Ginny Castle
February 2021
Medical Intensive Care Unit
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center




He could not hear her, but I do believe he may have felt her combing his thin grey hair. He loved having his hair combed – something Ms. Castle could not have known.
About 11:30 pm on Sunday, a nurse (Ginny Castle) called me with an update on my Dad's condition. She apologized for calling so late. She then explained that the reason she called at that late hour was that she had been sitting with my Dad for some time, holding his hand, combing his hair, and telling him stories about her family, and she didn't want to leave his side.
My Dad, at this point, had been hospitalized for seven days. He had a breathing tube, was on a ventilator, had been proned, was in a state of paralysis, and was totally unconscious. He could not hear her, but I do believe he may have felt her combing his thin grey hair. He loved having his hair combed - something Ms. Castle could not have known. After giving me a very brief medical update, she then politely said, "If I may ask, how many kids does he have, how many grandchildren, any great-grandchildren? Did he have brothers and sisters? What did your Dad do for a living? How long was he married? What were his hobbies? Does he go to church? What kind of music does he like?" I believe Ms. Castel was not reading from a script but asking from her heart. She said she hoped I didn't mind her asking these questions, but she felt a connection to him, and just wanted to get to know him and care about him as a person, rather than just treat him as another COVID patient.
I did not hesitate. I replied, "He had two children, but my sister passed away suddenly and unexpectedly two years ago. He has four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and he just learned last week he'll have another great-grandchild in June. He had three sisters and two brothers. All but two of his sisters have passed away. He and my mom owned a hardware and appliance store. It mostly catered to farmers. They were married for 47 years before her death. Now he has a "lady friend" at his assisted living facility. He loves to hunt, fish, and drive for hours with his buddies to try out dive burger joints. He was raised Lutheran but attends a local Presbyterian church - but he won't say 'Forgive them their trespasses in the Lord's Prayer, but rather he prefers the Lutheran version he was taught as a kid, 'Forgive them their debts.' Oh, and this may sound a bit odd, but he loves Liberace!"
"Sounds like he has a good life," she said, putting an emphasis on "has", not "had." "I will get some Liberace, or at least some piano music, and bring it in for him tomorrow to listen to." It went unsaid that we both knew he wouldn't be able to hear the music, but that didn't seem to matter to Ms. Castle. Neither of us knew then that he would pass less than 24 hours later, before her next shift the following day - before he had a chance to "hear" the music Ms. Castle promised to bring.
To hear her apologize for calling so late because she didn't want to leave my Dad's side struck me not as something for which she should not have apologized, but as perhaps the most compassionate act I've ever known. It's amazing that after nine months that a nurse, who has seen probably hundreds of people die of COVID, alone without a family member there to hold their loved one's hand, could muster such compassion and exhibit such grace. Where do we find such people? Why are such angels of mercy and their acts of kindness not celebrated publicly, loudly, and often?
Amid all we have endured in 2020, amid all Ms. Castle has sacrificed these long months, amid what is understandably rote to so many in the healthcare field, this single person, in a 15 minute, late-night phone call, restored my faith that we still have those among us who, through such selfless acts, reaffirm that we still live in a caring and compassionate world.