I did not sleep at all that night.
The journey had been long, the bus was noisy, its suspension were gone, the seat was uncomfortable and my oversized seatmate had kept me awake, with his snoring, from the very first engine roll.
However, those were not the only reasons for my insomnia.
Some other thoughts and concerns didn’t give me rest even for a moment.
I wasn’t sure if I did the right thing or not by having said yes to that lady, the day before, and certainly the beginning of the adventure was not the most encouraging one.
As I stopped whining to myself, I saw Adrian awakening.
He was opening his eyes, still lying on the two seats which barely contained him fully. I was hoping at least he had been able to sleep during those endless 6 hours, which began at midnight in the dark of that little bus station in Calafat.
I had met him and his mother the previous afternoon, by chance, as I entered with my bicycle in that small village in southern Romania, just after crossing the border with Bulgaria in some forgotten place named Vidin.
“Hey, Adi, good morning! Did you sleep well?”- I asked him immediately, using his name’s abbreviation which – as he revealed me, cause his mum used to call him Adrian only when she was angry at him – he liked so much.
“Oh yeah, perfectly!” – He smiled back. “And you, Vieri?”
“Hmm … not so. Do you see that giant gentleman going down right now? Well, he was my seatmate. He crushed me the entire trip against the hand rail. And he was snoring. Maybe I slept just for 10 minutes! “- I yawned.
“Really? You should have come to my side, dumb! No one was there, so I could lay. And I managed to dream also, you know? ”
“Yes, I saw it. But I thought I should have let you rest well. The next few days will be tough, and it is important for you to be in a very good shape, Adi. So, tell me, do you remember what was the dream about? ”
“Of course! I always remember what I dream!” – He revealed, astonishing me with the passion and the joy he said it with. “I dreamed about the hospital and about what will happen today: all my favourite cartoons were there to welcome me and to make my way into the rooms, the doctors were dressed in many colors, the nurses were like mommies, there was a giant bed and lots of games I had never seen before. And then there were many other children and we all became friends … we were playing together day and night, noone telling us we could not do that, until my heart wasn’t giving me pain anymore and healed by itself! “
He sighed, still struggling with his dream images, before he continued.
He was a flooding river, it seemed that he could not contain all his emotions.
“You had to be there … it was beautiful! Now it just hurts a little bit here, under the neck, on the left, but I think it’s because in the dream I had too much fun! I’m sure it will like that in the hospital! Have you already been there Vieri, right?”
“No.” – I lied. “It is the first time for me too. You know how it went. Your mom, when I told her that I was heading to Bucharest, asked me if you could come with me. She couldn’t leave your brothers and the expense was too much for all those people. I promised her I would have taken you with me, and that I’d have been close to you until the end. I don’t know how is the place we are going to, but I’m sure it will be exactly as you dreamed it. And now sleep again, if you can. The sun has just risen and we still have two hours to get there. I will wake you up when we arrive, ok?”
He fell asleep soon, snoring loudly. By the movement of his eyelids and the grin he created on the right side of his face I could see that he had started dreaming again.
My seatmate had gone down in Giurgiu.
I pulled the hat over my eyes and, finally, had a bit of sleep.
Anyway, I knew exactly where we were heading.
And I also knew that Adi’s dream was quite far from reality.
I had visited the Marie Curie Children’s Hospital a few weeks before. I had come to Bucharest riding my bicycle.
Enona Chiriac from Romanian non-profit organization Inima Capiilor escorted me to the structure, telling me evertything she could about it.
She was the one who explained me how and why it was built:
“It was a Polish company which made it in 1978. It is old and needs a general renovation, but it is what we have and we hold on to it. In 2009 we held a crowdfund activity in order to build the infant cardiac surgery department, since there were no facilities in southern Romania. The two hospitals in Cluj and Targu Mures are in the North of the country, and they are not able to operate all those 1,000 children which are born, every year, with heart problems. We started with the idea of collecting half a million Euros, but then, surprised by people’s generosity, we reached three times the size of our goal. So we convinced the government to help us, and in 2010 we put the first stone. In 2011 the new department was finished and we officially opened it in 2013. I still remember the excitement for the first little patient we had. Erica, exactly from that day, has been living here. And her mother also, to be close to her, since 3 years. Soon she should be completely ok, and will be finally ready to go home.”
“Can you cope with all the demands now?” – I asked stupidly.
“Unfortunately not.” – She revealed to me, looking at me with her clear and deep eyes. “We can deal with about 150 operations a year, but the problem is that we are not the ones doing them. The Italian non-profit organization Bambini Cardiopatici nel Mondo has been helping us in this process since it was born. Dr. Frigiola, Dr. Youssef and their teams come here once a month, to save as many lives as possible. They do it for free, and we try to support them in every need. Every now and then we can also cover the trip-costs, but most of the time is the organization itself which pays for it. We have two rooms, both created with our and their funds: for cardiac surgery and for neurological one. We could operate continuously, but there are no rooms enough to host the children after. And above all, we still don’t have a prepared local team, which could be able to work independently and to use all the complicated machinery they have to deal with. Do you know what angiography and diagnostic radiology are? “- She asked, challenging me.
