An act of kindness can appear indiscriminate but invariably it comes to one who is vulnerable and in need of compassion and understanding. A true act of kindness is done without expecting anything in return. The other day I heard about an act of kindness and goodwill bestowed on an individual and I thought I would share it with you.
Several months back, I wrote a story about Tommy, a palliative care patient at The Salvation Army Toronto Grace Health Centre (TGHC) who is slowly dying of lung cancer. Tommy, who is originally from Vietnam, has no family or relatives here in Canada except for his sister’s brother-in-law, Daniel, a young student who occasionally visits him. At the time I was interviewing Tommy, he was ambulatory and fairly independent. In fact, despite the advancement of his cancer, he was able to leave the hospital on Friday mornings and eagerly take the TTC to Chinatown where he would enjoy taking a stroll, purchase a Vietnamese newspaper, and eat Vietnamese food. His independence was important to him because it brought him comfort and the ability to go to a place that reminded him of home.
I ran into Tommy on a number of occasions subsequently, when I was on the palliative care unit visiting other patients. During our chats, he told me that he was still managing to make the trip to Chinatown on Friday mornings. But the other day when I ran into Pam, one of Tommy’s nurses, and I inquired about him, she told me that he is now very sick, anemic and bedridden. I responded by commenting on how sad that was since the one thing he enjoyed was getting out and getting his newspaper and food. Pam then told me that he is still able to get his food and his newspaper but now he has a friend that delivers it on Fridays. Then Pam began to tell me about this kind and considerate cab driver.
A little while back, Pam told me, Tommy’s health was rapidly declining and he found it difficult to take the TTC into Chinatown. So, instead, he began to take a taxi. One particular Friday, Tommy realized that it was probably going to be the last time he could make the trip — and he shared this with the cab driver.
When they arrived, the cab driver noticed that Tommy was weak and having difficulty exiting the cab — he was struggling to manage his mobile chest drain, a device that he must carry to help him breathe. The cab driver then offered to take Tommy through Chinatown to wherever he needed to go. Tommy showed him where he liked to shop for food and where he could purchase his newspaper. The cab driver spent over two and half hours escorting him around.
When Tommy was finally exhausted, without charging him, the cab driver took him back to the TGHC and made sure Tommy was safely back up on the palliative care unit. When the nurses on duty found a strange man in Tommy’s room, they immediately inquired who he was and what was he doing in Tommy’s room. Tommy introduced him as his friend.
Now, on Friday’s Tommy calls his friend, who goes to Chinatown to pick up Tommy’s newspaper and food, and then delivers it to his room.
Shortly after I spoke with Pam, I went to see Tommy. When I entered his room he was unable to sit up and so I went around to one side of the bed and we shook hands. I told him I came to say hello and that I was thinking of him. His familiar smile confirmed his recognition of me and we continued shaking hands. We talked a little about his friend who comes on Fridays and delivers his food. He asked if I was writing another story, I told him yes. Through our whole conversation Tommy never let go of my hand and I was happy to continue holding his.
I have bought a star for Tommy and one for his friend to be put on the ‘Tree of Memories’ that is displayed in the main foyer of the TGHC. The stars on the tree are placed in honour and memory of those who are a part of our community and beyond. The funds raised through this effort directly benefit the patients and their care. I thought it was something I could do for Tommy who once said to me that the TGHC was now his home.
Christmas cards have been arriving at our home and I opened one the other day that said, ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all.’ It’s a traditional Christmas declaration you find on countless greeting cards. I always thought this proclamation should be reversed — ‘Goodwill to all will bring peace on earth.’ Merry Christmas!
Since writing this article Tommy has passed away and is now at peace.
By: Gerry Condotta