How a Doll’s Hat Encouraged Her to Continue Helping Patients

A gift from a health care worker to her young patient comes full circle.

Posted in , Jan 25, 2021

A lavender knitted hat with a large flower; Illustration by Jessica Allen

I held up the hat I’d just finished and burst out laughing. It was my first attempt at knitting and hadn’t gone as planned. I’d made a mistake somewhere along the way, and the lavender hat I’d wanted to make for myself had turned out too small to fit me or anyone else. It was no bigger than the palm of my hand!

I have to show this to the team at work tomorrow, I thought. I was a pediatric cardiac sonographer at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a stressful job, and humor was always appreciated. I sewed a little flower onto the side of the hat and brought it to work the next day. We team members all had a good laugh at my mini hat and got back to our patients. I stuck the hat in a drawer and forgot about it.

A few days later, a four-year-old girl came in for an echocardiogram. She was wearing a knit cap to cover the hair loss from her leukemia treatment and clutched a baby doll in her arms. Her defiant look dared me to touch her. I’d have to work extra hard to gain her trust. I offered her the transducer so she could take pictures of her doll’s heart. Not interested. I made animals with the ultrasound gel. She would have none of it. “Does your dolly have a name?” I said. She threw her doll to the floor, and I saw my chance.

I picked up the doll and straightened her dress. “I know it’s kind of scary to have this test,” I said to the doll, “but I promise it won’t hurt. What—your head is cold? You wish you had a hat?”

I pulled the hat from my drawer and slipped it onto the doll’s little bald head. It was a perfect fit.

The girl smiled. “Her hat looks like mine!” she said.

“It does, doesn’t it? I knit it myself and was just waiting for the right person to wear it. I’m so glad your baby needed to come in today.”

The rest of the appointment went well. My patient left with a smile on her face and a new hat for her doll. I never saw her again, but I wondered how she was doing every time I knit a new hat. My skills improved with each one.

I was glad to have my quiet hobby to rely on after I injured my hip while running. I knew even before the MRI that I was sure to be laid up for a while, probably forced to take some time off from the hospital.

My MRI, however, uncovered something far more serious: a mass in my uterus. Doctors advised me to get a hysterectomy. I went home, shocked and disoriented, to take in the news. My fears around the surgery built all day, and I lay awake in bed that night, staring at the ceiling. God, am I doing the right thing? Please let me be as strong as my young patients are. Tell me this will turn out okay.

A few days later, I waited to meet with a new physician to schedule the procedure. The doctor stepped in and introduced herself, then sat down on her stool to look through my chart. As she read, her expression softened and a strange look spread across her face. “You work at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m a sonographer in pediatric cardiology.”

She leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows. “Do you knit?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I do.”

“Do you remember giving a little girl a hat several years ago?”

I nodded. “For her doll.”

“That was my daughter.”

“Your daughter?” I asked. “How is she?” I mentally braced myself for her answer.

The doctor smiled. “She’s in remission now, doing great. She’s 10 years old, but she still keeps that doll hat on a shelf in her bedroom. Just this morning, she was telling me that she wished she knew who you were, so she could thank you.”

“You can tell her she has,” I said, my fears dissolved into utter amazement.

The doctor’s assurances that my surgery would go well turned out to be true. Before long, I was back at the hospital, helping patients who helped me in ways that only God could know.

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