Stage Two – Major Rude has a heart

He was standing there for couple of minutes, behind the glass window separating intensive care room with a captain’s monitoring one, staring at Szymon, his vitals, and thinking what to do next.

“Remarkable…” Major suddenly broke the silence. “Take the epidural out and see if the normal dosage of pain killer will be sufficient enough. There is no point of poisoning him more if he shows such a high tolerance to pain.”

“Ok.” One of the two corporals that were in the room replied.

“I will come tomorrow morning to check on his progress and we will decide on what to do next.”

“Tomorrow is Sunday…” the other corporal stated.

“Not for him.” Major replied leaving out the captain’s entrance.

I saw him at the end of the corridor when I was coming to change M in the room. We were trying to take shifts sitting next to Szymek’s bed. There could only be one parent in the room, as this is intensive care, and the stool was very uncomfortable, therefore we tried to change every few hours. We needed to leave the room for the night and could sleep in his standard training room with two other parents. At first the thought of leaving him alone for the night was terrifying. Soon we saw that if Szymek needed us during the night corporal would rush and ask us to come. Otherwise they made sure he is well taken care off and we finally were able to get some rest.

“What was he doing here, today…” I started to wonder when seeing Major limping out of the facility. “It’s late in the evening and today is his day off.”

“Szymek is sleeping now.” M welcomed me in the entrance to the intensive care room. We decided to step out together, sit on the chair in the waiting room and chat for a while. We had very few chances to talk freely in past few hours, as one of us constantly needed to be with Szymek. Therefore, we used all the opportunities we had to at least exchanged few sentences in the corridor when we were switching places.

“How is he feeling?” I asked.

“With every hour much better. When he first woke up, he looked around and went back to sleep. This happen couple of times and each time he showed more and more strength. And few hours later he even tried to sit down. Like he would not do much with the fact that few hours back he was half open and having serious surgery performed on him.” M started to talk.

“He is incredibly strong, physically and mentally…”

“Major was here…” Meg informed me.

“Yes, I saw him.” I have reacted with a surprised.

“He checked Szymon’s status and decided that he will take out the epidural to see how he will cope being only on pain killers”

“This guy really surprises me. One day you would want to strangle him and the other he is caring more about your child than anybody else so far.” I replied with a bit of nerve in the voice.

“One of the corporals told me today, after asking me how I feel and I told her a bit of what we just experienced, that this is his style. He will be very unpleasant to the parents but will take huge care for his cadets. Sometimes even strangely jeopardises their flight to heaven for no reason.”

“Hmm…really?” I was still not fully believing in what Mag was saying.

“Yes, she was telling the story of her ten-year-old daughter who was suffering from belly pain. She started to go to different captains with her, first normal one from the day care camps, to find a reason for this severe pain. They started to examine her but could not find much so they were giving her different drugs hoping some will work but it didn’t. Then she decided, being a corporal in this facility, to try with captain’s here, but not many could of them could help and find the reason of her daughter’s pain. They looked from left to right, did plenty of scans but there was nothing special about her. No clue to what might be causing this pain. She started to worry and got very desperate as she could not easy the suffering of her little one. In her desperation she approached the Major asking for help. He, in no time, took her daughter to the surgery room and open her up. He said it should be standard, 30 min, procedure when he will open her up and look from inside hoping to find the reason for this pain knowing that it is much better to look this way. The surgery took 3 hours and when he left the room, he approached the corporal and told her that he just jeopardized her daughters’ flight to heaven, which in best case would happen in the next few days. There was a strange knot in her body causing bowl necrosis. If he would not cut it out this dead tissue would cause her death in the coming days. He saved her daughter’s life and she will always be grateful for that.”

” Remarkable.” I reapplied. “Well, let’s put it this way. He can be as mean as he wants to be to me, until he is doing all he can to jeopardize Szymek’s flight to heaven and leave him with us.”

When your child is close to dying you put away your pride, hide your ego and swallow all the nasty things people are throwing at you just to be sure nothing bad will happen to your little one. You will do all for him to be healthy again. To be a day longer in your arms.  You will take it all, as this what a real love is…

Eyes of curiosity, eyes of compassion

“With my eyes shut I sense your peeking, gazing, even when you’re trying not to show your curiosity. I feel your sight even when you think it is unseenable. In those short moments where our eyes meet…which last a life time to me. Don’t be scared to look deep inside.

A small window to my soul, I hoped to be small enough to hide my fear. And while looking back at you I could see what you see, it still did not give me full confidence I was able to cover it fully. Hide the reason why I’m here. Yet, it is not me who feared the most. You worried your child will catch it from mine. The uniqueness which you don’t have.

Don’t allow your superstitions take you over. You are perfectly safe, you can not be infected by his touch, by his smile. Don’t be scared to say “Hello”, simple “Hi”. Those few words in moments like those will allow us to take our minds off what is happening. Will give us a moment of rest from this heavy burden.  I am not asking you to lift my cross and carry it for me, just to pretend we’re no different, we are the same.  And I know it’s not true but let’s pretend. Can you do this for me?”

Funny how life can lead you to places you never thought will be given to you to experience. In the facility we were currently staying most of the cases were very trivial, minor to us. Not really life-threatening i.e. broken leg, or some minor surgeries. And we came here with serious case, where the surgery does not have to go well. This could mean we could be facing a situation where we did not even have a chance to properly say goodbye to our son. Szymek could just fly off to heaven and we would be informed afterwards.

It took only a day the news to spread, which cause for us to be on the spotlight. This was due to blood transfusion, which we needed before the procedure. Here, it was quite a unique thing as you don’t need it other cases. To our misfortune the blood came late at night making this even more spectacular event. Due to the big windows in the wall, and the need for having full light during the transfusion as we needed to make sure Szymek will not get any allergic reaction, next room neighbors had to be also awake. It was then, when curiosity filled their hearts and they have started to wonder why we are here. What was bringing us to this facility and how fatal it was since we needed late evening blood transfusion. A procedure already common for us, as this was quite often in the recent days, completely strange to them, causing more attention than really needed. From that moment on, we had their curious eyes constantly gazing at us, trying to find out why we are here.

