By: Natasha Barrett
The man walked through the door of the gift shop and seemed a little lost. He stopped, looked around, almost overwhelmed with his head looking down. The woman behind the counter politely asked if she could help him find what he was looking for. He quickly replied, ‘no’ without even looking up.
Giving the man his space, Gyspie Hufnagle didn’t think much of the exchange, until later. That man ultimately revealed that he had to get away, he needed to take a break from his mother’s hospital room. He had spent day after day by her bedside concerned about her diagnosis. It was cancer. The man managed to keep a strong will and optimistic attitude in front of his Mom. But, here, among pink and blue baby balloons and smelly candles inside the gift shop he was able to let his guard down, unleash his troubles and emotions with someone who he had never even met before.
“We sometimes become the therapist or psychologist behind the register at that desk because people just need someone to talk to. They just need to get out of the room and just talk to someone,” Gypsie said.
Gypsie may have been a stranger at first that day. But, after talking to the volunteer it probably didn’t feel like that for long. It probably felt like talking to a friend.
“You know you try just to help people, but, in turn, sometimes you’re the one that’s feeling better because you know you’ve made a little difference and helped someone in some way. Even it’s the smallest thing. It counts, it’s just giving back. It’s what it’s all about,”Gypsie said.
Hufnagle has been a volunteer at Memorial Hermann Woodlands Medical Center for almost two decades. She now runs the gift shop and just about everyone around the campus knows her.
She’s one of those people who you just feel comfortable around. She has a sweet, southern charm. Not to mention she is impeccably dressed and dons hair that belongs on a TV news set. Gypsie is responsible for purchasing what is sold at the gift shop and keeping up with the latest trends while managing several other volunteers.
“We are not just here for a register and cashing someone out we’re here to be that person who they need to talk to. That comfort, that hope, that something. And we do that a lot, the volunteers do that a lot.”
The Caregiver Becomes the Patient
While driving up to Dallas to select items at a huge market sale, Gypsie felt a sharp pain in her right arm. She was alone and didn’t realize what actually happened. It was a heart attack.
Gypsie ignored her symptoms for about a week. Then, she went to see Cardiovascular Disease Specialist Dr. Giridhar Vedala at Memorial Hermann Woodlands Medical Center.
“Unrecognized heart attack symptoms are more common than expected,” Dr. Vedala said.
Dr. Vedala gave her a life vest. It monitored Gypsie’s heart continuously, 24/7 and could deliver an electric shock if necessary. The vest served as a personal defibrillator for anyone who is at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
“Heart attacks are not always associated with chest pain. Any activity related symptoms ranging from shortness of breath, to an ache or pressure in the jaw, neck, arms or chest should all be discussed with a physician,” Dr. Vedala explained.
Gypsie wore the electric vest for 124 days until her health improved.
“I told all of my friends that as much as I loved the doctor, he ruined my wardrobe,” Gypsie quipped.
Gypsie is back at work now. One thing Dr. Vedala couldn’t mess with is her picture perfect hair. Or, her perfect outlook.
“No matter what you do here, it’s just the giving back and making someone feel better when the conversation ends or you walk out of the room better than when you went in, “ Gypsie said.
Gypsie knows that feeling. It’s unspoken. Even difficult to describe. It’s a feeling she gives to so many who walk through her door. And, now an unforgettable feeling she received for the first time on the other side of that register in the gift shop.