I was shocked to get an e-mail saying my short story won first place in a contest. An author friend told me about Midlife Collage’s website which features slice-of-life true stories, so I came up with a short story and sent it off. I thought the winner would be the one with the most Facebook friends and “Likes”, so when another of the entries had twice as many comments and thumbs-up as mine, I chalked it up as experience. I was thrilled that the judges considered other criteria as well. I won’t go so far as to call myself “An Award Winning Author”, but I’m happy. Here’s the story:
A KIND WORD
It’s quite ridiculous what a kind word can do.
In the wink of an eye, I had been brought low––from an independent business woman in a cute, impeccable suit, to a helpless rag doll in a backless gown. I lay a week in the hospital fighting an infection which had whipped me to within an inch of my life. I spent much of the time groggy and as limp as a dish rag.
The antibiotics pumped into me wiped me out and over sensitized my olfactory nerves. Any smell made me gag. Food, flowers, my husband’s cologne––he would have been devastated had I told him.
The florist delivered twenty eight vases of flowers from various friends to my hospital room. The overwhelming stench sickened me, so I begged my husband to give them away. He offered flowers to every room along the hallway, making me the most popular woman on the floor that day. I didn’t care.
The antibiotic cocktail also left me with an incontinence issue.
On the third day, the nurse was slow to answer my call. I hated the bedpan anyway, so I staggered toward the bathroom. I made it only half way. My gown, the floor, my blankets were a mess. With my humiliation complete, I crawled back into bed, exhausted and in tears. I pushed the call button for help.
Soon after, a woman shuffled into the room with mop in hand. I vaguely recalled seeing her earlier. I tried to make myself small and disappear. To cover my shame, I said, “You’re so good to me. Thank you.” I hadn’t planned to say anything, but the words slipped out.
I thought I heard a little gasp from the woman at the foot of my bed. She said in an awed whisper, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
I didn’t know quite what she meant. The words I’d said meant nothing to me. I looked at her then and tried to focus. She was a big woman in a blue smock. She had a plain round face with lank blond hair, straight and shoulder length. Her accent made me think of the mountains of Kentucky. I imaged her moving north for employment opportunities.
“I’m sorry,” I said, motioning to the sheets and the floor.
I don’t remember what more she said, but she smiled and bustled about, cleaning up after me. I just wanted to sleep.
That evening she visited me again, carrying one of the vases of flowers. She straightened a wrinkle in my blanket. “I just wanted to say good bye,” she said with a strained smile. “I got three days off and you might go home.”
I feel bad that I didn’t say something friendly and hope she realized that my vague nod was all I could do at that point. I’ve thought of her often in the past eight years. How she wanted to connect with me. How she took pride in her work and just needed a little recognition.
I’ve seen the effects of kind words hundreds of times since that day. How people lift their chins and straighten their shoulders. A light pops into their eyes.
And it’s so easy!
The lady from Kentucky taught me that, and made a difference in my life. I thank her for showing me the way.