It did not help when later in the week, after the surgery Meg or I was coming back to this empty room to get a bit of a shut eye while Szymek was staying in the semi intensive care room. This caused speculations if all went well.

“Don’t be afraid to look me in the eyes. I am not a monster, who will hunt you down. I am no different from you in a need of compassion. I still fully understand you because few months back, before all of this, I would too wonder why you’re here. Same as you, I would not have a courage to speak up, to say few words that will comfort you. Be more than me, be better than I would have been if I would be standing in your shoes. Just say, “Hello…”

Stage Two – Major Rude

I will put on your path thick-skinned, rude and unpleasant people just to teach you humbleness. As it is easy to surround yourself with those who praise each word you say, each thing you do, but they will not teach you anything. They will just feed your ego, which will grow to the size of your whole world, covering what matters. Leading you to places where I will no longer be willing to protect you. I will put those people on your path not to make your life more miserable, but to show you, that if you peal their thick layers, you will get to their enormous heart. As this is their way to protect themselves from cruelty of this world. Their only way to make sure they will not lose their kindness and motivation to help the ones, which need their support the most. Therefore, take what they give you, as this is just to test you. Try and see if they can trust you. And once you pass their exams, they will feel safe enough to show you their real face. The one, you could not imagine they might even have. Just be humble, wait and see.”

New place, new challenge. We got used to our main facility, to our corporals, the way how they treated us, way how certain procedures looked. Hence, when we entered this new facility, located in the south, it shocked us how things can differ. It was a county training facility without any distinction between children and adults, until now our facility was for children only.  Here there was only one section of the building dedicated to the young ones. This, to some extent, caused the staff to be less caring, as they did not distinguish too much between young or old cadets. And even in some cases they seemed less qualified, having more general knowledge rather than uniqueness specific.

The rooms were quite big, enough to fit three people without a need to bump each other each time you move a round. Here, the camp beds were already supplied, so there was no need to carry your own. What was strange for us, as we saw this for the first time, was a big glass in the wall, which separated the rooms. It allowed you to see even far to the end of the corridor, peeking on what your roommate was doing. This lack of privacy was annoying for us and unpractical. Especially, at night when your neighbor turned on the light, as he needed to check on his child. It easily could wake up your kid due to no shades on the window. Still this was something we managed to quickly get used to, knowing, that we will not stay here for long. We knew those few days will bring us something bigger to worry, than peeking neighbors.

“And here we have a two-year-old boy,” said Major Rude entering the room with group of young captains, looking more like interns than full time personnel. “He has very special uniqueness, not often seen and operated here, called neuroblastoma forth degree. Tumour is located on the adrenal gland. We will run some blood tests today in preparation for tomorrow surgery.” He did not even care to look at us. Like we were just extras in his magnificent play. You could feel this anxiety in the room where no one dared to speak up. It is fully opposite to what we experienced before, where each time there was a captain’s round entering our room in the centre, first thing Major D did was asking how Szymek feels and how we feel. Seconds after, she asked if there are any questions and reassured us again, that he is in best of care. Here it was not the case. Here best would be to stand at the attention, not asking any questions.

And then it happened. Out of the old habits, where we felt a bit like a partner to captains, where they listened to what we had to say, Mag responded to what Major Rude was explaining to the interns and captains. She asked a question just to reassure herself if her thinking is right. If what were read online during our long nights of trying to find the answer to our reoccurring question “why?”, was still in line with what he is teaching now to those interns. As it seemed to be slightly contradicting with his opinion, as soon as the last words came out of her mouth, we could see how quickly anger was building up in his eyes. How he could not imagine that someone could question his authority, even unintentionally. He replied politely, but we could feel in his voice how big mistake it was to speak up.

 “I am happy to address all of the question tomorrow at 8 a.m. in my office,” he said at the end and left the room.

“What did I do wrong?” Mag asked puzzled with tears in her eyes. “I just wanted to reassure if my thinking was right.”

“You did nothing wrong,” I tried to comfort her. “We are just in the place where we, parents, have nothing to say. And for sure cannot ask any questions, especially in front of his audience.”

We spent rest of the day trying to calm down, knowing Szymek could sense our feelings and better for him if we would not be nervous. There were couple of other smaller incidences, which surprised us, like corporals not knowing how to inject a needle into a port and at the end it had to be done by one of the captains. This never happened in CSD, as it was such a routine procedure, no corporal would bother captain. The lack of clarity on what will be given and when to our son annoyed us. And the fact that we were seen by the staff as an additional problem they had to deal with did not helped us in feeling peace and comfort needed in those kinds of moments. We managed to stay focused and tell ourselves it will just be few days and we will go back to normality. I left for the night hoping, Mag will manage to rest before the big day.

Next morning showed us that day before was just a foretaste of what we will soon face. I could not be with them from the early morning, as I had to join some urgent calls at work. As soon as it was over, I have passed the corridors to look for them, expecting the surgery to start already. I assumed Mag will be sitting somewhere on the chair and anxiously waiting to hear if Major Rude was able to save the kidney. This was the image I envisioned but it was not the one I have come across.

“I told you to come to my office in the morning in case of any questions. You are obviously not ready for this surgery! I will take someone in your place now and give you time till afternoon to decide. If you will not be ready by then you can go home! I will not operate your son!” Major Rude opened the door to the surgery room yelling at Mag, who was holding Szymek on her hands. She was all shaking and crying not fully understanding how we got into this situation.

„What the hack happened?” I asked Mag, shocked by the situation I have just witnessed.