“So, I was working for a cruise line and now I’m going on a bike travel … do you think I know what they are?” – I countered, stealing her an amused smile.
“All right. Actually I don’t even need to tell you, but look here. Both use this machine. It weighs 6 tons, working simultaneously with all those arms you see, using contrast media, pipes, rotating bodies and various computers. It is a wonderful tool, I do not know how many hundreds of thousands of euros it costed. It allows you to make extremely precise diagnosis and sometimes, when possible, even small non-invasive procedures. But you must know how to handle it … and this is not easy at all! Our goal is exactly that one: to train local doctors, who could become our professional team always ready and prepared for any type of call. We are working hard, and I am sure that, with the help of the association, within a year or two we will achieve this great goal.”
“That’s why there are no children right now, in this department.” – I sighed, lost in the middle of all those bare, white and silent rooms. “I wonder how many faced you already saw here” – I added.
“Approximately 350 children in three years. And their families. You do the math. “- Enona stated. “Dr. Youssef and his team will arrive next Monday. In a few days we will not be able to move in here, but we will try our best as always. It is not a paradise, we all know that, but we are not complaining. In the beginning we started with simple cases, so that our doctors could learn from the basis, but in recent times we have raised the bar and now we are able to operate even the most difficult cases. Well, almost all of them.”
I had noticed in her a shadow, a shiny eye.
“Not always everything goes well, I guess.” – I sketched, trying as much as possible not to hurt her.
“Indeed. In all this time we have done so much, perhaps more than we could imagine, but, nevertheless, we couldn’t save two little kids. One of them just a few days ago. His name was Mircea. He was born since just two weeks when they brought him here from eastern Romania. He had a congenital malformation which needed to be cured immediately, and unfortunately two weeks, even if they seem a very little time, were fatal. That’s why we have to be present and autonomous all the time … you know? This is why we cannot do without people’s help. We cannot manage it all alone. But together, ourselves, Bambini Cardiopatici nel Mondo, the doctors, the volunteers, the nurses, all the people supporting us with donations and all those who will do the same in the future, then, yes, we’ll make it!“
She closed, before opening me the doors of the pediatric hospital, the first Romanian Milk Bank, the dormitories for mothers and much more.
I greeted Enona under a heating sun, even if it was already 7 pm, after we relaxed our nerves with four fresh lemonade.
I stayed with her only a few hours, but we said goodbye to each other as if we were born like friends.
Since that day I had often thought back to her words, to her stories.
About her smile and determination, capable of overcoming any fear and trouble.
And I could not think about anything but the little Mircea, while I was waiting for the doctor to come out from the operating room and to bring me news from Adi.
He arrived after 6 absurdly unbearable hours.
“The same number of hours during which Adi slept on the bus. And dreamed.”– I warmed myself alone, hoping that this were some kind of auspicious.
“Everything went fine, Mister. You can relax now. Adi has a crystal heart, it’s true, but he is also very strong. “- the doctor flashed me, giving me his hand. “He will stay a few days here with us, then he will be ready to go home. Please, tell her mother that she will be able to see her son very soon, and that she will do that with brand new eyes.“
I waited for about one week before Adi was discharged.
When I saw him running towards me, not caring of all those bandages and wounds I assumed he still had, I met in his eyes that same passion and joy he had a few days earlier when he was telling me his dream.
I knew he was happy, and probably he couldn’t hold back the words.
“Hey, you! Come here!” – I shouted while I was raising him up to the sky, a few steps from the swing on which for too long I had been like petrified – “It seems you had another dream and you want to tell it, right?”
“How do you know that?” – He asked, surprised.
“It’s a secret!” – I whispered, winking.
“Yes!” – Again that flooding river. “But this time was different. Maybe cause I was too many days in there, and I met a different reality from what I had dreamed in the first dream. Do you remember it? The doctors were very good, but they were not dresses in colours. The nurses made me laugh so much, but they did not know my favorite cartoons. There were few toys and then everything was so tight … there were so many children, and this is the only thing which was the same with the previous dream, but there was no room enough to play together! Some became my friends, but some others were so small – he said, spreading his hands to no more than 30 centimeters from each other – and were constantly crying. I wanted to go away, but I could not! Then yesterday I was told that today you were coming to get me, and then I calmed down and last night I dreamed again. I dreamed that this hospital was empty and was no longer needed, that the rooms and the beds were all free, that my friends were healed and that no child had to come back here again. Never again! Do you think it would be possible, Vieri? Maybe one day?”
“I’m afraid it will not, Adi. Believe me, everybody’s hope is exactly that one, but this is not the way things go, unfortunately. But, you’ll see, one day your dream will become possible. It will be the first dream you had, not this one.” – I assured him, laying him on the ground and slapping him softly on the butt.
He took my hand. He sniffed.
“Can we go home now?” – He asked me, before starting to run, looking and challenging me into a race.
Adi was strong, really strong.
I understood in that moment that I did the right choice by saying yes to that lady, one week before.
A tear had already dried on the cheek.
And it couldn’t reach his smile anymore.
Piazza San Fedele, 4 – 20121 Milano
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We don’t receive any money from it, but it will be useful to see – by the end of the journey – what we will be able to create, all together.