It’s 8:30 am; I’m waiting for the bus. Today is my first day with the kids at the hospital. Today, I get to see a completely different side of the story. We are away from the SACH house; there are no puzzles, beading, art crafting, music. There is no play… It is Echo day.
An Echo (short for echocardiogram) is basically a type of ultrasound test that provides accurate pictures of the heart and its structures. It is commonly used to confirm or discard a variety of heart problems, such as a broken heart.
Its 9:15 am, sunny day. The kids arrive. Some of them are surprised to see me; some of them are really happy, some indifferent. I’m pleased to see all of them. It’s a big hospital; I’m lost and cannot find my way, so I follow the kids. They know their way, its not the first time, and for most of them will not be the last time. In the end… It is Echo day.
My first encounter with someone at SACH was with Zinet. She is a 16-year-old Ethiopian girl, who underwent surgery approximately two months ago. I approached and asked her if she wanted to play four in line with me. She agreed, but I could see the nervousness in her face. That nervousness enhanced mine, as shortly after we became mirrors to ourselves. Somehow that reflection transformed our tension into laughter, which would not last for long, but long enough to understand the impact of a simple expression.
Its 10:00 am, time to sit and wait. The kids anxiously wait for their turn, as there is only one person performing the test. They sit together, along with some mothers and nurses. I’m standing in the corner, watching all of them. Inherently, I share their anxiety. I cannot sit; I walk around looking at my phone. As they enter, they go out, one by one. I can feel the anxiety surrounding the waiting room. I try to understand why. Suddenly I realized… It is still Echo day.
There was something different about Zinet’s behavior. Inside SACH’s house, kids normally play – everyday – from 9am till 12am and 4pm till 6pm. You can see the younger kids running around and laughing, and the older ones making puzzles, playing board games, beading and art crafting. Therefore, everyone is usually involved in some kind of activity.
However, Zinet’s case was rather distinctive. She usually avoided interaction with others; she did not use to play with other kids very often and spent most of her time sitting down by herself. You could notice, by her face expression, that she was not comfortable at all. Even though she was post surgery, the reminiscence of a broken heart could be felt. She had a different kind of broken heart, the one doctors cannot cure with medicine or surgical procedures. She was frustrated, bored and tired. She wanted home… she needed home. She wanted to feel and behave as a normal teenager, and everyone in the house perceived it. One month passed since that first – and uncomfortable – smile, a smile that I was trying to preserve in my memory but that was slowly fading away, as her desire to take back her own self increased.
Its 10:45 am, I’m waiting for Zinet to come out of the room. Most of the kids have finished the test and are waiting for everyone to be done. Once its completed, they will embark themselves into a journey that leads to the pediatric ward. There, they will receive their medicine and prepare to return to the house. Zinet comes out of the room, with the same expression as always, with the same different kind of broken heart. Suddenly, something changes. The doctor approaches and says: “it is the last one, you are ready to go home”. Something magical happened in those 3 seconds, something that changes you forever. Zinet’s face transformed itself into a gigantic smile, a smile that was long waiting to come out and could not. Her face was the simple expression of joy, a joy that is inexplicable if you are not there to experience it. A joy that collects the broken pieces of the heart, a heart that will no longer be in pain. Oh Zinet! No more Echo day!
Somehow unconsciously, Zinet taught us something invaluable. Inevitably in our lives, there are moments in which we find ourselves drowned in sorrow, a sorrow we think is so deep that we cannot find our way up. We lose hope and carry the weight of our suffering. We are trapped… we think this is it; there is no coming back. Miraculously, we get to meet someone like Zinet. Someone that did not succumb to her sorrow’s pressure, that fought against the odds and won. Someone that did not drown even though she felt like it, and decided to be strong even when she could not. Someone that taught me that a simple smile, at the most unexpected moment, could change a person’s view of the world. Someone that was able to pick up the broken pieces of her heart, not once… twice. For that I will always remember you… For that is why is say: Oh Zinet! Oh Zinet! I’m so glad we met!