“I don’t know” Mag replied whipping. “We were taken to the surgery room and just when they were about to start the surgery anesthesiologist asked me which option, I would like to have to secure Szymek afterwards with proper pain killers. Morphine, which may cause issues with breathing and longer convalescence period or epidural, which is much more recommended for us. I had a doubt since Szymek had spine metastasis, hence this might have some negative side effects, like bone crumbling. So, I turned to the Major and asked him a question, what he recommends and his just burst. He has started yelling at me that I am not ready, I was supposed to come in the morning but decided not too and did not even gave me a chance to explain why I couldn’t. The rest you saw.”

“Damn, with all the drama we have, why we need to battle with such a jerk. Such an ego bastard!” I was filled with anger, I knew there is no turning back. We needed him but could not understand why he is behaving in such an idiotic way. We came back to the room, made few calls, just to reassure, that the decision we are making is the right one and communicated to his assistant that we will go with epidural. A few hours later and we were sitting in the waiting room, biting our nails and waiting for the information how the surgery went. How much tumor he managed to cut out and weather he was able to save Szymek’s kidney.

He did not bother to come to us after the surgery was done. We just saw him wandering on the corridors. I assumed all went well since he was not showing any awkwardness on his face.

An hour later he came to us just telling that “Surgery went fine, your son is now in the post-surgery room, where you can go and be with him. I will tell you more when I will have a minute.”

“Can Major tell me if the kidney survived?” I asked nervously trying to get the key information from him.

“I said, I will tell you more when I will have time” he replied rising his voice.

I knew there is no sense of pushing him, just needed to wait.

A few more hours passed by. Mag was sitting with Szymek in the post-surgery room. He was hooked up to all bunch of equipment showing his vitals. From time to time opening his eyes but without a strength to do anything more. And you could feel, when seeing him in this hard state, like somebody would be taking a long skewer and puncture your heart slowly enough to make sure you feel each inch of it, entering your body. And only relief was coming from the fact that the surgery went well. When I saw him wandering again on the corridor, I could not wait any longer. I have approached him and trying to poke him a bit, joke just to get his attention. I said, “Mr Major, can you please end this thriller and let me know if you manged to save the kidney?” Minute I finished my question I knew that it was a bad idea.

“Thriller?!? This is funny to you?! I said I will inform you how the surgery went when I will have a minute. Do you see this woman?” He pointed to a woman standing next to the doors to his office, all in tears. “I need to tell her news, which I hate to tell. Tell her information that will cause that she will not be able to walk out from my office on her feet, but apparently you are more important than her! You, people from the centre, feel that everybody needs to act like you are the kings and queens. Please let her wait and let’s be over with it. Go for your wife and let meet in my room in 2 minutes!” He yelled at me so loud that the whole corridor could hear it. And I was looking at him and not believing what I am seeing.

A few minutes later, after another lecture how disrespectful we are, we finally had a chance to tell him why we could not come to his office in the morning. We told him that we felt it is not necessary to bother him just before the surgery as we fully trust him to know what is best for our son. And finally, that we could not leave Szymek alone and coming with him had no point as we could not talk freely. He finally told us that, although he could not cut the hole tumor, the main success factor of cutting over 95% of it was achieved and he manged to save the kidney. It was not the message we hoped to hear, still back then fact of saving the kidney was good enough to hope for the best.

“Remember even when the world is humiliating you and you feel left alone,

I stand next to you to ensure nothing without my will is done. “

Road south – Grandpa’s chimney

On the road again. Road, which until now was anticipated with joy and happiness, road which drove us to our grandparents knowing they eagerly await us. This road was leading to the next stage of our training. I never thought I would feel anxiety driving it. Fear caused by the worry that from now on, it may be associated with different meaning. In Szymek’s mind those hills, bridges, windmills passed on the way will, from now on, frighten him as now it will lead to another place of pain.  

I tried to focus on driving, but my mind was constantly wandering off. Battling questions, which had no answers.

“Do you think we are doing the right thing by going to this facility?” Mag broke the silence asking a question, which I had in my mind. We often read each other’s minds therefore it was not a surprise to me hearing out load what was a whisper second ago.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” I replied with hesitation in my voice. “It’s again one of those decision, which we don’t know if we made a right call.”

“Center have very good surgeons, maybe we should stay there and have the operation in the Center?” Mag probe me to reassure herself if this time we are sure about our choice.

“You know, that we are going to the best surgeon in the country to take care of Szymek’s tumor. I am afraid that if we would stay and something went wrong, we would not forgive ourselves for not doing all in our power.”

“And what if he will mass up something? Cut his kidney?” She asked with worry in her voice.

“I know. The best surgeon can have a bad day same as inexperience one can have his best day in his life, performing impossible. There is nothing else left for us but to trust God and his guidance,” I paused for a second. “It all went to smooth, and you know that I often say. If you look like you are floating with the current and not against it may be the way to recognize God will.”

Passing viaducts, which were new build but reminded me of old bridges. I liked passing them as on one hand they were adding some nice flavor to the road and telling us that we not far from grandparents’ house.

“Honestly I don’t know,” I finish my sentence after a while of pondering.

 “Let’s float with the current and see where this river will lead us” Mag replied concluding our discussion.

These were strange times where I was looking for a hook. Something what I could grasp, hold otherwise I was left with darkness. I look for ways to chase it away from me hear therefore holding to God was for me a key. Plus, I hoped that he will guide us through all this suffering to happy end. I looked for all the things, which were visible to me and ponder on hidden ones just to make sure I won’t miss anything. I will follow all the clues, read all the signs and follow his way. Mag was initially more skeptical but closer to surgery she also started to hope, like me, that miracle will happen. To the extent they will open him and there will be no tumor. Nothing! But at the moment I would settle even for non-spectacular miracle. Just to have him fully healthy…

“Grandpa’s chimney!” Szymek eagerly shouted seeing in the distance two power station’s chimneys. Two red and white towers seen from the distance. Same ones, he watched from grandfather’s balcony. He liked them so much that every time he saw similar ones, he was screaming Grandpa’s chimney. This time those were exactly the ones.

