Ritual Confessions

March 5, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 5:25 am

A few days ago, I got a voicemail message from someone I haven’t heard from in years: Giovanna’s mother, Beatriz. Giovanna was an eight-year-old patient of my brother’s who had a particularly insidious form of leukemia. This was during his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in Washington Heights, New York. She was his favorite patient, and he talked about her all the time. He had a fantasy of spiriting her out of the hospital and taking her someplace fun, and to this end, he asked whether he could bring her to my Halloween/pumpkin-carving party, which was very child-friendly. I told him that of course she was more than welcome to come. But on the evening of the party, she was far too sick to make the trip, let alone to enjoy an evening of contrived normalcy. My brother suggested that we have our own little carving party at the hospital instead, so a few days later, I hauled a few very heavy pumpkins uptown on the subway.

Giovanna was every bit as beautiful as my brother had described. Chemo had left her without her long black hair, but she had wide dark eyes and an incandescent spirit. There was a costume party at the hospital that day, and Giovanna was dressed as Josie from Josie And The Pussycats, complaining that her wig was making her itch. Beatriz was busy in the corner washroom, putting the finishing touches on her own costume: a cow. She was painting black spots on her already whitened face.

Soon everyone repaired to the ICU playroom and the carving commenced. My brother joined us. There were a few moments of levity during the next several hours. At one point, Giovanna cried out: “Look at Mommy!” Beatriz had stuck two balloons into the chest portion of the costume for an udderly bodacious effect. At another point, Giovanna put her wig on my brother’s head. He was so absorbed in carving that he barely noticed. Just above his heavy black brows, which were furrowed in an expression of fierce concentration, there was a tumult of blonde feminine curls. The effect delighted Giovanna to no end. But for the most part, it was a hard afternoon. Giovanna was in a lot of discomfort. I had never spent extended time with such a sick child.




  1. Your brother must be a remarkable person.

    Comment by Shawn W — March 5, 2008 @ 6:39 am

  2. What a wonderful thing for you and your brother to arrange for the children at the hospital. I will be waiting for part 2.

    Comment by Corina — March 5, 2008 @ 10:27 am

  3. Having seen photos of your brother, I can well imagine how comical the wig must have been.

    It’s a rare person who will haul pumpkins on a subway to give a sick child an afternoon’s pleasure. But that is indeed the sort of person you are, which is one of the many reasons why I like you so much.

    Comment by davidrochester — March 5, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

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