Inverigo, May 2020.
The pandemic blocked me, a prisoner in Lombardy, no one knows how long.
Without this damn virus, I would now be on a mission to the Neema among my little patients. For now I am happy to receive the updates sent to me by the friends of the Neema regarding the children operated on in October-November 2019.
as always, when the time to leave approaches (although this time I will not be able to do it) my thoughts go to you. I am almost amazed by this timely memory: it will also be because I have your photo in an icon among the many on mine desktop and my gaze often falls on that upper right corner. The computer wallpaper image depicts a group of elephants crossing a river in Samburu Land. I took this photo just the year I met you in Nairobi. I look at these surprised beasts as they walk with majestic steps in the river without raising the slightest wave, the slightest spray. In front of the group there are two adult individuals followed by a small one, perfectly integrated in that environment of luxuriant vegetation. They almost seem to rise from the water.
The rainy season has just ended. I still look at your picture in the box, David, and I like to think that you are now part of this slow flow of life, now you are tree, river, elephant, monkey, man: you are all I see in that image. You look me straight in the eye with an open smile that expresses confidence. You are missing a few teeth. The expression on your face does not show suffering, which is imaginable if you look down on the corset and collar you are wearing.
Nairobi, Mbagathi Hospital, surgery, May 2013.
It is Friday, the day of the visits to Mbagathi. The line of people in front of the clinic stretches out onto the lawn. I visit with Gianfranco, my colleague and friend the surgeon, companion of many emotions. I take care of patients with orthopedic problems.
A woman in her thirties enters and carries you on her back wrapped in kanga, a brightly colored cloth that is used to carry the children. Here only the rich have the stroller. He holds another small child by the hand, still uncertain and unsure of walking.
He greets me, turns to the side, leans on the bed, undoes the kanga and gently lays you down. I go over and ask her what the problem is. You are very thin, you can only lie on one side, curled up in a fetal position. I look at you and ask your name.
"David, and I'm already eight."
During the visit you do not have particular pains, you do not smile and look into space. With due precautions I try to stand up: you stay there.
You begin to walk with a lot of difficulty, your back and neck curved forward. It seems you can fall with every step. What strikes me most now that I see you standing is the thinness of your legs: skin and bones. Your mother says that for about a year you started to feel weaker and weaker and you haven't been to school for a few months, which you also liked to attend. He does not remember that you had fever, diarrhea, cough, stomach ache.
I call Gianfranco and we decide to do an x-ray of the spine and a basic blood test. Two hours later (the times here are always dilated) the images confirm our suspicion: tuberculosis is eroding your vertebrae. You are also anemic, but we expected this. We must set up a therapy for tuberculosis and undergo a diet with an adequate caloric intake: you need protein and iron. For this purpose, we take you to the adjacent infectious clinic: the staff will then follow you over time, as this therapy must last at least six months. We don't even think for a moment about hospitalizing you here because the overcrowding and lack of hygiene of the pediatric ward are impressive.
However, as an orthopedist I have to think about supporting you with a corset and a collar (we avoid applying plaster to you for hygienic reasons). We take you back to the clinic where I model a collar with thick foam material that I had brought with me from Italy and I prepare a written request to the APDK (Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya), so that a corset can be made to support your bust. . Already in this way you can look me straight in the eye, without effort. I offer you two biscuits that I had left over from breakfast in the morning and the first thing you do is give one to your little brother: good David, you gave me a good lesson. Now your mother can take you home to Kibera, the slum where you live. You'll be back in two weeks with the corset.
And here you are David, bring the custom made corset to the APDK. You appear stronger, even the journey is less tiring: this time I got myself a packet of biscuits and a liter of milk to share with my little brother. Take them and good breakfast to you.
I saw you again in November and I found you even better, from the x-rays it seems that the progression of the disease has stopped, I sincerely hope so.
Nairobi, Mbagathi Hospital, April 2014.
I'm in the surgery room, there's no David in the patient line, I ask the nurses about him: they haven't seen him since January. They tell me that he came to the tuberculosis ward every month to pick up the therapy and from there they sent him to their clinic to check the brace. There are many children this morning, I begin to visit them. Every time someone enters I craned my neck to look for David: it would be easy to spot him due to the presence of the corset. Florence, my handyman assistant (nurse, ferrist, assistant surgeon) understood my anxiety immediately and goes to the tuberculosis ward to ask about the baby. He comes back after a few minutes and turns to me shaking his head: "pole daktari".
I get it.
I get up and go out into the meadow. There are few patients to visit, they can wait five minutes.
There are two rosewood flowers: around them the green of the grass is covered by blue flowers fallen from the branches, further on the bright red of two hibiscus plants stands out, the surrounding wall is covered with multicolored bougainvillea, the sun comes and goes, the sky it is furrowed by thick clouds that look like giant cotton balls, the calls of the ibis and ravens mingle with the moans coming from the pediatric ward behind me.
I close my eyes for a moment and take a deep breath as if to absorb all that charge of life and color that I would like to convey to you where you are now David.