“Yes, grandpa’s chimney” we replied with smiles on our faces. Smile, which covered the truth why we are here. Why I hated this uniqueness, as it was changing things in ways I did not want to change. Changing paths, which eagerly awaited to take, now come with fear, anxiety. Places, which we cherished in our heart with good memories now were shaded, dark.

Life loves to play tricks on us, showing that nothing is certain. What we thought was well defined, put in the nice drawer, placed in the neat box on the shelf of our mind under the section called happiness, next day janitor comes and moves it to the opposite section.

Every inch of you

 “Amazing! This suits looks like it was made just for you.” Taylor looked at him from different angles with spark of fascination in his eyes. He was spotting for any tiny correction, which will be required from him before it lays perfectly on the man.“ Let me just cut a small piece here and a bit tighter there. Hmm… maybe I should just cut it also here a little. You see, without this little finger it looks much better on you! Please consider shortening also a bit your left leg. Moreover, if I were you, I would follow the recent trends and just get rid of the left ear. Nobody is using both of them anymore. Other than that I think it looks great on you…”

 We were getting ready for the big day. Trying to prepare ourselves for the fitting. Looking for the best surgeon to make sure nothing bad will happen to Szymek. We had our doubts about the surgery being performed here, especially after the last tests where they showed us the size of remaining tumor and his location. They have told us it will be inevitable for the surgeon to cut together with adrenal gland also Szymek’s left kidney. I know that worse can happen but still you try to do all you can to avoid him loosing such an important organ. We were hoping that once they will open him they would see that this does not have to be a case. On the other hand, we prayed to have no tumor at all. Prayed for a miracle. Until this happens, we needed to make sure we did all in our power to save every inch of him. And each time we have talked to other parents to seek their opinion, they told us to go somewhere else, as they heard too many bad stories about this place. This resulted in us losing the confidence in CSD surgeons and look for somebody more qualified for the job.

“Who will performed the fitting for the space suit?” One of the mother asked Mag.

 They were waiting together in line for their “10 minutes” under the common shower. Those minutes where your mind can wander off, pretend to be somewhere else, but just before it happens you could have a break for little gossip.

“One of the surgeons from the CSD. We have talked with one of them and they will try to put the best one to work. Especially since this is not as easy surgery as it may look due the fact, that tumor is spread all over the kidney vain. This means in order to increase his chances for a faster flight they would need to cut the kidney out.”

 “I would go south if I were you,” mother responded with confidence in her voice.

“South?” Mag asked not really sure what she meant by that.

“Yes south, there is a very good Major there who can do miracles and maybe he will be merciful on you and do the surgery. I would not trust those here, as they always take the easy way and for you every inch matters.”

“What’s his name?” Mag asked.

“Major G, but they call him Major Rude, and I think you will quickly find out why. You should not have a problem of finding him there, as he is very famous of what he can do.”

Mag finished the shower and came back to the room where I was waiting for her. Szymek was already sleeping, which gave us a chance to talk freely.

“I think we should go south, and have the surgery being performed there!” Mag whispered to me.

“Why? What has suddenly changed?” I have asked surprised, as I did not expected her to come back from a shower with such a strong statement.

 “I have just talked to one of the mothers and she told me to try our chances with Major Rude. She said he is the best you can get and in our case no other should lay a hand on our son,” she continued. “As he works in the same city as my parents I will ask my father to go and talk to him, and maybe he will manage to convince him to operate Szymek.”

 Those funny coincidences, which were constantly happening to us. Helping in ways you could not think off. Even here, the fact that this person lived in the same city as my in-laws was a huge advantage and time saver. Time, which we did not had much.

“Are you sure about this?” I have asked.

“No, and you think this is not a good idea?”

“No! I think you are right. If something would go wrong here, we would never forgive ourselves that we did not try to go to him. And if during Major Rude’s surgery, something would go wrong I would just feel this is what was meant for our son. As we got him, the best surgeon in the country and even he could not help here. Yet, I still know that life can be very unpredictable and young surgeon can have a very good day and perform a miracle, while at the same time Major with all his knowledge and experience can have a bad one and make a mistake. Let us leave it to God and his guidance. “We talked for a while trying to make a plan how to find him and how to reach him and I left for home as it was late already.

 Next day we put our plans into action. Soon after, we were heading south to meet our new destiny.

Saint’s parade – Act II – St. Charbel

“I see you are also poking Saint Charbel,” I said Mart looking at the small picture standing above Lila’s bed.

“You know him?” Mart replied with a bit of a surprise in her voice.

“Yes, we even wanted to go to Lebanon, but it is too risky flying now with Szymon, so we are just trying to get to him here.”

“Do you have the oil?” Mart asked.

“Yes, and you?”

„Yes, you know that there was a meeting last weekend in church not far from here where his relics were displayed?”

“Yes, funny story about that, wanna here?”

“No,” she said it with a smile just to provoke me.

“Ok, let me tell you” replied with a smile too.


“I will talk to you through ray of light, drop of rain, gentle breeze, singing birds and human whispers. Close your eyes, set you mind at ease and listen. Listen until you hear me, until your body shudder and then you will know it’s me. Delicately stoking your soul, letting you know, that is me.”

It was Friday, day as any other when the phone rang.

„I just had a call from our babysitter,” it was our friend calling, “She decided yesterday to go and pray in of the saint’s Mary’s sanctuary, one close to our city, and at the end of the mess it was announced that this Saturday there will be pilgrims from Lebanon visiting with a holy relic of saint’s Charbel. And I thought it would be a good idea if we take our families and go.”

