When Max Hill, 94, was admitted to Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center with pneumonia in March, his daughter, Janet Frekko, was right there with him.
Janet spent most of her time – day and night – by her father’s bedside, from the emergency room to his third-floor inpatient room and on to the intensive care unit (ICU). It was a role she was honored to fill, but the constant vigil wasn’t easy. Even a quick trip to the restroom or Garden Terrace Café meant her father would be left alone longer than she liked.
Little did Janet know that her own support system was right around the corner.
Sharon Bingham, an environmental services technician, was cleaning in the ICU when she recognized Max from the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program. Max had joined in 1991 following an angioplasty and stent placement, and Lillie – his wife of 73 years – joined in 2004 after receiving her own stent. The pair attended three times a week, walking laps in the halls and lifting weights in the Better Health Gym.
“Every morning I saw them walking, she’d always be ahead of him,” Sharon recalls. “And I’d tell him, ‘You’d better catch up to her – she’s leaving you behind.’ They were just so sweet. So when I saw him in the ICU and saw that his daughter needed a break, I offered to sit with him a while so she could get some fresh air.”
For several days, Sharon would come in and relieve Janet so she could take a walk, get something to eat or make a phone call. The breaks were brief but greatly appreciated.
“She was so kind to come and sit with him because that clearly was not her job – she was there to clean,” Janet says. “But that’s what made it all the more special.”
Max passed away five days after being admitted. And while their interaction was brief, Janet will never forget the woman who stopped to care for her while she was caring for her father. “I will be eternally grateful for her kindness,” Janet says.
For her part, Sharon doesn’t believe the time she spent with Max – or with other ICU patients whose families need a short respite – is all that noteworthy. These small acts of kindness are just part of her nature. “Sitting with him was my privilege,” she adds. “I just wish I could have done more.”