The hours, days and weeks drag by when you’re a 10-year-old leukemia patient stuck in a hospital.
Harlee Taylor of Oregon, Mo., and her mother, Beth, were about a week into their month-long stay on 4 Henson when they got an idea for battling boredom.
“We noticed there were people [in the building] across from us, and we didn’t have anything else to do, so we made a sign that said ‘Hi, there!’ and taped it in the window,” Harlee said. “Then they put up a sign that said, ‘Hello.’ We said, ‘How are you?’ They said, ‘Great, how are you?’ We said, ‘BORED!’”
Those first respondents to Harlee’s overture were a group of employees who work for University Physicians Associates (UPA) on the 8th floor of the Truman Medical Centers (TMC) Building, directly across from Henson Tower.
The next day, Harlee and her Mom put up a sign that said, “Hangman…wanna play?”
The invitation launched a three-week exchange of hangman puzzles that provided hours of entertainment and established friendships that all involved hope will continue.
Here’s how it worked: one side would post a joke or riddle; the punch line had to be guessed letter-by-letter, hangman style. Hospital staff members joined in the fun. In fact, Harlee and Beth credits Dr. Keith August with solving what they considered the hardest quiz they received from across the way:
“Where does a catcher eat dinner?
Answer: “B E H I N D T H E P L A T E!”
JOIN THE FUN!
The fun spread to other floors, other people and took other forms. For example, Bobby Besherse, an IT professional on the 7th floor of TMC who likes to draw, said his boss noticed the hangman exchange and told Bobby, “You should draw them a picture.”
Bobby first drew a picture of a kitty for Harlee, then put an “Any requests?” sign in his window.
Over the next several weeks, he drew pictures of superheroes, dragons and other characters for Children’s Mercy patients. One patient returned the favor, painting a blue elephant for Bobby.
“His mother said his hands were so swollen that he could hardly hold the paint brush, but he wanted to do it for me,” Bobby said. “It was the coolest thing ever. The kids and families were super-appreciative. I didn’t realize the impact it was having.”
Meanwhile, Harlee one day got a message from the TMC 8th floor that said, “Can we send a surprise?” Soon her hangman buddies brought Harlee a large collection of art supplies, complete with a sketch book signed by the dozen or so people in the office who participated.
The final hangman quiz brought the best news of all from 4 Henson:
“Guess where Harlee gets to go?”
The answer: "H O M E!"
FINALLY MEETING FACE-TO-FACE
Harlee’s four-year battle with leukemia continues; she is returning to Children’s Mercy about once a week for clinical appointments. On her first trip back, she took cookies to her TMC friends, who miss her but are glad she is now home.
“It was kind of sad when she first went home and there were no letters or pictures,” said Amber Blaisdell, one of the people at TMC. “I think it was just as awesome for us as it was for her.”
Beth said the exchange was particularly beneficial for Harlee because she had been dreading the confinement. Since being diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia), she had never experienced such a long hospital stay.
“Spending time communicating with the wonderful people across the way definitely was the bright spot for Harlee’s time at CMH,” Beth said. “My husband and I are forever indebted to all of the ladies at UPA, as well as Bobby and his co-workers, for the kindness they showed in helping Harlee get through what could have been a very trying month. They bolstered her spirits and mine and have forever impacted our family. The kindness of people who were strangers to help a little girl stuck in a hospital room speaks volumes to their character, and I’m so glad they have become our friends.”
Harlee’s Mom also had kind words for the people of Children’s Mercy.
“Staff members on 4 Henson were wonderful as well. We met some great nurses and care assistants who went out of their way to help us. They made Harlee’s stay as fun and enjoyable as they could, and I hope we made their days brighter also.”
As she prepares to go home, Harlee posts her final window message, "Thank You!" to her hangman buddies in the Truman Medical Centers building.
At times Harlee had a window full of hangman messages during her month-long stay at Children's Mercy.
The hangman exchange between Children's Mercy and Truman Medical Centers expanded to include customized art work drawn by TMC IT professional Bobby Besherse. After being displayed, the pictures were delivered to CMH patients who requested their favorite characters.
During a followup visit to Children's Mercy, Harlee, her mother Beth and sister Rilee took time to also visit Truman Medical Centers to meet face-to-face with friends made through their window correspondence, including Bobby Besherse.