“If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain” I replied when Mag hang up the phone, with two big sparks in my eyes. I could not believe, that all effort to get his saint oil, try to visit him in Lebanon, which until now were hitting the wall, finally paid off. And fact that I could not go to him ended up him coming to me. We heard of so many miracles, which happen when people prayed for his intercession. Therefore, as soon as we got the news we started to get to know him and his work better.

As strange as it may sound, but we were back to the same church we were few weeks ago. Same one where had our meeting with Blessed Martyrs of Peru. Same Basilica of Immaculate Conception, which drawn our attention for past few months. Now it was filled with people from nearby cities and pilgrims from Lebanon. We entered the main entrance of the Basilica and my little 2-year-old copycat, look at me, kneel down on his two knees and trying to imitating me, he tried to cross himself.

“Amen,” ending in his adorable way.

I looked at him, and the statue of Mary holding little Jesus and started to pray.

“I come to you with this little child, begging for a miracle, no other can understand us better. No other has lost her beloved child and can feel what we feel now. Therefore I bag you please ask God in our name so he would spare his life. He will leave him with us.”

“Amen,” Szymek repeated although I was not praying out loud it was just him trying to learn how to say it properly.

I shade a tear, smiled, and pick him up to stand in the line for blessing of the priest. Szymek was nervous at first, as if something inside of him was fighting with what was about to happen, but as we got closer he hugged me and peace fulfil his heart. When we left the church, Mag took him on her arms and we waited for our friend to also come out. This is when our eye met with Lebanese woman who was standing close by and talking to some people.

She approach us and asked, “Do you have Saint Charbel’s oil?” She was at mid-thirties, average height, with dark hear and brown eyes. There was something peaceful about her.

“Yes, just got from one of the pilgrims,” I replied. “We came here to see the relics and try to get the oil. I prayed to Charbel and I hope to visit him, but we can’t travel now due to our son’s condition. So the fact that you are here with his relics means a lot to us.”

“What is wrong with your son?” She asked and pat Szymon on his head.

“He has this uniqueness called neuroblastoma, cancer, which helps him to fly to heaven much sooner than we would wish to. Therefore we came here to pray for Charbel’s intersection, so that God will make a favor for him and show mercy on us.”

“Yes, Charbel is a great God’s advocate. He manages to get many spectacular miracles by asking God for mercy. I am visiting his grave every Friday and I will light a candle for your Son next time I will be there. Don’t worry, all will be good.”

Minute she finished telling us, that she will help us to get closer to Charbel, older woman approached us. As soon as she was told about Szymek’s condition, she took a small, old medallion, which she had tied round her wrist and gave it to us.

“Here, please take this. I placed this on his grave each time I am visiting him. I will pray for him. Charbel will come to you and he will perform a miracle on God’s glory.”

I could not believe what just had happened. How, from a small desire of visiting him in the ministry where his corpse are laying, lead us to have him visiting us in the Basilica of Saint Mary Immaculate Conception.

“We could not come on that day,” Mart interfered in my story “but visited next day. Pilgrims were still there but a lot less people. We also got the oil and not sure, how I stated to talk to one man, he is Lebanese living here for some time, and those relics are his personal ones. Given some time ago to his family. He gave me his number, and told me that on very special occasion he can lent me them for few days so I could pray to them.”

And this is how I end up on the train station, few days before leaving to south, holding relics of Saint Charbel in my hands. Lent to me by its owner who was just leaving to a different city, so I could bring Charbel to my home. I could show him Szymon from up close and beg him to ask God for mercy.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my boy will be healed.”


Round Eight – Meadows of tomorrow

 “It was so unimaginably beautiful,” Kate whispered to us. Late in the evening we were standing on the corridor. She lowered her voice not to wake up kids sleeping in nearby rooms. “One moment I was walking down the stairs to the kitchen, I fell on the floor and next thing I see was this remarkable meadow. I was not traveling through any tunnel, nor light just a blink of an eye…”

“I see you already packed,” Captain Wild entered the room with papers in her hand.

“Yes, can’t wait to go back home,” Mag replied.

“Congratulations, you have finished first stage of the training. We will still need to run the full scan to see how much of the uniqueness we manage to keep and how much we lost due to drugs side effects.” Captain Wild paused for a second, looked at Szymek playing Hot Wheels in his bed and said with slightly lowered the voice, “Now, that you managed to go through the whole 8 runes without any serious issues, I can tell you. There was a high chance of Szymek flying to heaven in the first three months. We hoped that due decreased immunity Szymek would catch an infection, which he would not be able to fight off and automatically made the cut for the fly. Unfortunately, none of that happen and you passed to the next stage. “

“We are also happy that he did not catch anything,” I said with a little sarcasm.

“Regarding the next stage, surgery, please confirm if you would like to have it done in our premises or somewhere else as we need to make sure all formalities are done in time.”

“Ok, we will inform Captain when we come back for the tests,” Mag replied.

Captain Wild left our room and we started to head back home. With a relief in our hearts, finally after such an intensive past few days of not leaving the Center we have a break.

“…meadow was full of flowers, and the grass was so intensively green. I did not see any colors like that on earth. What we have here looks so pale, dull, lifeless while there it was so much richer, so much livelier. It is hard to explain. I laid on the grass and I felt so good. I felt loved, I felt the way, I have never experienced before. And I heard somewhere in the back of my head my parents screaming to me – Kate come back, come back to us – and believe me, I loved them with all my heart, but I could not go back to them, I did not want to leave that place…”

And again, same road back home, same corners, which we knew by heart, same stop light, no surprises. Luckily Szymek was feeling much better and we did not need to stop urgently due to him vomiting on the way. Felt good enough that when we were passing our well-known bakery he asked for his standard order.

“Old roll, small pizza and croissant.”

