I just left the hospital, Room 3, where I said goodbye to a little-buddy of mine that I’d made while I’ve been here. His name is Massimo, 14 years old, and he loves ice-cream.
Massimo is a brave. I told him I’d tell you all about him, and his eyes lit up! I told him I’d tell you all about what a cool kid he is, and how one day he’s gonna be riding down the streets of Rome on a Vespa with a hot girlfriend.
Massimo arrived at our hospital a few weeks ago, in very bad shape. I don’t wanna air out his laundry, so I won’t mention details, but in summary, he wasn’t supposed to make live.
I’d been visiting him every day since I’d been here. His story stood out to me, and I wanted to meet the young man that faced a world of trouble, and that could still hold his head up and smile like a kid his age should.
The visits were the same, we’d have small talk, we’d make jokes, he’d ask for ice-cream, he’d remind me how bad I was at playstation, and that would be it.
Last Saturday, when i went to see him, things weren’t as normal. He was in really bad shape (he had been getting progressively worse as the week went on). The doctor told me “we’re not optimistic”. He had come down with a deadly opportunistic infection, and wasn’t expected to make it. I went off alone for a while and just tried to understand all that was goin on. Why someone so young had to face such a short life and have it end so quickly, but in such a slow and painful manner.
Heavy meds, the latest medical technology, and a lot of love and care from the people around him was all we could hope for. I wasn’t optimistic, I mean—I am a cynic after all. I don’t expect things to go well if they shouldn’t, but I do like to be pleasantly surprised. Nevertheless, i continued visiting him in those days when things were on the down-down-down.
Then there was the night the doctors thought we would lose him. I visited the room as usual, but there was no request for ice cream. There was no playstation music rattling the neighbors. It was quiet, and there was slow, belabored breathing. He looked at me and said “I’m cold.”, and he was shivering, and asked me to please keep him warm. So I went over and put my arm around him and just sat next to him as he shivered. I was heartbroken. And I also felt completely unqualified to be the person to give him warmth on what may be his last night on the planet. No mother, or father. He was stuck with a privileged Egyptian guy from New York who sucked at Playstation, who was just trying to find himself.
As deeply painful as that experience was, I had to be like a rock, stone cold, positive energy. But inside, I was breaking down. But the emotional response, was nothing compared to the body that was breaking down in front of me, while he was fighting for dear life. We talked a bit and I wished him a good night, and I left expecting never to see my little buddy again.
Then Sunday came around, I went past the room expecting it to be empty, or closed. I expected bad news, and I had been preparing for it. However, I was met with a very different reality. Massimo was sitting there in his room, and he was looking at us with eyes wide open for the first time. I’d never seen his eyes before. They’d been kinda half closed for the 7 days that i’d been there, but this time he was looking at us wide-eyed, bossing the hospital staff around, requesting all kinds of food, it was wonderful!
Visiting Massimo became a very important part of my days. He started to grow on me. I felt honored the day when he kicked out a bunch of nuns who came to visit him, and asked me to stay. He’d tell me stories bout his growing up in Malindi, and I’d tell him about New York, and my day, and the people I’ve met.
I’d learned something very important here. I started to visit this kid, because I felt pity. But the one thing he didn’t want was pity. I learned that very quickly. He was just as alive as anyone else, and that had to be respected. So even the way I dealt with him changed as the days went on.
And as this past week went on – he got better and better! We couldn’t believe it. Before we knew it he was walking again. Ashok, Massimo and I took a stroll down to the cafeteria – and he stood tall, although his body was frail, his resolve was pretty friggin’ diesel!
He also ordered 3 samosas and housed them! I barely got through my plate of fries.
Because of his late-father’s nationality, Massimo is actually an Italian citizen but had never been there, so the staff, the Embassy, and the orphanage decided that Massimo would have a better chance of being adopted, supported, and treated in Italy.
So before we knew it, he had a ticket booked and was about to leave. We were all so excited that his life was gonna improve from this moment forward, when only a week ago, we were gearing up to say goodbye for good. But we have fear still, cuz of the unknown. The entire staff, doctors, nurses, and even people at the center are pulling for this guy.
So in a few hours, Sam will say goodbye to the country he grew up in, and had never left and head on to a new place, a new land, with new promises: pizza, gelati, and Italian women.
I stopped by tonight, with some ice-cream, and we made some small talk. I was about to leave until the nurse came in and had to put in an IV in his other hand. Looking back on those 15 minutes that followed the nurse’s entrance, brings me to a fit of tears. Although there was pain in that room, from those needles, it didn’t compare to the amount of pain this kid has had to face in his lifetime, and why someone that young should face all that pain, I have no idea. but he faces it, and he is strong… and he is alive! That’s why Massimo is one of the bravest people I know. And I’m honored and a much better person having known him.
But it still boggles me. This whole thing not only confuses me, but scares me more. The amount one young life has to carry. He’s brave – that’s all I can say. Courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear. courage means knowing exactly what’s at risk, and living life anyway.
We talked about New York and Italy some more, and he asked me why they call it “Hell’s Kitchen” and he had a big grin on his face when I told him all about the gang wars. He plays way too many video games.
Dr. Judd is gonna accompany him to Rome. Let’s hope for a safe journey and a long wonderful life for Sam, filled with gelati, pizza, and people who love him with all their hearts, because he deserves nothing less.
It feels good to cry sometimes, no? I almost thought I forgot how.