A little girl, a hospital room, and those who stayed beside her 24/7 as she slipped away

By Greg Hardesty

Editor’s note: The name and age of the girl and the hospital, as well as other details, were not disclosed for privacy reasons. The writer is a volunteer with TIP Orange County.

***

“Toy Story 3” was coming on in 10 minutes.

A little girl rested comfortably under her jungle-themed blanket of yellow tiger, pink giraffe, brown monkey, pink elephant.

Pink again. A girl’s blanket.

A machine beeped in the hospital room.

Her soft black hair lightly splaying across a white pillow, the little girl gazed at the ceiling, her chocolate-brown eyes fixated light years away from the TV on the wall opposite her.

Bleep bleep bleep.

The mysterious calculus of death droned on, the machines measuring her heart rate, respiratory rate, the amount of oxygen in her blood.

“Toy Story 3” flickered to life.

For several days, another real-life story played out in the little girl’s room.

A story that would end with a gift.

The little girl wouldn’t leave without giving a gift.

***

Looking so fresh!

Hair is brushed, nails are done, lip gloss is on and she is sleeping peacefully.

The journal rested at the foot of the little girl’s bed.

Inside it were entries from the people who stayed beside her, around the clock in shifts, after she was taken off life support.

The people were strangers to her at first, but they quickly became her surrogate family – a dozen volunteers from TIP Orange County, a non-profit used by police, fire and hospitals.

Typically, the volunteers (TIP stands for Trauma Intervention Program) are dispatched to scenes of death to provide emotional support to survivors.

This call was different.

It was a call that, in trauma circles, is known as NODA.

No One Dies Alone.

Almost all NODA calls involve homeless adults or elderly people with no relatives, family members who need a break, or people visiting from other areas who meet tragedy.

People who are alone.

The little girl wasn’t really alone.

The volunteers kept a journal of their interaction with the dying girl. Photo: Greg Hardesty

The volunteers kept a journal detailing their interaction with the dying girl.

The little girl had a team of dedicated nurses who tended to her needs, and a compassionate doctor who does what he can to make his tiny charges as comfortable as possible.

Comfort.

That’s what the little girl deserved.

And that’s what the volunteers tried to give her.

Around the clock.

Put lip gloss on her.

Combed her hair.

Kisses and more kisses.

***

TIP volunteers were summoned to be with the little girl around the clock.

It would turn into a multi-day call for an agency whose calls average four hours. When it was over, the hours volunteers spent with the little girl totaled about 150.

TIP veterans — 15 were directly involved on the call, including three dispatchers — never had seen the likes of it.

And they’ll never forget it.

***

After the little girl was taken off life support, a morphine drip kept her as comfortable as possible.

At first, her eyes were responsive to the deep human connections being forged bedside.

Then her eyes smoothed to a warm glow, but rarely moved.

The volunteers, almost all women, took turns mothering her.

One night, the little girl didn’t respond when a comb was gently dragged through her hair, when nursery rhymes softly chimed from a volunteer’s cell phone, when a story for children was read to her.

And although the little girl couldn’t tell them, the volunteers came to realize some things:

The little girl loved to have her hands held.

She loved to have her shoulders gently massaged.

She loved to have her arms moistened with body cream.

The little girl loved all the attention she was getting.

She was kind of a diva.

She doesn’t want to leave to go home to heaven. Silly girl.

Every nurse who came in contact with the TIP volunteers told them how good the little girl looked — how it was the first time they had seen her not agitated and at peace.

One volunteer sewed angel wings on the back of the girl's teddy bear.

One volunteer sewed angel wings on the back of the little girl’s teddy bear.

***

On day three of the TIP call, a volunteer decided to do something about the little girl’s long fingernails and toenails.

Paint them.

He also rediscovered, after years, the joy of reading to a child.

Whispering nursery rhymes.

Another volunteer decided to re-gift a Christmas ornament.

She removed the angel wings from the ornament and sewed them on the back of a big brown teddy bear she had given the little girl hours earlier.

***

The volunteers jokingly fought over shifts to be with the little girl.

One quietly sat beside her.

Another held her hand.

The third hummed a lullaby.

At times, there was silence.

Calm.

The volunteers know that sometimes, words are useless.

***

At times in the little girl’s room, there was humor.

She prefers my humming to my singing, I’m sure!

Sweet Pea is still sleeping so peacefully! Either she was real tired tonight or I just bored her to sleep.

***

You can’t change the world, the volunteers know.

But they also know you can change the world for one person.

We made a Christmas list. She wants love and kisses from her Santa TIP family. She has my heart and all of my love.

What a special little gift from God. The longer I stayed the more I love and feel so honored to be here with her. She truly is amazing and makes me smile.

Sang to her – she closed her eyes. (Her way of telling me to stop).

The little girl left the volunteers with a gift — one you can’t wrap with a huge red ribbon, or stuff into a bag, or swipe with a card to purchase.

Loved her up.

Talked, touched, sang, read.

Told her how special she is.

The little girl gave the volunteers a very different gift.

She doesn’t want to leave to go home to heaven. Silly girl.

A priceless gift.

The release of love.

For more information about Trauma Intervention Program of Orange County, visit tiporangecounty.org