There are many people out there that believe, rather cynically we might add, that it’s impossible in this day and age for one person to make a difference. It’s not that they can’t, it’s just that the world’s attention span is so short that any difference they make will be forgotten in the next fifteen minutes.
This was not always the case, however. There was a time, not so long ago, when someone could, by way of a single act of kindness, make a difference not only to one person but to many…
Elizabeth was a normal teen. She faced all the problems that you’d expect a normal 14-year-old to face. There were boys she liked that she couldn’t talk to, schoolwork she couldn’t get ahead of, and friends who were more frenemies than allies. All those problems were nothing compared to what came next.
It was Liz’s fourteenth birthday. She had gone to sleep the night before thinking that she’d wake up at fourteen and all those issues would somehow vanish. I mean, who doesn’t wish for that? That morning, however, Liz awoke to find that her problems hadn’t gone away at all. In fact, she found that even though she was awake and could open her eyes, the rest of her was paralyzed…
Liz’s parents took her to the doctor immediately, where a battery of tests revealed that she had a developed a rare condition. The reason she had been briefly paralyzed was that she had a tumor attached to her spine, pressing down on her nerves, and if it wasn’t dealt with soon, Liz could lose more than just motor control.
Liz was told that the tumor on her spine represented an aggressive form of osteoblastoma: bone cancer. The cancer was also in such an advanced stage that even if the delicate surgery to remove it was successful, the subsequent treatment would only lengthen her life for a short while. At fourteen years old, Liz was told she had little over five years left to live…
Liz Brown had been told that there was little chance she’d survive into adulthood. Suddenly all those boys and school problems seemed to fly out the window. She would spend the next few weeks in the hospital, undergoing treatment and round-the-clock care. It was not an easy road ahead.
Helpless and Hopeless
Despite the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness she was experiencing, Liz would soon learn that she wasn’t alone in the world. It was there, sitting in her hospital bed in Cambridge hospital, that she would meet the kind, slightly batty woman who would change her life for the better…
Besides cancer, the struggle to recover, and the impending doom that awaited her, Liz’s other problem in the hospital was that she was too young to be in an adult ward. Amongst the other kids in the children’s ward, Liz felt even more alone. It was lucky for her then that a nurse came along to help lift her from her doldrums.
Above and Beyond
While in the hospital, Ms. Brown was looked after by a kind nurse called Debbie Bye. Debbie was the type of woman whose true calling in life was more apparent to others than to herself. What she saw as simply doing her job and helping sick children, others saw as going above and beyond the call of duty…
Tough Times Ahead
Debbie, for her part, remembers the day that Lize was diagnosed. She was partially paralyzed, terrified, and was, as far as anyone knew, living on borrowed time. When she heard that the poor teen had been given roughly five years maximum to live, she knew that she had to do something to help.
Realising how difficult Liz had it in the children’s ward, Nurse Debbie started assigning her small tasks to occupy the girl’s time. She may have been unsteady on her feet, but she could definitely do some walking. The first job was to deliver mail to the adult patients. The task also helped her get in some impromptu physical therapy too…
It was silly jobs like delivering mail which ultimately helped Liz cope with what she was dealing with. During the months she was there, Nurse Debbie would take her with the other kids on day trips, or go bobbing for apples during the fall. There were even some nights where the nurses would take the kids to their apartments to watch videos and eat pizza.
Kids will be Kids
Years later, when Liz was mostly recovered, she remembered how it felt to watch Debbie work with the younger children. “I remember watching Debbie work and being so inspired by the way that she did things. She showed me that children are children no matter what is wrong with them and she treated us all the same…” That period of Liz’s life would fade into memory, for a time anyway…
Liz Brown had not only survived her brief bout with cancer, she’d actually lived much longer than the assumed five years the doctors had believed she’d last. In fact, she was so inspired by nurse Debbie and her time in the hospital, that she went on to work with children as a sensory support assistant.
Liz continued by saying that “She might have thought she was doing her job but it went above and beyond that…I have done is down to the way she realized that spirited, rebellious teenager was a real person, no matter what was wrong with her.” This all stuck with her into her adulthood and she wondered what had happened to the nurse who changed her life…
Thirty Years Hence
Thirty years after Liz Brown’s brief stay in the hospital, Debbie Bye also remembered the young girl and the silly jobs she’d given her. She had helped so many children over the years, but it seemed that this girl, out of so many others, stuck in her memory. She would soon find out that she wasn’t the only one wanting to reconnect.
Wondered for Years
Mrs. Bye, who now lives in Derbyshire, often wondered what had happened to “Lizzy.” She hoped that the doctors were wrong, that said had survived to adulthood to have a family and children of her own, but she had no way of knowing. She decided that she’d find out, using the best tool for reconnecting in the world: social media…
Take to Twitter
Before Debbie Bye could send out the call, Lizzy had already done so. She tweeted an appeal to find Nurse Debbie, asking if anyone else knew her or where she was these days. With a few short days, her tweet was shared and retweeted more than 1,000 times. Through the magic of the Internet, the two soon found one another.
Found Each Other
Many of her friends had sent her a BBC article about Lizzy’s appeal, asking if the Nurse Debbie she was talking about in the article was her. She couldn’t believe it. When Debbie Bye heard that Lizzy was looking for her too, she reached out and got in touch with her. As she dialed the phone, she held her breath….
They were both in tears as they spoke. When they’d met, so long ago, Debbie was a 21-year-old nurse and Liz a 14-year-old student, now they were a semi-retired grandma and a mother-of-three. The two planned a physical meeting as well so that they could hug and learn even more about what had happened over the past three decades.
“I enjoyed my job and did my job to the best I could, but didn’t feel like I had made that much impact on someone that 30 years later they could remember my name – it’s a bit overwhelming,” said Debbie Bye afterward. But if this story is any indication, it’s proof that one person can indeed make a difference.