Winter 1979

August 1, 2007

This happened over 25 years ago, but she remembers it clearly. . . . at the time, she was a pregnant intern on the infant-toddler ward of the busiest children's hospital in the Midwest. It was December, and the ward was jumping. One of her patients, Tony, a 3-month-old with tracheomalacia and severe croup was sick and not improving much. Tony's mother was worried mainly about her son, but there were other things. She had recently come north after being laid off in Alabama. Her unemployment had quickly led to homelessness. She had a brother in town, and she had moved in with him. When she arrived, she found out that he was a heroin addict. He was uninterested in her and her son, and his house was unsafe.

This happened over 25 years ago, but she remembers it clearly. . . . at the time, she was a pregnant intern on the infant-toddler ward of the busiest children's hospital in the Midwest. It was December, and the ward was jumping. One of her patients, Tony, a 3-month-old with tracheomalacia and severe croup was sick and not improving much. Tony's mother was worried mainly about her son, but there were other things. She had recently come north after being laid off in Alabama. Her unemployment had quickly led to homelessness. She had a brother in town, and she had moved in with him. When she arrived, she found out that he was a heroin addict. He was uninterested in her and her son, and his house was unsafe.

The intern was rounding on her patients on Friday when she found Tony's mother by her son's crib, silently weeping. She took her out into the hallway, away from the other parents in the room, to ask what was going on.

"I haven't eaten all day. I've got just enough for a bite to eat or for bus fare. The thought of standing in the cold, being hungry, waiting for the bus back to my brother's place is too much."

"Look," the intern told her, "I've only got $3 in my wallet, but you can have them. I'm going right home after work, so I don't need them."

"I don't know when I can pay you back."

"You don't have to."

The woman thanked the intern, took the $3, and walked away. The conversation had taken place outside the office of the ward social worker, who stepped out and said, "You're stupid, Dr X. These people will con you out of anything they can. You'll never see that money again."

The intern sighed. "I don't expect to see it again. I told her she could keep it."

The intern drove home that night, very glad to finally have a weekend off. On Monday she was back on the ward. Tony, she learned, had improved and had been discharged over the weekend. Mid-morning, one of the nurses handed her an envelope. It was addressed "To Dr X." Inside was a note from Tony's mother thanking the intern for her kindness. There were also 3 one-dollar bills.

The intern took the note and the money to the social worker's office and put them on her desk. Dr X said calmly, "What was it you were saying about 'these people'"? *