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She was in panic mode at the hospital. A kind gesture offered a moment of calm

Susan Dickman.
Susan Dickman
Susan Dickman.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

One afternoon in 2003, Susan Dickman was finishing up her workday when she spotted six missed calls from the hospital. Her dad, who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia, was there for a lung biopsy.

"I raced over to the hospital," she recalled. "When I got there, I was really stressed out. I was feeling in panic mode because I knew it couldn't be good."

Dickman got into the hospital elevator and started pressing buttons at random. She was so upset, she couldn't remember her father's floor.

"Suddenly, from behind, I felt someone's hand on my shoulder," she said.

At first, Dickman felt defensive and didn't turn around. But soon she let herself relax.

"And that person gave me this just sort of — this very brief moment of calm in what I knew was probably going to be a pretty bad end of the day," she said.

Dickman found her way to the right floor and ran over to her father's room. The doctors there told her that her father had died.

Later, Dickman thought back to that moment in the elevator. She realized that the person who put their hand on her back probably worked in the hospital and probably knew that her father had stopped breathing.

Today, she thinks about that moment often.

"I just feel like that person must have known what I was walking into when I got off that elevator," she said. "I think, what a heroic — small, but heroic — gesture that was, to just reach out physically to somebody who was obviously struggling."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to

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Autumn Barnes
Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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