Who’s Taking Care of That Kid?

Late in his life, dying with inoperable cancer, a man named Gus went to a hospice facility. Upon arrival Gus felt fearful and angry. “Why did I get cancer?” he asked, as if for some strange reason he should be exempt from the disease. “What does God have against me?”

One day Gus stomped down the corridor of the hospice unit, angry that he had not received the service he demanded. An event then happened that transformed his remaining months of life. As he walked down the hall, Gus saw a five-year-old kid. He couldn’t believe his eyes—a five-year-old in hospice care. He went to a nurse and said, “What is that kid doing here? This is a place where old people die, not little kids.” The nurse explained that the child had fallen off a tractor, temporarily cutting off oxygen to her brain. The accident resulted in paralysis. She could not talk or see. However, she was able to hear and respond to simple instructions. Gus stared at her through the doorway. He couldn’t fathom how something like this could happen. “She’s only five years old,” he said repeatedly. He later learned that her parents lived six hundred miles away and could visit only on weekends.

The next morning Gus again walked by the child’s room. “Who’s taking care of that kid?” he shouted at the nurses. After his outburst a nurse replied, “Maybe you ought to do it.” Shocked at the thought, he went back to his room. But he couldn’t shake the question from his mind, Who’s taking care of that kid? Later that evening Gus put on his slippers and went into her room. He said hello to her, but she made no response. He tried speaking to her a second time but again, nothing. Finally he reached out, touched her hand, and took hold of one of her fingers. As he did, the little girl squeezed his hand. And in that moment Gus was transformed from a bitter, fearful, angry person to one who could love and serve a five-year-old child.

For weeks, Gus and the little girl “talked” to each other through handshakes. He read her stories and played her favorite music. He found a little red wagon, propped her safely in it, and took her on trips around the hospital. As time passed, they developed an intricate language of communication as they snapped their fingers back and forth. “When Gus died,” said a nurse, “he died smiling. He was no longer Gus the fearful patient. Now he was Gus—the friend of a five year old.”