HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: The Kindness of Strangers

Hayden Hollingsworth

Unexpected illness is never a welcome event but when you are in the midst of a vacation it is all the more daunting.  I recently heard of just such a happening.  In the wilds of West Virginia an elderly couple was settling down for dinner when the husband, who had been complaining of a headache for several days, began to exhibit slurred speech and difficulty walking.  The restaurant owner called 911 and an ambulance transported him to the local emergency room.

Living in the Baltimore area the couple knew nothing about medical care in the town but the diagnosis was quickly made . . . and it wasn’t good.  He was in the midst of an intracranial hemorrhage and had to be airlifted to Roanoke.

His wife checked out of the local hotel and in the middle of night had to find her way out of the West Virginia mountains, a route with which she was unfamiliar.  The hotel clerk gave her general directions and the parting advice to watch out for deer and bears. With the help of GPS she found I-64 but lost the signal in the difficult terrain. The route was poorly marked but with the help of roadside service stations she was eventually able to find Roanoke.  The GPS was revived and led her to the Carilion emergency room.

Emergency surgery was scheduled for 6 AM and she had time to notify friends back in Maryland, who by chance, happened to know a couple in Roanoke who they called. Things went amazingly well. The friends arrived at the hospital as her husband was getting out of the OR.  The bleeding source was found and controlled; and he was transferred to the neurointensive care unit. The hospital Guest Services was activated who helped find local hotel accommodations that provided a substantial discount for families of patients in the hospital.  The Guest Service employee gave her his home phone number in case the wife needed any additional help until her family arrived.

Convalescence began and Social Service will arrange for inpatient rehabilitation in the immediate future until they are able to travel home to Maryland.  The family has commented on how helpful these total strangers were and the excellence of care they provided. All of them might have replied that they were just doing their job but there is more to it than that.

From the beginning the restaurant owner and the chef accompanied her to her car recognizing how upset she was.  The hotel clerks provided the necessary information to help her on the harrowing drive to Roanoke and they did it with genuine concern.  And the list of compassionate and caring people goes on . . .

The air crew from the med flight . . . now there are some unsung heroes.  Day in and day out, in all kinds of weather they fly the most dangerous missions of non-military pilots.  Landing at night in the midst of power lines, trees, unfamiliar terrain they fly with a crew of four when minutes count.  The next time you see a Med-Evac helicopter be thankful for that crew, their skill and dedication.  The emergency room staff in the rural hospital, the personnel and the neurosurgery team at Carilion, the Guest Service worker who was so kind and social service who looked after the family’s needs were all there doing more than their jobs. The nursing service in the NICU and on the medical-surgical floor was, according the family, unfailingly kind and supportive.

There are still hurdles to be overcome but regardless of the result, everyone involved in the emergency not only performed with the expected level of competence but went the extra mile to insure that kindness underlay the encounter with all of the needed services.

In a time where there seems to be so much social difficulty it was encouraging to be told of such an exceptional effort.  It is reassuring to know that the kindness of strangers is alive and well.

Hayden Hollingsworth