Daniel Atkins reflects on his 81 days spent holding signs outside Mid Coast Hospital during a small ceremony held in his honor on Friday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — During the 81 days Daniel Atkins stood at the end of the driveway leading to Mid Coast Hospital, he came to know the faces of the people fighting the local battle against a global pandemic. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, he saw fear, panic, stress, sadness and loss, but he also saw determination. As the weeks wore on and local efforts showed results, he started to see more joy, strength, hope and relief. 

As he sees it, each day, as he stood holding his signs to encourage the front line hospital workers as their shifts changed, he “bore witness to the absolute best that humanity has to offer.” 

The sign display started as a way to cheer up his mother, who was in lockdown at Horizons Living and Rehabilitation Center in Brunswick. He brought a big chalkboard sign, in the shape of two hearts that read “We love you,” and stood outside the window so she could see him. Then, he thought he’d walk around the building so the other residents could see. It cheered them up, too, so Atkins thought he’d try standing outside Mid Coast Hospital to thank the doctors and nurses for their work battling the virus on the frontlines.

Daniel Atkins stands with his sign outside Mid Coast Hospital on April 1. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Before long, it “exploded into something so much larger than myself that I could barely hang on to its tails,” the 67-year-old woodworker said. 

For nearly three months, Atkins spent 10-hour days, no matter the weather, at Mid Coast Hospital, Martin’s Point testing site, the Bath Brunswick Veterinary Clinic, the walk-in clinic, the post office, banks, long-term care facilities, supermarkets, the fire station, CVS and more. He made his rounds, standing for hours each day, holding his signs (which take up to a day each to craft), just hoping to share a little love. 

It didn’t go unnoticed. 

On Friday, Mid Coast Hospital officials honored Atkins with a small ceremony to thank him for his dedication to supporting and encouraging health care workers from March 31 to June 19. 

They cheered for him, waving “Thank you, Daniel” signs and made him his own chalkboard sign. Mid Coast Parkview Health’s board of directors officially marked March 31 as “Daniel Atkins Day.”

“Seeing you there at the end of the driveway gave us all courage,” said Lois Skillings, Mid Coast Parkview president and CEO. 

For Atkins, it was always about recognition, but never for himself. 

He thanked the “amazing group of friends I’ve never met” and said their kind words and messages “filled my heart and fueled my sense of purpose.” 

Mid Coast Parkview Health President and CEO Lois Skillings thanks Daniel Atkins for his words of encouragement throughout the pandemic. “Seeing you there at the end of the driveway gave us all courage,” she said. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

The whole experience was “overwhelmingly powerful and extraordinary,” he said, choking up.

“I witnessed a whole changing of the seasons,” he said. From his spot at the end of the driveway, he watched the birds return and the lady slippers blossom. “I was so aware of, while the human world was so stressed, the natural world was quietly going about,” he said. “I tried to gather that energy and put a little bit of it into each car.”

Kim Tucker has been a nurse at Mid Coast Hospital for more than 30 years. She called the first few days of the pandemic, when nobody knew what was going to happen, “surreal.” Everyone was nervous, but they “never once thought about going in,” she said. So they swallowed their fear, geared up and went in. 

For a while, “the sign guy” gave them something different to talk about. Before anyone knew his name, they talked about what his signs said each day or what he drew on them. 

One day, Tucker pulled over to take a picture of Atkins and his sign and chatted with him. Eventually, she started to stop every day and they became fast friends. 

“It meant a lot,” she said. “He’s a generous guy to spend that time for us.” 

A Mid Coast Hospital nurse wears one of the “Thank you, Daniel” signs made for Friday’s ceremony honoring Daniel Atkins. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Atkins wound down his sign holding for a few weeks, going from seven days per week to three, then once a week. Mid Coast wasn’t seeing as many active COVID-19 cases, his wife, Nancy, was holding things down at home, and there was a general shift in how things were progressing. 

“It was just time,” he said.

If cases start increasing — he hopes they don’t — Atkins may go back out there, but for now, he said he’s happy to know he helped in his own way. 

“People told me it reminded them why they do what they do,” he said. “It was a gift.” 

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