The man I knew was an athlete. Soccer, Basketball, Hockey. Slender and tall- framed and always on the run. His laughter, a golden wave of joy, crinkling from anybody’s head to toe, who heard him laughing. His head full of black curls, so similar to the hair of my sister that I felt a connection from the first minute we met. We met and then we met again. We moved to different cities, but we spoke more than in the occasionally shared email. We sent us photos and we wished us well.
The man I visited in the hospital for the last three weeks does not wear his running shoes anymore. Blood cancer. The man has no hair at all and feels sick. Sick is no word for a sickness like this. It is not sickness. It is existential. Sick in the morning, sick during the day and sick again during the night. It is astonishing how sick one can feel, he said and grinned as he always did. When I came for my first visit before Christmas, he had walked to the shower, fell and smashed his back badly. When I saw him first, I thought he had survived a car accident. But it was no car involved during the short way from the bed to the shower. He did not smile then. The hospital food smells of sickness as if the sickness just multiplies from day to day. The man, who could eat like a dinosaur, struggles with the Smoothie I bring every day. But he smiles at the flamingo straw that comes with it. „You are insane“, he says and he is right: I am for sure. When I read aloud, he falls asleep and I count his breaths and my hands shake. When he wakes up I pretend, he just slept for ten minutes. „I am flying back to Ireland“ in two days I say and the man says: „You really don’t have to come every day.“ I know say I and tell him that F. will take over for me. „You really don’t know the word no, don’t you? „What did you just say?“ Then I see his smile and all the effort it takes him to do so.
„You know he says, when we sit side by side on his bed, whenever I see people out there on the floor, walking and chatting along, being so normal, living so easily, seeming to be so happy, I am asking myself: Why me? Why not them?““ I know“, I say. But of course I don’t know. We sat there for a long time.
Today the doctor said: „There is reason for cautious optimism.“ I cried like an onion. He patted my back. When he fell asleep again I sang the same song my grandfather sang to me if I was sick or not. The Romanian nurse, who leans in the doorframe hums along and waits patiently till the lullaby is finished before she wakes him up. A nurse in a German hospital has 4, 5 minutes time for each patient, I read lately. „Thank you“ I say when I leave and of course I started to cry again and she pats my back.
Tomorrow I will bring him his running shoes.
The man I know is an athlete.