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What a calming hand on the back meant for a woman in crisis

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Susan Dickman. One afternoon in 2003, Susan 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 long biopsy.

SUSAN DICKMAN: I hopped on my bike, and I raced over to the hospital. When I got there, I was really stressed out. I was feeling in panic mode because I knew it couldn't be good. I got into the elevator, and I just started pressing buttons. I somehow couldn't remember what floor he was on. And suddenly from behind, I felt someone's hand on my shoulder. And I didn't turn around. At first I felt sort of defensive, but then I relaxed into it. 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.

I got up to the floor that I needed to be on. I ran over to my father's room, and I was greeted by doctors, who told me that he had passed away. When I thought about it later, I realized that probably the person who had put their hand on my back probably worked in the hospital, probably knew that there had been a code red called when my father stopped breathing. I think about that hand on my back pretty often. And I think, what a heroic - small but heroic gesture that was to just reach out physically to somebody who was obviously struggling. And I just feel like that person must have known what I was walking into and I got off that elevator. That's my unsung hero.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOLIDAY ON THE MOON'S "FADING LIGHT")

CHANG: That was Susan Dickman of Evanston, Ill. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.