Pay It Forward: A Meditation on Suffering, Volunteer Work, and Storytelling

Sue Hassmiller has been blogging from the tornado-damaged area in Alabama, where she’s volunteering for the Red Cross. This and all other posts in this series are collected on a separate page for easy reference.—JM, senior editor/blog editor

What an honor and privilege it is to help another human being—that’s how we all feel being here. There is no greater gift. Period. And we love to share our stories—including those that break our heart, especially those that break our heart. That’s what we do: we do our work and then we share our stories—our therapy, if you will. And we’re like kids at Christmas with what we are able to do for people, comparing the gifts we were able to give and reactions to those gifts. 

Today, because of the gift of money from Red Cross donors, I was able to take an inconsolable 21-year-old, who was swept up into the sky holding onto her baby for dear life, whose hard landing back to the ground caused six broken ribs,  a torn knee, a black eye, and a broken collarbone—and now pneumonia—and provide her with a doctor’s visit, filled prescriptions, food, and gas money to get to her doctor’s appointments and pick up her baby (who is doing well) from her boyfriend’s house many miles away. These are all the things we take for granted, but for her, on this day, luxuries. 

At the end of two hours she was able to smile and ask how she would ever repay me and this organization called the Red Cross. And I said simply, “pay it forward.” She hugged me tightly, groaned from the pain of her broken ribs, and said she would. And I know she will.

Red Cross nurse Cheryl Thomas of Tyler, Texas, attends to residents of the Belk Activity Center in Tuscaloosa. Cheryl's duties included cleaning wounds from the tornado. She described the injuries as looking like shrapnel wounds from a bomb explosion, and added that a lot of people come in because they just need a little love, a little hope. Thomas is a 16-year veteran of the Red Cross who retired from her job in 2006 so she could volunteer for the Red Cross full-time. It is, she says, a blessing to have the opportunity to help your fellow man. Here she checks the blood pressure of resident Claudie Jackson. Photo: Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

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2016-11-21T13:13:15+00:00 May 12th, 2011|Nursing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Janie May 13, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I have been so riveted by these updates. I wish we could get some more exposure because people forget quickly! The devastation is overwhelming. Thank you so much for your loving hands as you nurse those you touch and those you listen to.

  2. Gail Pfeifer May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am

    What a great service you are performing, not only by your hands on work helping those in the devastated southern US, but to all of nurses reading this blog. Thank you so much for writing in the midst of what must be extremely difficult circumstances!

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