Something as small as the gift of a book can considerably brighten someone's day.

I learned that while I was doing a two-week stint at a rehabilitation center.

While some of us were there just to recover from surgery, others are long-term, which probably means for various health reasons, they won't be going home.

When I was outside on the patio with visitors, a long-term female resident was nearby talking with her visiting daughter.

The daughter asked her mother if she was still reading. The woman admitted she didn't have anything to read and couldn't afford to keep buying new books.

"What I would really like," she said, "is a soft cover Reader's Digest book. I love the stories and the soft covers are easier for me to hold."

I realized I had exactly what she wanted in the bag of books I packed for my hospital stay. She was quite surprised when I took the book to her room.

A few days later, she told me how much it meant to her to be able to get back to reading. "It breaks up my long days," she said. I was as pleased as she was to be able to help in a small way.

When we are able bodied, we can go to the library and load up on books. In a nursing home, that simple pleasure is gone. It's a good place to recycle books and magazines when you are finished with them. Some nursing homes try to keep a little library for residents who like to read.

I promised the woman I would come back with more books when I was out of the hospital and able to walk again.

One of the lessons I am having reinforced during my recovery is how important it is to be there for people. Small stuff means so much when you can't get out. Whether it's a visit, a card, an email or a phone call, it means a lot to know someone remembered you.

My friend Linda made me smile from a thousand miles away by sending a funny balloon and flowers in a happy face vase. And the encouraging emails I received from readers went a long way to bolstering my spirits.

How much does a simple card mean? Plenty. Especially when someone takes time to write a note, too.

I have always said we never know who are true friends until we need them. And then, who comes through for us is often a surprise, not the people we expect to be there.

I found that to be true this time, too. The people we spend the most time with aren't necessarily the ones who are there for us. On the other hand, it was a lovely surprise to see visitors I didn't expect.

I felt quite guilty when Amelia came to visit. A year ago when she went through open-heart surgery, I kept saying we had to go see her. I never did. Shame on me.

"I learned through my own recuperation how important it is to visit people and help out whenever we can," Amelia said.

One thing we both learned is not to call someone who is laid up and vaguely say, "Call me if you need anything."

It's far better to be specific. Ask if you can pick up and deliver anything to them. Offer to drive to a doctor's appointment. Or, offer to bring a treat.

How many people would pick up the phone and say, "You offered to help. I can't get around yet. I sure would like a healthy meal?"

I would never do that, even if I were close to starvation. Luckily, cooking is one of the few things I can do from my wheelchair. All it takes if having Dave there to clean up the mess I make when I get as much flour on the floor as in the recipe.

My daughter Andrea makes it a standing practice to bring a casserole to anyone recovering from an illness. Often, ladies in her town coordinate their efforts to make sure they don't all bring food at the same time.

It's just a simple gesture that says "I care."

From now on, I hope to be more faithful in doing things like that.

I also learned to be sensitive to the needs of someone in a wheelchair.

One guy told me horror stories about being cursed at in a grocery store because he wasn't moving his wheelchair fast enough. I say, have a little patience. And help out when you can.

I told you last week how much I appreciated it when two shoppers helped me reach items I needed.

Small stuff, but it means a lot.

If you help someone even in a small way, it's a double blessing both for you and for the one you helped.

The same guy also said it makes him mad when he can't find a handicapped parking space because able-bodied people take them. I've heard that same complaint from many others.

"I would do anything to trade places with her," said one paraplegic who watched a young woman take the last handicapped-parking place in front of a doctor's office.

I have always believed no experience is wasted. Every experience has something to teach us.

I am still learning from experiences during my recovery.

The important thing will be to put those experiences to good use. Any experience that makes us stronger, or better, isn't wasted.