Not sure, where did he got this old roll thing, but order was placed and we needed to stop to buy what he asked for. Stopped and buy it as this was one of the few chances he will have an appetite to eat it. Once done, we could go back on the road.

“…and the whole meadow was covered with white light, it was not bright, more like a milky light. Rays of God’s love. And there was no time there, I felt like time was irrelevant, like I was there always, like I had finally wakened up from the dream. Dream, which was my previous life, dream that was finally over and now I could start to live again…”

“Who is there?” Well known voice of aunt Monic asked the question from house intercom.

„Simon” Replied eagerly as he could not wait to see his aunt again. She came to visit him, as this was her first cousin, son of older sister, he was also her whole world. “Kiko!” Szymon screamed with joy seeing her opening the front door.

“Look what aunt has brought to you, new box of blocks to play with.” Blocks, Hot Wheels and trains were his top toys. “Let me help you, said Monic and they both sat on the rag and start playing.

We are finally back home. Back to the place where we could again, for at least short while, pretend to be a normal, average family. Family, which eat breakfast together, go to church on Sunday, have some friends over. Remind ourselves how it was before the training. Yet, still with the thought in mind, that there is no sense to plan for the future. We lived like there was not tomorrow.  And we did things that normally you would not do, but the thought the soon we might not have a chance to do it again we took full advantage of them. One of it was three of us sleeping in one bed. It started with a fear that something may happen to Szymek, while he will be in his room sleeping, and ended with us needing to be close to him. Those were moments I would not exchange for anything. I cherished those moment deeply in my heart to remember them always.

“…and when I felt so blissfully, laying there on the soft grass a creature approached me.  It was full of light, I could not see his face, nor body as he was shining too brightly. Only his whole silhouette, with light passing through. Then he said to me…”

“You, need to go back”

“I don’t want to,” I replied “I feel so good here. I don’t want to leave this place”

“You need to go back to your parents,” he insisted.

“I love them so much, but I want to stay here…”

“You will come back here, but not now. Now you need to go back”

“…and this is when I woke up in my house, surrounded by my parents.” Kate paused for a second. ” I was so angry at them, furious that they brought me back to this horrible place. I rush to my room, shut the door and did not talk to them for couple of days.  Time went by and I forgot about this story. What has happened to me when I was a child, but for some reason I felt inside that I need to share it with you. I felt in my heart that you need to hear this story…”

Those few days home ran fast, too fast. Szymon was feeling much better, looking healthier, giving us hope for a better tomorrow. It also gave me a chance to play with him more. Assembling some wooden train tracks for his choo choo train, playing Hot Wheels, where he was saying which car is fast and which not, doing what other fathers do with their sons. The small difference between us and any other father was time, more lack of it. I knew things can not wait, if I wish to do them with my son I need to do them now, otherwise I might never have a chance.

“Wake up, honey we need to pack for the facility,” I tried to wake up Mag.

She looked at me and said with worried voice, “I had a dream.”

„What kind of a dream,” I’ve asked.

„I saw Szymon and Misia, our best friend’s daughter, dancing together and having fun on the meadow…”

 „Well, maybe they will listen to our prays and both will be healthy. Miracle will finally happen,” I replied trying to make her feel better.

“No, those meadows looked strange…they were not on earth,” She replied with tears in her eyes.

End of stage one.

Will your bow tie help you fly

“Table for two?” waiter asked, as soon as he saw them crossing the entrance.

“Yes, please,” Greg replied and followed the angels, which lead them to the place pointed by the waiter.

Lights were slightly dimmed. He was wearing his bow tie, she had a surprise on her face. Two more steps and they stood next to the table, which welcomed them with a candle light. This was not a place you take your loved one for a night out, yet with no other choice he wanted to show her what love means, especially in those tough times. They looked into each other’s eye telling all those words, which they forgot. Words, hiding deep in their hearts, allowing those, which were burning, to speak their way out. Still neither the place, which normally has a different feel, nor the people staring at them, asking “is this real?”, could take this moment away from them.

As the angels were serving them their meal they forgot for a second what each day, for past few weeks they went through, had to deal. How much pain they needed to suffer just by being here. In those few moments love could whisper to their ears making them to forget what color of the eyes has fear.

And not the dishes, not the meal were making the atmosphere but the fact that for a short while they could pretend to be somewhere else, they could disappear.

And he suddenly knew again how to make her smile. Remind himself how to complement her look to make her feel beautiful despite her weary eyes. How to grasp her heart and fill with love. Reminisce the times when life was simple, good and not hitting you with a shove. And all of this and more just to hear her laughter, feel her joy…

 “…and this was so romantic on one end and a slightly bizarre on the other. He came with a white tablecloth, take-away food, lit the candles and we sat there having a dinner, a date, in our canteen.  And those eyes of the other parents looking at us. Mothers with a bit of jealousy. And fathers with slight shame, that they did not thought of that…” Martha was finishing the story.

 “Cherry?” I asked opening plastic box filled with drilled, slightly moist cherries. “Yeah, I saw it and I was also one of those who were thinking, what the hack are they doing in this place?”

“No, thank you” Martha replied slightly surprised from the offer. “Yes, I could feel it but still loved that moment”

“Well, I would take it if I were you.” I have smiled wryly.

“Why?” She replied with slight curiously in her voice.

“These are my special cherries, I took them out from liquor I made home. They were laying there for past three months in pure spirit. As you can imagine, they will make you feel much better. Plus, as you know, cherries are good for your heart.” – I smiled to her shoving the box closer to her nose.

“Well, since you put it that way, I would like to try some. MMM good, one more please,” she replied after taking one.

