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Why I'll Never Forget My Friend’s Act of Kindness for Me in the Hospital

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Just one act of kindness can change someone’s life. Here’s how it changed mine.

I’ve experienced active symptoms of ulcerative colitis for as long as I can remember — long before I was diagnosed at 17. My illness caused me a lot of pain, and for a long time, I tried to hide it as best as I knew how. I didn’t know how to explain to perfectly healthy teens how exhausted I was, how much blood and mucus came out every time I went to the restroom and how I didn’t want to ride in the car with anyone other than family for fear of having an “accident.” I feared people might judge me.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

It wasn’t until recent years that I’d finally found some relief from my illness after undergoing surgeries. The surgeries were hard mentally and physically. I lived with an ostomy for six months, which changed my life in many ways, but I managed.

I didn’t know much about my ostomy for the first month or so, but I worked at it. Eventually, I became an expert. I knew my ostomy like the back of my hand. Sure, I had bad days and few accidents (or 10 or 20), but overall I was blessed.

When it was time for my second surgery, which would leave me with a new ostomy, I thought nothing of it. I thought because it was my body and my same organ, it would work exactly as my first one did. Boy, was I wrong.

When I awoke from surgery, I was in so much pain not even an hour after the procedure. I was already having major complications, which ultimately lengthened my hospital stay and put a lot of pressure on my body. But after a while, I began to get stronger, started feeling better and became more alert. Eventually, I would be released from the hospital only to be re-admitted within 12 hours.

During my second hospital stay, I improved much faster. I stayed awake for much longer. I didn’t need oxygen or the strong pain meds I’d been on for weeks. I was even able to do some things for myself instead of relying on everyone else. I was excited to finally start to get back to my old self. Things weren’t such a daze anymore, and I was much more aware.

But that’s when I also realized my new ostomy was nothing like the old one. The output was mostly liquid, and I would leak at random for no reason at all. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t imagine people seeing me like this. I didn’t want visitors other than my family. I was extremely self-conscious, and I didn’t want people seeing me like this.

By now you may be asking: What does this have to do with an act of kindness?

Well, about a week into this hospital stay, I got a knock on my room door. My family is very over the top. We welcome ourselves, so I knew it couldn’t have been a relative. I’d already seen my surgeon that day, so I rushed to cover my stomach and invited them in.

To my surprise, it was my co-worker and good friend, Erica. I’d only known her for about a year at this time, but she’d reminded me so much of my mother that when I got to know her, we immediately bonded.

It felt so good to laugh and talk, and I had forgotten all about my situation. It almost felt like I was healthy! Of course, my body wouldn’t allow that feeling to last too long. My stoma managed to slip, and I began to leak. I had my own bags, which were quickly becoming scarce, but I called the nurse to bring some extra supplies.

I asked Erica if she would mind if I changed. Not only was she comfortable with my changing in front of her and seeing all of my scars, bloody bandages from my incision, stool from my ostomy and probably a lot more, she even helped me by taking out the trash. Although I was a little embarrassed, I was still very grateful to have her there. We began talking and laughing again as if nothing even happened. Shortly after, the same thing happened again.

After experiencing my bag malfunction for the third time, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration and embarrassment. I just sat there and cried. I told Erica I was so tired and just couldn’t do it anymore. I just sat there in bed — with my hospital gown up, stool on my side, bag half off of my stomach — crying. I told her I didn’t understand why God would put me through this. Why I, of all people, had to be “cursed.”

Now she knew this wasn’t me. I’m not one to dwell in sadness or self-pity, since I’m a usually a very happy and lively person. I think maybe it was her knowing this about me or maybe even being reminded of a hard time she’s had in life that caused her to step in. Honestly, I’m not sure what it was, but I know it changed me.

Erica came over to the bed and began to wipe the mess my ostomy had made. She told me I’d never be put in a situation too big for me to handle and reminded me of how strong I actually am. As she sat beside me, she continued to clean the mess. She handed me tissues to wipe my tears and told me everything was going to be OK.

The picture of Erica from that day will never leave my mind. I’d never experienced that level of selflessness in my life. Even when the medical staff offered to assist me in the past, I could see the hesitation in their eyes — like they’re praying for me to decline the offer. The Erica way took control of my situation like that touched my heart. She didn’t see me as a patient, she didn’t see as my ostomy, she didn’t see me as weird or different or anything else I imagined people thought of me. She saw me a friend or her “daughter,” as she calls me. 

Reading this story, you may think it’s not a big deal, but I want to stress just how big of a deal it was. I was facing challenges every single day, always in pain and always fighting just to make it through the day. I fought alone. For the first time in my life, someone was there fighting with me. Don’t get me wrong, I had visitors. I had family. But no one had ever taken charge and helped me the way Erica did in that moment. No one had ever shown that level of concern for me or my illness before.

To this day, Erica is still a good friend of mine. I will never forget how she treated me that day and everything she’s done for me in general. I think of that moment when I see others in need or when other people ask me for help and I’m tired or not feeling up to it. I think about that one point in my life when I needed help and didn’t even have to ask. I was given support by an amazing person and friend.

Erica, I only pray one day to be as selfless as you are and as supportive as you have been.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: January 13, 2017
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