The healing power of ice cream

The phone conversation, as my dad, in the bed next door, recalls it, went something like this.


“Hi, is this Jim? Where are you?”

“No, it’s not Jim.  I’m John, and I’m in hospital.”

“Oh sorry, John, I was looking for Jim the refrigerator mechanic.  Wrong number.  Hope you’re okay!”

“I’m not okay. Just had both my knees replaced and I’m very sore.”

“John, I’m sorry.  I got problems too.  I run an ice cream factory and my freezers are breaking down.  I need Jim to come and fix them.”

My dad, picking up the story, chipped in, “Tell him to send some ice cream!”

The caller on the line heard him.

“You want ice cream, sure, I’ll send you some ice cream.  Where are you?”

John told him.  There was silence for a moment.

“Oh, I live 700 miles away.  That’s a pity, but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Yeah, thanks, bye,” said John.

The two men had a quiet laugh together.  Both were two days out of joint replacement surgery.  For my dad, this had been an uphill struggle over three months, just to get to the level where surgery was considered an acceptable risk.  The roller coaster ride of hope and disappointment had reached a crescendo when, on finally being declared just fit enough to risk the surgery, the medical insurers had refused authorisation based on their own decision, contrary to the views of family and doctors, that the procedure was too risky.  The prospect of living life in severe pain was too bad to accept, and the fight that followed took its toll on everyone.  As major protagonist, I felt the stress especially, along with the knowledge this was a make-or-break situation for my dad and close family. Happily the decision went our way, and the surgery was done.

A few minutes later, a text message appeared on John’s phone, asking for confirmation of his name and hospital.  He gave it, mildly surprised.

But surprise became amazement for both when a few hours later, a special delivery arrived from the local supermarket of a large tub of quality ice cream, enough for a serving for every meal for both men for all their expected hospitalization, as well as a large Easter chocolate rabbit as cause for added cheer.

And cheer us all up it did. Both men told the story with glee to anyone who would listen.  The rage of the recent fight, disappointment and disillusionment with humans in general and medical insurers in particular that I had felt could not linger in the face of such generosity, and was soon forgotten.  My dad got better with surprising speed, and is back on his feet and at home, pain free.

It takes considerable time and effort to make an arrangement for out-of-the-ordinary cross country deliveries, never mind the costs involved, and particularly where there is no infrastructure in place that makes it easy.  Several people would have had to put aside other work and make an effort to do something that had no prospect of a positive return. And yet, a nameless, unknown factory manager in a city on the far side of the country thought it was worth doing, in the midst of problems of his own, turning a wrong number into a random act of kindness that will be dined out on long after the scars have healed.

With ice cream, of course.

Martin Young is an otolaryngologist in South Africa and founder and CEO of ConsentCare.

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