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After decades, a woman still remembers comfort from a stranger in a hospital hallway

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Lorrie Paul. One day in 1996, Paul was at a hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. Her father, who had just had open heart surgery, was in the ICU. Although the operation had gone well, he'd suffered from a seizure soon after, leaving Paul and her family fearful that he might never make it home.

LORRIE PAUL: It was just a really rough time. My mom is very fragile, needed a lot of attention, a lot of support. So I was trying to divide my time, talk to the doctors, nurses, make sense of numbers, and it was just getting to be a lot. And I went to take a walk, just the loop around. And I remember walking. The hospital had, like, a sloped hallway, and there were windows on my right side cut in, like big cubes with a big, thick window sill. And I paused there and put my elbows down and just stared out at nothing, and I started to sob. It got to be too much, and I just thought, I'm going to lose my dad. And a woman or a man - someone - appeared behind me and put their hand on my left shoulder. They didn't try to fix the situation. They didn't try to console me. They didn't try to find out what was going on. It was just presence. They were just there with me.

Having someone there and showing that compassion, that love brought me this sense of calm. My breathing slowed. I relaxed, and this person squeezed my shoulder one time and walked away. I have no idea who this person was. I just know that this compassion they shared with me, this sense of humanity that they were sharing my sorrow brought me such a sense of peace that I was able to go back in, refreshed and calm, and help Mom and be there for Dad and get through. It was so incredibly powerful. I mean, it's been a quarter of a century, and it's stuck with me every day because this person just stayed with me, and that made all the difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHMITZ: Lorrie Paul lives in Earlville, N.Y. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share your own story of an unsung hero, record a voice memo and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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