Try as we might, it doesn’t take long for many of us to lose track of what’s most important in our lives. But a doctor in South Africa is helping all of us to remember with words from some of his very special patients.
Alastair McAlpine is a pediatrician in Cape Town. He works in palliative care with terminally ill children.
The doctor grew tired of seeing negative stories in his social media feed, and he assigned himself a project. He asked his patients, aged 4 through 9, what they enjoyed most in life and what was most meaningful to them.
“Kids can be so wise, y’know,” he said on his Twitter feed. There, he shared a collection of their responses that is proving those words to be true.
Not surprisingly, many mentioned their pets, referencing their cuddles and playfulness. “I love Rufus, His funny bark makes me laugh,” one said.
And like many of us adults, they wished they spent less time worrying about what others thought. None of them, McAlpine noted, said they wished they spent more time on Facebook or watching television, and none of them enjoyed fighting with others or being in the hospital.
They consistently valued kindness. “Jonny gave me half his sandwich when I didn’t eat mine. That’s nice,” one gave as an example.
Of course, like any kids, they loved their toys and people or situations that made them laugh. “My daddy pulls funny faces, which I just love,” one child said.
MANY mentioned their parents, often expressing worry or concern:
‘Hope mum will be ok. She seems sad.’
‘Dad mustn’t worry. He’ll see me again soon.’
‘God will take care of my mum and dad when I’m gone’
— Alastair McAlpine (@AlastairMcA30) February 1, 2018
McAlpine trained in palliative care in May 2017 after seeing the need for it. In response to one follower’s question of how he could handle such difficult work, he wrote, “The palliative field chose me, not the other way round.”
“As horrible as it is when a child dies, one of the best rewards is a dignified and pain-free death,” he told the BBC. “If I can make their lives slightly less bad, it’s worthwhile.”
The kids said they appreciated the people who treated them like anyone else. As one said, “My real friends didn’t care when my hair fell out.”
And ice cream was a resounding favorite among them. Aside from the fact that, well, it’s ice cream, McAlpine said the cold can help with inflammation that comes from chemotherapy, and the sugar helps with the pain threshold.
The children he interviewed often talked of their parents, showing concern for how they would do. “God will take care of my mum and dad when I’m gone,” one child expressed.
McAlpine said parents often continued their relationship with him after their child passed, which he took as a compliment. Their example, he said, was another source of inspiration to him.
Like any good doctor, he left his followers with a take-home prescription, this one developed through the wise souls he cares for.
Among other things, the medicine calls for plenty of kindness, jokes, reading time, and, of course, more ice cream.
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