I first saw his outfit. While many people tried to dress causal, not to stick out from the crowd, he drawn my attention by colorful bow ties. It was on one hand bringing some color into this gray, dull environment, but on the other also drawings people attention. And I was one of those people. Wondering why he dresses this way, is this his style, way to dress to work, or method of fighting all those dark thoughts, which this place brings into people’s minds. Soon after I saw his child and his wife, Martha. It was when Mag was not feeling well and I stayed for few nights with Szymek, sleeping in the CSD. And thanks to that room sharing we started long talks about God, life, suffering and at the same time trying to loosen up this deadly dense atmosphere with some poking jokes.

“One more cherry?” I have asked.

“No thanks, if I ate more I would not wake up at night to feed Lily,” She replied smiling.

I closed the box and went sleeping.

Gratitude has a different name

Turning on the light to chase away darkness from your room. Opening the tap to wash your hands without a need to disinfect them with alcohol each time you wish to touch your baby. Using your toilet and not thinking who sat on it before. Not worrying, that you might bring some infection just by using the bathroom. And even taking a breath of fresh air. Just sitting outside and listening to the birds singing. We really don’t know how much we have until someone takes it from us. Often, this is seen as nothing, normal life, but when you can not do it anymore you realized how important it was to you. CSD teaches you to revalue many things in your life, especially those, which you did not even knew matters so much to you.

Szymek was still lacking strength. His results were slightly improving, but not enough to be released home. Good days were over, when we came for 4-5 days to take chemo and went back home to rest for few days before the next injection. It looks like now, there will not be any break before the last round. Still with his slight rebuild of red, white blood cells and platelets we manage to convince the captain to give us a few hours pass. We still needed to come back to the facility for the night, but it gave us, Mag especially, those few hours, where she could rest at home.  Additionally, each time we came back, Granny, who was helping us much with Szymek, cooked something good for him.  She was the only one, stubborn enough to shadow Szymek with a spoon in her hand and used every chance there was to feed him. And thanks to her, he ate much more than at CSD, much more that we would be able to feed him. We were very grateful to her knowing how vital it was for Szymek to eat and regain strength.

Strength, which miraculously was not departing him. Each time he enters home’s doorsteps he was full of joy and happiness. Running all round the house, trying to play with all the toys, which were waiting for him in his room. In times it looked more like he would fear, that someone will take them away from him and he needs to spend as much time as possible playing with his cars and trains. We could see worry, hiding in his heart, that he will need to come back to CSD shortly, which unfortunately was truth, and will not be able to play with them anymore.  Picture of him having such a good time made us happy and made us cry, knowing that this will not last for long and we need to go back to the place of torment. How much we would give just to stay home, no need to go back to the facility. How much we would give, for a night spent together in our bed and not on the uncomfortable camp-bed, or me alone in the room wondering how my family is doing.  Still we had at least those few hours when we could go home together. Mag could take a shower in her own bathroom and rest a bit in her own bed. This was much appreciated knowing that some families are coming to the Centre from far and they don’t have this luxury.

“We need to go,” I said to Mag, looking at the clock. It was getting close to end of our pass and we need to go back before the night falls.

“Let me just take, a shower at home, as I hate to take it there, and I will be getting ready,” Mag replied and went to the bathroom.

Knowing that there is nothing waiting for us in the Centre – no meds, no liquids, no night injections – and we were coming back for the night just for observation, I wondered maybe there is a chance they will allow us to stay at home and come early in the morning. Maybe my luck is still with me and the captain on the other side of the phone will have mercy on us.

“Hello?” I heard the night duty Captain voice on the other side of the phone line.

“Hi, this is Szymon’s father, I have a question. A little favor to ask. Since there is no meds schedule for Szymek tonight, would there be a chance for us to spend this night at home and come to the Centre early morning before the morning shift arrives?” I tried to be polite and convincing as much as I could.

“Let me check with corporals if this is the case,” the line went silent for a while. “Yes, you can. Just please, as promised, be early in the morning so there will be no issues with the morning meds distribution”. Said Captain.

“Thank you!!” I put the phone down and was back in heaven. The thought of having my family for a night was like a Christmas in the middle of the summer.

“Mag?” I open the doors to bathroom, while she was still taking a shower. “I have surprise for you,” I started with a smirk on my face.

“Really?!” She answers from the shower angry, that I am disturbing her in those few minutes left where she could relax under hot water. “You can not change the diaper yourself and calling me to do it?”

“No, it is not that,” I have replied.

“Tell me,” she said with a little hesitation in her voice.

” You can stay for a night,” I said with great smile on my face.

” Don’t joke about it. It is not something I would like to humor about,” she knew that is was almost impossible to get this kind of pass from the captains.

“Not joking,” I replied with a huge smile.

“What?!? But how?! You called the facility??” She asked, not believing what she is hearing.  “Yes, I said, that since we don’t have any meds schedule for the night, maybe our daily pass can be extended to a night and we could come back tomorrow morning,” I saw how with each word her face gets happier.

“OMG! I don’t believe it! I can sleep in my own bed!” She started to cry from happiness. ”Szymek!!! We are staying home tonight, no need to go back to the facility.”

It took him a while to be fully convince, that we are telling him the truth, and shortly after he was laughing again and we were crying, from happiness. Joy of not needed to do anything else today but just lay in bed, three of us, and fall asleep…safe.

“You may give me an entire world, but it will be nothing if I will not have my loved ones next to me…if I will not feel loved…”

Round Seven – The Fall

 You fall in my arms so weary and weak,

and yet you still have strength

to lay your hand on my heart

and stop the bleeding, bring me back to life…

„I am sorry, but I can not release you home,” Captain Wild said to us entering our room.

“Why?” I have asked with a bit of surprise in my voice.

