Dr. Alastair McAlpine recently asked the young, terminally ill children under his care what they enjoyed about life or what gave life meaning to them for an assignment in his palliative care diploma program at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The pediatrician, who works at pediatric palliative care center PaedsPal, shared the results in a series of tweets last week.
"NONE said they wished they'd watched more TV. NONE said they should've spent more time on Facebook. NONE said they enjoyed fighting with others. NONE enjoyed hospital," he wrote — especially poignant since these are children who likely spend a lot of their limited time there.
What these ailing children do love, though: their pets, their parents, the beach, and ice cream. "Many mentioned their parents, often expressing worry or concern," McAlpine wrote. "'Hope Mum will be okay. She seems sad.' 'Dad mustn't worry. He'll see me again soon.'"
(That sound you hear? That is the sound of parents everywhere going into a full-on ugly cry.)
They love reading books and being told stories, especially by their parents, McAlpine said. "Harry Potter made me feel brave," one child told him.
And they value kindness, laughter, and people who treat them "normally," he reported. "My granny is so kind to me. She always makes me smile," said one child. Another said, "No one loves me like Mummy loves me."
(Ugly crying resumes, this time led by all the "mummies" out there who often wonder if their children know no one loves them like they do.)
McAlpine, who is not a father himself yet, told TODAY Parents that the children's responses change the way he approaches his work. "They humble me, and they teach me to listen," he said. "They teach me that there's more to helping children than prescribing medication, and that a patient is a human being with physical, cultural, psychological and spiritual attributes that we also need to address."
The takeaway for all of us, McAlpine said, is simple: "Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them," he wrote. "These are the things these kids wish they could've done more of. The rest is details.
"Oh... and eat more ice cream."
We think we can do that.