About a year ago, I had an elderly patient who I will call Sally for HIPAA purposes. Sally suffered a pretty severe stroke and was very impaired. That’s not the funny part, obviously. Anyway, her husband Harry was a really sweet guy. Despite the fact that he was in his eighties and looked it, he visited her in rehab every single day. We all agreed he was one of the nicest family members we’d ever met.
In case you didn’t know this, if you want to suck up to the hospital staff, the best way to do it is to bring them free food. Either someone told Harry this tip, or maybe he was just raised right, because every single time he came in, he brought us food.
The first day he came in, he brought us three boxes of muffins from Dunkin Donuts. We were all elated. Muffins! In three different flavors! We were fighting over those muffins, diplomatically dividing them into quarters so everyone would get some muffin.
The second day he came in, he brought us… three boxes of muffins from Dunkin Donuts. We were still excited. Muffins. But they were somehow a little easier to distribute that day.
The third day he came in, he brought us… three boxes of muffins from Dunkin Donuts. Ugh, muffins. Suffice to say, we were all a little sick of giant muffins by then. I took a single muffin and brought it with me for my kids to snack on during the car ride home.
The fourth day he came in, he brought us… well, you get the idea.
Sally was a patient at our hospital for well over a month. Every day, Harry came in and brought us three boxes of muffins from Dunkin Donuts. By the end of the first week, we couldn’t even look at those muffins anymore. My kids begged me never to bring them muffins ever again as a snack. We felt bad throwing them away, so we just let the boxes and boxes of muffins accumulate in our back room. The room was being overtaken by these stupid muffins.
“We have to tell him,” a nurse said. “He can bring us anything but muffins. Bagels, donuts… whatever. Anything but muffins.”
We discussed the morality of the muffin situation. I mean, Harry was being nice by bringing us anything. How could we say to him, “Hey, your muffins suck. Bring us something better.” But at the same time, we felt bad he was spending time and money every day bringing us a present that we were basically just throwing away.
Eventually, Harry made the difficult decision to transfer Sally to a nursing home, because he couldn’t care for her on his own. Even though we were sad to see them go, we were a little relieved that there would be no more muffins. (Except for the chief attending, who inexplicably never got sick of the muffins, and was totally bummed that his supply would be coming to an end.)
Several months later, Harry dropped by our unit to say hello. A lot of times, former patients will come by just to say hello. But on this visit, Harry had some sad news to share with us: Sally had passed on.
He cried a few tears and we took turns hugging him and telling him how sorry we were. Then he flashed us a brave little smile, and showed us a large paper bag he had been holding. “I brought you all a little something,” he said.
It was four boxes of muffins.
But something amazing had happened. In the few months since Sally’s discharge, we had miraculously stopped being sick of muffins. So we were able to bring the boxes of muffins to the back room and enjoy eating them. Still teary-eyed over Sally’s death, we laughed about muffins one last time.