From 2000 – 2005 I worked at Children’s National Medical Center in a few departments that focused on HIV/AIDS. I don’t do hospitals well, I’m squeamish (see this story) but working behind a computer is easy regardless of where the computer is so it wasn’t an issue as long as I didn’t have to look at tubes and blood and stuff… ewww.
One of the nurses I worked with, Christy, had been working with one particular kid since he was born. His name was Donnell and he was born with HIV. Donnell was around 7 years old the first time I met him. He had come up to our floor with the purpose of seeing Christy and peeked his head around the corner of my cubicle shyly and then ran away, he was soon back and played with the Superman toys I had on my desk, but he was very shy. At that time I still had some hair – I know hard to believe – and I was wearing thick framed glasses in a Clark Kent style. Donnell convinced himself that I was really Superman. I think back then he honestly believed it and who was I to deny a kid a dream.
Every time Donnell came to the hospital he would ask his nurse, Ms Campbell, if he could see Superman and I would drop whatever I was doing and spend hours with that little boy. We’d run up and down the hallways and visit strange areas and he’s always ask me when I would take him flying. I… sorry it’s hard to think about. He was always so happy to see me and he became a bright spot in my every day life.
Donnell called me Superman and other people started to call me Superman and that’s why I decided on the Superman tattoo I had done when I turned 10 years sober in 2004. Donnell thought it was pretty cool when I showed it too him and it still is today when I look at it.
He invited me a few years later to his graduation from elementary school (I think) and I was a little wary about going to Anacostia but I did anyway. He ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug that day and it was so cool to see him all dressed up and progressing. I was always asking him about school and trying to encourage him to study and try harder – emphasizing the importance of a good education, even if it was boring.
I usually go to Ft Lauderdale for my birthday in December but the year I didn’t I was in the hospital when Donnell came to the emergency room. I went to spend the day with him while they tried to figure out what was wrong. Turns out he had a brain tumor the size of a small orange in his head and they had to operate. I was with him and his family up until they took him into surgery. It was so scary, I remember being a big teary mess that day too. In spite of my squeamishness I visited him in his room every day until he was released, I even came in on a Saturday.
When I left Childrens I lost touch with Donnell, I would hear once in a while from friends that they had seen him at the hospital, but I myself hadn’t seen him since then. I often wondered how he was doing and if he had gotten into college yet.
Today he suffered a stroke, his mom found him and they resuscitated him twice before letting him go. I hear he had been doing really well on his medications and the future looked bright.
I’ve cried a few times tonight about this, a lot about time lost because I was too busy to stay in touch. A lot because he was such a good kid and he loved so many people with such a big heart.
Mostly today I wish I had been able to fly and give him that one thing – maybe now he can fly. Maybe now he has wings – if you believe that type of thing, and I”m not sure I do – if there is one man who deserves to fly it’s him… I’ll miss you Donnell, thank you for loving me .