Written by Dr. Cynthia Paulis Friday, 17 January 2014 00:00
Dressed to the nines, sporting a tuxedo, 90-year-old Al Toma of Albertson and his date, Rose Repke, 93, of East Williston looking glamorous in her ivory silk blouse and red taffeta skirt, were ready to ring in the New Year the way they have for the past 10 years — at St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center in Roslyn. Volunteers at the hospital, they decided a decade ago that rather than go out for New Year’s Eve, they’d bring some happiness to those who are stuck in the hospital during the holidays instead.
Wheeling a cart with punch and cookies, hats, and streamers, they make their rounds for three hours every New Year’s Eve starting at 6 and ending at 9 p.m. According to Repke, who first came up with the idea, “Coming here New Year’s Eve is magical. The patients just love it and we love doing it.” Toma added, “The patients are so surprised when we walk in their rooms and ask where are we going and we tell them we are here to see you. Then they ask, where are you going afterward, Nowhere. We’re in bed by 10:30.”
The reactions from patients range from shock to surprise. “Some don’t want to see us because they are in too much pain and others are so glad we came by,” commented Toma. Repke recalled one patient who was depressed that he was in the hospital but turned around after meeting them. “This one man was very ill and supposedly dying. I went in and I prayed with him. I had on a skirt and all of a sudden the man called me back and said, “I’ve decided not to die because if there are legs like yours in the world I am going to stay alive. That was my best miracle that ever happened to me in the hospital.”
Following the couple on rounds at the hospital we visited a few patients. The first one was 72-year-old Hy Jacobson of Smithtown, who was stunned and delighted to see the couple who handed him a bright red hat and wished him a Happy New Year and dispensed some wisdom and jokes.
“This is a beautiful thing. It just made my day. I was in pain before and now I don’t have any, it’s gone. Amazing.”
John Wilson, 68, of Farmingville, smiled brightly as Rose placed a gold party hat on his head and was hoping to get out today. Rose offered to write him a note but didn’t know if it would help.
After joking around, the three of them said a prayer together and wished him a joyful life. Wilson had this comment, ”It’s very nice of them to come in here like this, it’s terrific and gives me encouragement that people are out there doing this for people holed up in a hospital. It’s nice.”
Dolores Kolmal of Baldwin, who was their next visitor, felt that this is important in the healing process. “It’s a heck of a lot better to be smiling than frowning. Can you image being their age and doing this as volunteering. I think it’s fantastic and you think about all of the good they do, just cheering people up. Being stuck in here for New Year’s isn’t much fun but I feel really good right now. They are so joyful.” Smiling brightly, Dolores picked up her streamer and blew it and laughed.
When asked what her children think about this Rose commented,” They think I am home on a rocking chair waiting to die.” Instead she is out rocking in the New Year in style with her best friend Al, dispensing the best kind of medicine, smiles, laughter and compassion.