When I was sixteen years old, I met a nurse named Dawn on one of the hardest days of my life.
We only crossed paths for a few hours: me, a shell of a teenage girl; Dawn, a nurse with poignant compassion. She took my vitals as any nurse would and showed me to a doctor’s room. It was a windy spring morning—one of many I’d spent in doctor’s offices during the last few months.
I’d seen the doctor before, though I can’t recall her name. All I know is that, on that day, when she entered the room, she smelled like hand sanitizer, and her words sent lucid terror through my body: “Immediate hospitalization. High risk.”
If there was more to the conversation, I don’t remember it. I probably blocked it out completely. The next thing I recall is that my dad stepped out of the room to call my mom and speak more with the doctor.
That’s when I saw Dawn again. As I wrestled with the pressurized panic of what was to come, Dawn sat with me. As the doctor discerned if the hospital had a bed, Dawn told me a little bit about her life… She had a son and she loved him immensely, just like my daddy loved me. She believed that I was a strong girl and that I wasn’t alone. She knew God was with me and that he wouldn’t leave me.
I’d just met the woman, but I immediately felt safe with Dawn. Despite my stilted responses, Dawn stayed by my side. I remember her compassionate gaze—one of care and not degradation. I hadn’t seen that look from most medical providers. It was foreign to me. By then, crippling shame had seeped into my pores and flooded my being; Dawn knew why I was at the clinic. She knew how dire my situation was. But as much as I wanted to avoid her eye contact and hide, I couldn’t bear to. It felt so good to be seen.
The hospital had a bed available, my dad said. And I whimpered as he explained that we’d go straight there. As I pondered my options—I seriously considered jumping out of a moving vehicle—Dawn told me she had something for me. She left the room and returned with a green blanket. It was a plain, fleece blanket. Nothing extraordinary. And in that moment: it was my world.
I clutched the blanket tightly as Dawn explained that it was specially made for me by Project Linus. I’m not certain, but I believe she went on to say that she volunteered with Project Linus and that God must have known I needed a blanket that day because it was the last one she had. I tried to refuse at first, explaining that I felt guilty taking a “charity” blanket that was intended for kids in need.
I took the blanket.
As we walked to the waiting room, fear seared my gait and I slowed to a near stop. Still, I gripped the blanket and kept walking. As my dad indicated we were ready to go, Dawn looked into my watery eyes and she told me that I mattered; that I was loved.
That was over ten years ago, and as I write this, I am nestled under the blanket that Dawn gifted me on that day. I have carried the Linus blanket (literally and figuratively) through every subsequent season of life. It’s gone on every trip I’ve taken and was a constant companion during college. On many nights, I have huddled under its folds, battling to keep living… and wanting to live. That blanket has seen the full spectrum of my highs and lows.
My Linus blanket is a unique symbol of softness and strength, of the impact that one moment of love can have on the trajectory of someone’s life. Whenever I use the blanket, I am reminded of a God who cares so deeply for His children that He sends love in the form of green blankets and kind nurses.
While I haven’t seen Dawn since that day, it has helped me to write a letter to her anyway. If I could thank Dawn, this is what I would say:
For years, you have been a reminder to me that the small ways in which I interact with others matter. Your capacity for hope and desire to instill it in others has forever changed how I react to hardship. Thank you. My life got a whole lot harder before I was able to see the freedom you spoke of that day. At times, it's seemed like a pure illusion—one attempt at treatment turned into another, and somehow, years ticked by. I remember telling myself that I would stop engaging in the eating disorder by the time I graduated college, by the time I was 23, 24, 25... I told myself that marriage would fix things and I would be able to control my body and mind in a more relaxed manner once I had a husband and could reach a few goals as a runner. Milestone after milestone saw the same dismal rigidity and depression; the same worn-ragged body curled up under that green blanket. But I kept fighting. And though I am still on a journey toward healing, God has used countless people like you to show me that I can (and will!) be fully free. Dawn, I spent a lot of time investing in my mental health this past year. But it didn't start out that way. Initially, I lamented my weaknesses. I scolded myself—"Hannah, you 'shouldn't' be dealing with this still... you 'should have' gotten healthy ten years ago." But I've come to discover that we don't stumble upon victory in life; we stumble into it—bloodied, scarred, and a whole lot wiser. If I could go back, I would love to remove the suffering I've experienced. But I truly don't know if I would. The victory I am seeing and charging toward is only possible because of the trenches I have walked through. But I sure didn't know that as a sick, sixteen-year-old wired to more machines than I knew. Yet, you did. And you proclaimed victory over me because you knew what I did not: there is always, always hope. You'd be amazed to know how many people have continued where you left off—spurring me on and reminding me that I have worth. It is incredible! I have so many stories to tell of God's faithfulness, and something tells me that you would love to hear them. I'm not sure, however, if my heart would've been as receptive to all the individuals who have come alongside me if I hadn't felt the soft love you offered to me when I was at my worst. It was a gift that has forever changed my life. I'm never going to get rid of that blanket. Thank you, Dawn. Love, Han
This article is written in honor of Dawn, as well as so many other mental health and medical professionals who have been a part of my healing journey. I could list so many, but a few that come to mind (in no order and by first name only) are: Brittany, Clair, Emily, Allie, Amy, Riley, Lauren, Emily, Chaia, Janelle, Jen, James, Hailey, Emily, Lexi, Kyle, leah, Melissa, Rachel, Ellen, and so many many more. Thank you for what you do. Your work matters and you matter.