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She was sobbing in the hospital hallway — then felt a comforting hand on her shoulder

 Lorrie Paul and her father Duane Harlow Roberts
Lorrie Paul
Lorrie Paul and her father Duane Harlow Roberts

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

One winter day in 1996, Lorrie Paul was sitting in a hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. Her father, who had just had open heart surgery, was in the intensive care unit.

"He had the surgery. He did very well. [But] he did not do well in recovery," Paul remembered.

Soon after the operation, Paul's father had experienced a seizure. He was intubated, and his doctors were concerned about his vital signs.

"It was just a really rough time. My mom was very fragile [and] needed a lot of attention, a lot of support," she said.

When dividing her attention between taking care of her mom and talking to the doctors became too overwhelming, Paul decided to take a walk through the hospital. After wandering for a bit, she stopped at a windowsill to look out.

“[I] just stared out at nothing. And I started to sob. It got to be too much, and I just thought, 'I'm gonna lose my dad.'"

As she cried, Paul felt a reassuring hand on her left shoulder. She instantly felt at peace.

Rather than turn around, Paul allowed the stranger's hand to provide a moment of comfort.

"Having someone there and showing that compassion — that love — brought me this sense of calm," Paul said.

"They didn't try to fix the situation. They didn't try to console me. They didn't try to find out what was going on. It was just presence."

Her sobs subsided, and she felt her body relax. Then the stranger squeezed her shoulder and simply walked away.

Paul doesn't know who the person was. But nearly 30 years later, she says she still thinks about that person often.

"It was so incredibly powerful," Paul said.

"This compassion they shared with me, this sense of humanity — that they were sharing my sorrow — brought me such a sense of peace that I was able to go back in ... and help Mom and be there for Dad, and get through.” 

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Autumn Barnes
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]