As this is my last “off-topic” posting of 2016 [there will be a techie one next week], I wanted to end the year on a high – of sorts. As I get older, I am increasingly affected – moved, really – by acts of kindness. I am most emotional when the kindness is directed to a stranger and the kind-hearted person has absolutely zero expectation of anything in return. This is a topic that I have discussed before. I am casting my mind back 10 years …
It was Friday 16 June 2006. My [now late] wife, Linda, was in hospital. Two years before, she had been diagnosed with leukemia and had received some excellent treatment in the meantime, which had pulled her back from the very imminent death she had faced with the initial diagnosis. A relapse late in 2005 had resulted in the need for a stem cell transplant. This had gone well, but she was very weak and her immune system was slow to recover. By this time, she was in hospital to gain physical strength, with a hope of making a full recovery. She had contracted a couple of infections – the kind of thing that a healthy person would hardly notice. She was struggling to shake them off.
I was at a business meeting. Some colleagues were visiting from the US and I needed to spend some time with them. I got a call, telling me that Linda was to be moved to a different, nearby hospital, where she could be better cared for. I knew this was not encouraging news and left the meeting as as soon as I could. As I drove through the congested traffic of a summer Friday afternoon, I was very apprehensive about what I would find when got to the hospital.
I arrived eventually and was immediately collared by a young doctor, who explained matters. They had concluded that there was very little they could do for Linda, except keep her comfortable and give her body a chance to fight the infections. She assured me that they had not given up hope, but, equally, she was not optimistic. I spent time with Linda, who was much calmer now she found herself in a familiar place, with people she knew; she had spent many weeks in 2004 in this particular hospital unit.
It was well into the evening and I realized that I was rather hungry. It was at least 8 hours since I had had lunch. I went off to the hospital restaurant, which I knew was open quite long hours. However, they were not quite long enough – it had closed a short while before. A woman was clearing up and I asked her where else I might get something to eat. She asked me what kind of thing I wanted and commented that I looked exhausted. I said that all I wanted was a sandwich. She said that she was sorry, but the register had been closed, so she was unable to sell me anything. Then she quietly led me to the back of the restaurant and showed me this large plastic crate, which contained all the sandwiches that had a “use by” date of 16 June, and told me to help myself.
I often joke that my favorite kind of beer is free beer, but I have to say that, on that evening, free sandwiches tasted rather wonderful. I had not realized quite how tired and hungry I was, but I believe that the restaurant woman had seen my need. I went back to thank her again, but she had finished for the day. I hope that, when she was heading home, she knew in her heart that she had done the right thing and not simply focussed on doing her job, as so many people might.
I returned to Linda’s bedside for a while. She was settling for the night, so I headed home, rather daunted at the prospect of telling my daughters what was happening. What I did not know at that time, is that Linda would die a few hours later, early on Saturday morning. I also did not know that the events of the evening would still be with me a decade later.