Mango Tango

Story 1

We had some pretty sad days in the hospital, sadness so deep all we could do was wallow in it. As a mother, I did my best to stay the course but there were moments and even days that made my body fracture with grief over the somberness that had enveloped our lives. My once very content and active child was suddenly undergoing chemotherapy, swollen with 60 pounds of water her kidneys couldn’t process, and the light from her eyes was visibly absent. Just heavy. A heaviness we couldn’t overcome. It was in those times we relied on the hope and joy of others to lighten the weight of it all. We never knew how it would come, but thankfully we were never long without some gift of levity or buoy of comfort.

One such buoy came from a food service employee. In retrospect, I wish we would have asked him his name. For sake of the story let’s call him Mark. Almost daily Mark would deliver Anna's dinner. And almost daily he would take it away, noting that it had gone untouched. In general, hospital food doesn’t have a reputation for being delicious. Add in the fact that Anna was on a renal diet with a liquid restriction, and her food options had dropped to few, and notably not-delicious. Think rice and dry chicken or tortilla with unseasoned beef, on repeat. She had gone from being a pre-Lupus foodie extraordinaire to one who was frequently not interested, often not even lifting the lid to peek.

We had many food service people during Anna’s hospital stays, but Mark stood out. He would always greet us. He would try to sell Anna on the dinner of the evening, mentioning that it smelled good or was liked by others. He appeared visibly concerned when he took the tray away full. He asked if he could bring her something else she would enjoy more. And he noticed when she ate the cup of Mango Tango sorbet he brought. He noticed she liked it. Out of the hundreds of people he was serving daily, he remembered her and noted what she actually ate. Due to Anna’s liquid restriction, she could only have one liter of fluid a day. This included foods too, like yogurt, soup, and ice cream. It was truly a big decision to spend her liquid allowance on a food like sorbet, knowing she might be thirsty come the end of the day. But for whatever reason, the sorbet made her happy. The taste was just right. And this was not lost on Mark.

Mark started saving Mango Tangos for Anna, and swapping out the dessert of the day for her beloved sorbet. In fact, against hospital policy, he smuggled up an entire box of Mango Tangos. He stowed it away in the nurses’ freezer for Anna to eat at her own discretion. This operation required multiple steps of sneakiness. First, he had to slip the contraband out of the kitchen, and then he had to find a nurse accomplice. The box of Mango Tangos had to to be stored in the nurses’ freezer to go undetected. Just take that in for a moment. It still gets me choked up.

Mark made a difference. A huge difference! One, that 3 years later, Anna and I still remember and talk about. He paid attention and offered a 4 oz comfort that helped bring a lightness to a weighty time. Anna and I chose to write about Mark for our first Sunday Story to emphasize that hope and kindness often comes in very small packages. It doesn’t have to involve herculean effort, or a detailed strategy, although Mark definitely used some top-notch spy tactics. We are all capable of delivering this immense and often life sustaining kindness. All it takes is a willingness to see the need in others, and acknowledge it with a simple gift of thoughtfulness.