 “Szymek’s blood results show a significant drop after the seventh round of chemo and this could be our chance to shorten the training, “She continued with showing us the recent test results. “As his leucocytes are very low right now, we have a higher probability of deadly infection. Therefore, if he catches one we will need to react quickly. We need to be sure that all the preparations before the flight are done properly and the risk of going off the course is minimal. “

She was telling us this with a calm voice. Trying not to show too much emotions. Emotions, which could tell us a bit more about her. A bit more why I have this feeling, that she is trying to do all in her power not to make any mistakes. Worried that those mistakes can be used later against her. And you can feel it stresses her out. She tries not to show it be I could sense it. Problem was that it was something more in it. Like she would not want to relive something from the past, but I did not know what. What caused her to be so distant so cautious.

 She seemed to be in her late thirties, from our initial interactions she was very pedantic, which you can also see in the way she dressed under the captain’s uniform. You could sense that she is putting lots of focus into details. This also translated into her work, where she was making sure all tests are done well and on time.

“I have scheduled transfusion of red blood cells and we will try to stimulate cancer cells with neupogen. If we will not succeed and this will just lead us to rebuild of leucocytes, then we will reconsider releasing you home for few days.”

Captain Wild left the room in the same peaceful and quiet manner, that she entered it, leaving us depressed.  I am not sure what was worse. The fact that we need to stay here, and Mag was tired from constant presence in the CSD, small break could do her a miracle. Where she would not need to use common shower, could sleep in her own bed, catch a breath of fresh air. All those small things helping her to recharge the battery for the next chemo injection. Or the fact, that none of this was shown by Szymek, none of those bad results could be seen in his energetic, full of strength behavior. Like our test results were misplaced and by accident taken from somebody else. All of that made us worry, that his uniqueness will not give us any heads up of potential change. And his well-being, can change very rapidly without preparing us for it.

Even though you barely can keep your big blue eyes open,

Half-conscious, heavily breathing to stay alive,

Yet never give up to show us your smile

You never give up

“I will not make it” Mag broke the silence with tears in her eye. She sat on the chair next to Szymon’s bed and started to pat him on his head while he was sleeping.  “I don’t have strengths anymore.” I could see, that those test result cut her wings, as we were hoping to hear something different.

“What else can we do? We need to be for him.” I tried to cheer her up, but I was not really in better mood that she was.

“You are not here all the time, you don’t know how is to be here round the clock,” she replied with slight aggression in her voice.

“How to cope with the place where you don’t have any privacy. Can not go freely to the bathroom as you are scared that while you are out something may happen to your child. Need to wait in the line to wash yourself, and not even be able to go outside breathe fresh air and just have a short break from all of this! And try sleeping on this bed. My back ache so much that you can not image. Plus, I can not get a good night sleep as I am worried that something will go wrong, need to check if he is still breathing, did not wet his bed and sheets needs to be changed, or even pomp will beep and wake up everybody around us.”

 “I would switch with you if I could, but he is so close with you. There is no problem during the day, when he is occupied playing, but as soon as he gets tired he asks for you. And I can not imagine how I could stay a night with him without you not being nearby. “

Honestly, I feared staying there alone with Szymek. And not that I would not know how to take care of him but that he would miss her so much that would cry all night. And we tried to minimize reason for tears as much as you can. It was often that Szymek during the night would waken up and looked for Mag’s hand dragging it on to his belly and asking her to cuddle him.

“I know, but not sure how long I can take it. Staying here without a break,” Mag replied.

You need to be careful in stating out loud your fears, as you never know who listens. We did not need to wait long for our big test. The irony played it strings again and it was not Szymek who got sick, caught an infection, but it was Mag. As she was weary it was not difficult to catch something. We could not risk her infecting Szymek, so there was no other way but to isolate her from him. During the day she was wearing a mask and we decided that the night she will spend in the hotel building attached to CSD. She could have a normal night sleep and if in the middle of the night Szymek will wake up and will not stop crying she will come before he will wake up the whole facility.

“Remember to change his diaper before going to sleep, and if you awaken at night check if he will not need changing to avoid puddle in the morning, “Mag was giving last instructions before leaving to the hotel, “at midnight there is balance of fluid so don’t go to sleep beforehand. Try to keep the bed a bit away from Szymek’s bed so the corporal will have an easy access to his bed during the night. In the morning make milk when he wakes up, you can read to proportions on the box”

“Honey, if I will need something I will call you. Don’t worry I will handle it.” I tried to feel confident but inside I was also scared. Mostly of him waking up at night and starting to cry because he can not see Mag.” Get some sleep. Rest and we will see each other in the morning.”

“I am not sure if I will be able to fall asleep,” Mag replied.

We played a trick of Mag putting Szymek to sleep and once his eyes were closed she left for the hotel.

“Father, if you can hear me, please help me. Help me fight it off, chase it away from his body. I trust, that whatever happens is for our good, but I am not sure if I could stand him leaving. Please change the plans. Make him stay here, and not fly to heaven…”

I looked at him sleeping, so innocent yet fighting with such a strong demon. I could not help to shade a tear, which I needed to hide quickly as corporal surprised me coming to the room and asking for the balance of fluids. As I tried to fall asleep Szymek woke up and started to call for Mag.

 “Mama? Mama?” He sat on the bad, like it was middle of the day.

“Mummy is here, she just needed to leave for a second but she is here” I whispered to him not to wake up other children in the room.

“Mama!? Mama!?” Szymek started to become more nervous.

“Mama will be here shortly,” I pat his head hoping this will help.

“Mama!” He started to cry.

“He woke up, and is looking for you,” I text Mag.

 “Do you want me to come?” She replied.

This is when I saw Szymek claiming down and being sleepy again.

“No, I think he is falling asleep again.” Szymek shut his eyes and laid on the bed.

The rest of the night went peacefully and prize was a big smile on Szymek face when he saw Mag next day.

I stayed few more days to ensure Mag is well again. She finally had a chance to rest properly. I could see that those few days charged her giving again strength to fight.

Please stay,

Stay to chase away darkness

It fears your love

I need your love