Top 10 Useless Activities to Do in The Hospital

(That will almost take your mind off the fact that your mom is dying)

1. Flirt with that hot new oncology resident.

Is he married? Ten years younger than you? Doesn’t matter. Grief and lust are in the air, insidiously entwined; coiling through the ventilating system along with thousands of incurable diseases and his earthy cologne. He’s been in five times in the past two days to check your mom’s white blood cell counts. Or is he actually checking on you? You halfway hope so. This guy not only studies Western medicine and Eastern philosophy, but he has fluffy knuckle hair. Not to mention sturdy shoulders. Or maybe his shoulders are worth mentioning. Soon, they may be the only things holding you up.

2. Count the number of ice chips that come out of the machine on Floor 10 East versus the machine on Floor 10 West

Obviously, try to keep your finger pressure and your pressing time consistent on each ice machine button to obtain accurate results. You’ll probably need to repeat this experiment between 10 and 500 times to get a mean average. You can then enter all of your findings into a spreadsheet and pretend you are doing your taxes early. Add the left column of numbers to the right, and divide the sum by 11 since that seems time-consuming. Or just stare at the numbers and search for how many times 29 appears, since that’s the number of years you had on earth with a mom.

3. Study traffic patterns on the FDR Drive out the hospital window

This can be extremely meditative, especially at night, which is also day, which is also night, because there is no sense of time in here. Hospitals are like casinos, only without the bells and showgirls. You could’ve been a showgirl. You also could have been an engineer or a copywriter or really anything besides this slumping lump of a daughter who can’t stop pacing the visitors’ lounge in a lopsided circle, except to stare at those headlights on the FDR Drive, as if they might turn into a magical stream of lucky stars.

4. Start that “Drink 100 oz. of water a day” challenge

It will surely lead to optimal health, radiant skin, abundant energy, and overall joie de vivre. Until ounce 27. Which is just. Too. Much. Water.  

5. Engage Mom in a crossword-puzzle-a-thon

She’s been up periodically during these past 72 hours (that feel like 100 hours), usually to moan or to beg you to take her home. Which is a reasonable request except for the fact that she is dying. Even though she was supposed to go to book club on Wednesday night and she promised to help you find a new apartment and there’s a cardigan she wanted to return to Marshalls. Her doctor took you and your siblings into the Bad News Room and verified that there was nothing to be done except keep Mom comfortable.

So, the next time she asks—or, actually begs—you to let her go home, you can just pretend you didn’t hear her and pull out a crossword puzzle. She’s always been a champion puzzler, even managing the Sunday acrostic in pen. And asking for a five-letter word for a technique that’s popular in French cooking is much easier than uttering the horrific question you really want answered: Mom, do you know this is the end?

6. Reconnect with all those friends who disappointed you over this past year

An eye for an eye and give the love you wish to receive, and all that, right? Now is the perfect time to send out some passive-aggressive texts to those besties who have not been there for you during this shitstorm of a year. Just a few words, like Haven’t heard from you in a while! Or Wassup?! Most likely, you will feel a momentary stab of triumph. Followed by loneliness.

7. Catch up on Instagram feeds featuring other people’s cats

Not that you’re a cat person, but you definitely don’t have room for a dog, you’ve heard that guinea pigs eat their own poop and you are going to need some source of cuddles and comfort when Mom is gone. Alternately, you can put together some wind chimes out of recycled apple juice cups and start your own Etsy store called CrisisCrafting.

8. Continue that fight with your sister about what Mom needs to feel more comfortable and whether she knows what’s going on and who has been the better daughter now and throughout your entire life

‘Cuz why not?

9. Feng shui the skidless socks, water bottles and bedpans

You can make piles of each or a decorative pattern along the airless windowsill. Sock-bottle-bedpan, or bedpan-bottle-sock are just two suggestions. Get creative—no one will notice or care! When you’ve run out of options you can clear your head by pounding it against the wall.

10. Lie. Until you can’t lie any more.

No one else has the guts to tell Mom that she’s dying, so why should you? That kind of bluntness feels a little rude. Also, earth-shattering and impossible. After all, she was just making a cup of mint tea the other day. She also happened to be your best friend and confidante, sniffing out every rash, every fear, every unfinished book report of yours.

Lying might feel like the right thing to do because we are all what we think, The Secret was a bestseller and blah blah blah. But when you close your eyes and just listen to her breathe, you know it’s time to tell the truth. To say thank you.

Thank you, Mommy, for giving me life and unconditional love. For wiping my butt, brushing out my knots and taking me to The Container Store. Thank you for daring me to be bigger and louder and to stick out my chest.

I’m sorry I was too chickenshit to tell you before now. You’re dying. I wish I could change the end of this story, but I can’t.

All I can do is be here, and hold your hand.

I love you.


Dedicated to Joan Lear Sher.


Abby Sher is an award-winning writer, performer, and aspiring ukulele-ian. She’s performed with The Second City, ImprovOlympic, HBO and NPR, and is currently a co-producer of Scratch ‘N Sniff Productions. She is the author of four books and is included in numerous anthologies. You can read more about her at

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