Monday, January 11, 2010

Heroes Among Us--Gigi

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.


rlbates said...

What a lovely tribute to Gigi. {{{hugs}}}

Chrysalis Angel said...

Ramon said exactly what I was going to say. She'll just love how beautifully you wrote this.

She already knew...she just wanted you to be the one that told her.

Chrysalis Angel said...

I meant, Ramona. Sorry I dropped the a, Ramona.

t. said...

Not just a beautiful tribute, but one that will lead to her spirit living on not only in your memory but in the memory of those of us fortunate enough to share her through your story.

thecatsmeow said...

I don't know how you do it, Doc, but you always manage to leave me either laughing or teary-eyed after reading your posts. I'm thinking that perhaps someday you should turn all these great little stories into a book or something. Consider me a reader for the "duration"!

Cal said...

This is such a beautiful and sad story, a wonderfully written tribute. Gigi sounded like a rare genuine person, one of the few who have this special intuition and ease in reaching in a deep and meaningful way into our souls. Something alluded to briefly in your post, is the silence of others when one is going through a cancer diagnosis. I thing this was one of the hardest thing for me, people would just ignore the subject, pretend it was not there, perhaps because one does not know how to behave or is afraid (of interfering? of smelling their own mortality?) and instead politely does not touch the subject. I found this frustrating, and had wished coworkers and others would take a minute to ask me how I was instead. And, this is why the Gigis of the world are so important in those times. Best wishes for your son.

Maha said...

That was a moving tribute to Gigi. She sounds like she was a lovely person. My thoughts go out to her family and friends...

fdmedic said...

What an amazing person she must have been. I know many a people who just go throughout their day and do the everyday work without a second thought but she reminds me that our pt's are more then a job they are people and we need to remember that she truely was that some one who cared for the ones she was helping not just looking at it as A job but as an opertunity to help others more then just the health pat but the emotional part.

Johanna said...

You write beautifully and from the heart. You are a gifted soul, too. Keep warming us with your thoughts and your observations. They are blessings; each and every post.

Nikita said...

Gigi was obviously a wonderful person and enriched the lives of those who knew her.

There are so many good people in the world and I am sure they outnumber those who are not so good.

I know you are one of those people too.

MLee said...

What a heartfelt account of your experience with her. Now, If I could smack you for making me tear up, I would.

Sondra said...

As oncology nurses, my co-workers and I have frequently noticed that cancer seems to prefer the nicest people.

Lynn said...

I just found your blog today through a mutual friend. Your story about Gigi touched me. I'm a Medical Social Worker and have built many bonds in my almost 12 year career. I look forward to reading your blog.

mommy-medic said...

What a well-told tribute to such a dear soul.

SeaSpray said...

This is a very moving post and a beautiful tribute to your friend.

She sounds like she was a precious lady with a beautiful spirit and you were both blessed to have become friends.

I agree with Angel ..she knew and wanted to feel your love and compassion. It probably helped her to have you discuss it with her because no doubt she trusted you greatly and even tho the news was bad was still reassuring to have you there for her because she knew you cared.

The news was devastating enough ..but she got to know you as a physician and a friend. She knew you cared and trusted you to be the one to give her the official news.

I'm sorry you lost your friend, Jim.

Leslie said...

Beautiful post. You never disappoint! Gigi is my new hero. That is the kind of person I want to be. In fact this post inspired me as to what "my quote" should be. My quote? Remember the one you asked about for New Year's that has influenced our life. I was pondering what could be a quote to influence me for the coming year. Reading about Gigi answered that question for me.

Here's the quote. Enjoy!
"In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our happiness, but the number of prayers we answer may be of even greater importance. Let us open our eyes and see the heavy hearts, notice the loneliness and despair; let us feel the silent prayers of others around us, and let us be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to answer those prayers” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf,“Happiness, Your Heritage,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 119, 120).


Louise said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

"The only measure of your words and your deeds, is the love you leave behind when you're gone." -Fred Small

Annika said...

Just beautiful. In hope that when I work, I find someone like you as my supervisor, who knows that medical care extends far past the obvious, and reaches into places no CT, MRA, or US can gather information.

As an older PA student, I thank you.

Nanci, RN said...

Gigi---Yes, a hero amongst us. I believe, though, she's
an Angel..all around us.

Nanci, RN said...

Gigi---A hero amongst us. I believe, an Angel all around us.

Katie said...

I remember being touched by this story when I first read it. Today it hit and sat with me in a new way. I'm bi-vocational in two vastly different fields, neither of them medicine. One job often requires me to diagnose and deliver bad news, at times even intentionally destroying hope to help the other person come to terms with a new reality. While I definitely don't enjoy it, I am comfortable with it. I cannot imagine having to be the diagnostician sharing those heart-breaking results with Gigi. My other career invites me to sit with people in those terrible and hard situations, often being the first to know of life catastrophes, acting as a compass to get them pointed in the right direction, and encouraging them to cling to hope amidst a hard reality. I love how she trusted you with the secret she was scared to bring up to her doctor. That speaks volumes! Thank you for also sitting with her in the hard, crying alongside her, and praying for her. I'm sure someday my worlds will overlap the way yours did here. When that happens, I have no doubt this post will come to mind. Thank you for modeling what it looks like to do both--to be honest even when it's painfully difficult, to love (both received and expressed), and to care (beyond what's expected of you).