at that time in my life, however, Gigi already knew. She was frequently called down to our ER to do EKGs on patients and she could be overheard in conversation with them, asking them frank, sincere questions about their health, their lives. She seemed to really care and enjoy her interactions with each new face.
I didn't really know Gigi, however, until one day when she approached me soon after my son's initial diagnosis.
"How is your son doing?" Her voice had startled me and I looked up from my chart to find this middle-aged woman with a soft perm, intense eyes, and a big smile talking to me.
"Pardon me?" I asked, surprised at her bluntness. Most people either tiptoed around me or asked me directly about my son. I appreciated the latter approach and Gigi did too, obviously.
"Your son. I just found out about him and I'm praying for him and your family I just wanted you to know."
She was a stranger and yet, looking into her eyes, she was my immediate friend. I couldn't break my gaze with her. I knew that she got me, that she understood. She looked beyond my face and forced smile to see the hurt and anxiety that I was carrying.
"I'm Gigi," she said, holding out her hand. I took it and introduced myself. And she really did want to know about my son. How was he was doing? What medicine he was on? How was he adjusting to having a mediport? She genuinely cared and her thoughtful questions reflected that caring.
After a few minutes of conversation, she had to go do a stat EKG and I had to return to my patients. But before we parted, she asked "Can I have a hug?" A hug from Gigi, I learned that day, held more compassion that a hundred Hallmark cards. It was genuine and heartfelt--not just a quick expected pat on the back.
Through the years since, we learned much about one another's family, yet every time I saw Gigi, her first question to me would be about my son. "How's that boy doing?" His return to good health brought many authentic smiles to her face.
About a year ago, in the midst of a crazy shift, Gigi approached me with some worry on her face.
"Doc," she said, never once calling me anything else despite my urging to use my first name, "I'm really worried." She proceeded to explain that she had some abdominal bloating and intermittent pains for months but was afraid to approach her doctor. She felt it would be bad news and didn't want to face it or ruin her husband's recent retirement.
"Gigi," I said, "let's get you in a room. I want to do an exam and run some tests."
"Oh, no," she said in true Gigi fashion, "I'm off tomorrow and these patients need you today. Let me come in tomorrow to see you and I'll bring my husband along. I'll do whatever you say, but tomorrow, okay?"
Of course, Gigi. The next day, as I knew she would, she did come in with her husband. He was just as I pictured Gigi's husband to be--kind, considerate, supportive, and worried. Gigi and I had never taken our friendship beyond the hospital's walls and it was my pleasure to match her husband's face to her loving stories about him.
Unfortunately, Gigi's workup did reveal some serious findings. She had cancer. Cancer that had aggressively spread beyond its primary site.
With this news, I approached her room with a heavy heart. And knowing me as well as she did, she knew the minute I walked in the room that I held heart-breaking news.
"Just tell me, Doc. Don't sugarcoat anything."
I pulled up my chair, grasped her hand, and explained all her results very thoroughly. She cried, her husband cried, and I cried. It simply wasn't fair. Hardworking, decent, compassionate, loving--none of these traits had protected Gigi from something bad. It was her right, I felt, to only have good things occur in her life. I was really affected by her results and through the rest of my shift, I heavily relied on my Naphcon A eye-drops. It was now my turn to pray for her and her family. We admitted Gigi to continue her workup of identifying her type of cancer, its location, and its staging.
Remarkably, my son and Gigi had never met and, encouraged by my wife and I, all three of our kids made Gigi get-well posters. The next day, Cole and I hand-delivered the posters to her. She was in her hospital bed, her husband sitting in the corner, when Cole and I arrived. We knocked and walked through her room door. After looking up at us, Gigi immediately reached out her hands for Cole, who instinctively walked to her bed and sat down beside her. Gigi wrapped him in her arms and my lucky son received the same exact hug that I had received nine years earlier. If it was possible, his hug was even more magnificent than mine had been.
Through her battle, Gigi never once lost her faith or let her beautiful spirit waver. We shared hospital visits, phone calls, and cards, which never seemed to be enough to satisfy this sender's aching soul. She was, as you would expect and hope, surrounded by loving family and friends throughout her ordeal. She braved multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and, despite her body's failings at times, pushed forward in attempts to beat off her disease. "I'm not doing this for me," she said, "I'm doing this for my family."
Sadly, though, Gigi passed away before the holiday season began.
Gigi was never defined by fame or fortune, but rather by compassion, kindness, and love. She embraced humanity wholeheartedly and clearly enjoyed touching the lives of others. If she hadn't taken the time with me nine years prior, reaching out to me in a dark moment of my life, I would have missed having an angel here on earth as my friend.
Gigi, I thank you for taking the time.
As always, thank you for reading. We all have a Gigi or two in our lives, hopefully more--if you want to share a little about your Gigi, feel free to in the comments. Next post will be Wednesday, January 13.