Translated by Frederika Randall
2. Destination, Hope
The ambulance is speeding towards Ciampino Airport, a police car escorting us. A jet owned by the private emergency service Rega is waiting to take me to Zurich, to the Balgrist University Hospital department specialising in treating spinal cord injuries. I’m neatly packed into the gurney and the doctor travelling with me sits by the window, reading a newspaper. He gives me not a glance during the whole trip; he seems to think this boring task he’s been assigned is a drag. And why should he care? In his eyes, I’m just a parcel to be delivered. True, he’s probably not much of a doctor if he’s being used as a postman—no offence to postmen. The only one here who occasionally asks if I’m okay is the nurse. The driver just curses the police in the car ahead, criminals, as he sees it, who are driving too fast.
“The way these idiots are going, we’ll be the ones needing an ambulance.”
We arrive at Ciampino. For several minutes I’m out on the runway while they ready the winch to lift me up to the plane. The sky is bluer than I’ve ever seen it, and the air fresher and cleaner than any air I’ve ever inhaled. After a month and a half of intensive care underground, it’s as if I were tasting everything for the first time. A month and half attached to a respirator, undergoing bronchoscopy numerous times, suffering a bout of acute pancreatitis, and having MRIs, CT scans and X-rays of all kinds. Now, after ingesting a gallon of tranquillisers, being stuck with needles of all sizes, cardiac arrest, weeks when the smell of death was all around me, here I am. Waiting to fly into the arms of sorcerers across the Alps whose skills will bring life back to my hands. For this is what I have been told: you’ll never move your legs again, but you might regain the use of your hands. Hands, only the hands matter.
My memories of the time spent in intensive care at the hospital in Terni are vague, mostly images and sensations. Pleasurable moments: physical contact with my brother and mother, who on two occasions were allowed into the intensive care unit; words exchanged on the intercom with friends and my girlfriend; the kindness and help I received from several nurses, who talked to me and tried to keep my spirits up. And then some hard, painful moments: when they hauled me up with a metal lift on chains to clean me and change the sheets; when I pleaded with the doctor on call to obtain massive doses of tranquillisers; the day they rested me on my side and I saw the row of dying patients all around me, and the day I understood – hearing the noises and the scurrying around me – that one of them had died.