Fifty-something-year-old Giovanni heard his wife’s voice before even trying to open his eyes. They’d been closed for so long that the light from the hospital room stabbed them like a knife when he was finally able to coax them apart. After a hug from his wife and daughter and an encouraging word from the doctor, Giovanni looked around the room and asked, “Where is she?” The other people in the room looked confused, so he added, “The nurse with the green eyes—the superhero.”
Nobody had an answer for Giovanni; maybe this was the talk of a man who was still dreaming or hadn’t yet realized that his nightmare was over. His brush with death, courtesy of the COVID-19 virus, was behind him now; he was off the machines that kept him breathing. He was going to make it. Still, Giovanni insisted to all who were gathered in the room that they needed to find the nurse he saw right before the lights went out 10 days earlier.
The doctor urged his patient to rest and encouraged the others to let him do so. Everyone left the room then except Giovanni’s young daughter, who said, “What are you talking about, Daddy? Who is a superhero?” Giovanni patted the bed, directing her to sit, then told her the following story.
“When I was a little boy, the kids in the neighborhood made fun of my name. It was so long and sounded strange to them.” His daughter listened and nodded, as he continued. “So, I shortened it, and everybody started calling me ‘G.’” She smiled then and asked, “Like, gee, I wish I had a more boring name?” Giovanni laughed, and replied, “Exactly.”
He continued: “On the next street over, there was a girl with an odd name like mine—Wilhelmina—and she had the same problem with people mispronouncing her name or teasing her about it.” Giovanni’s daughter asked, “So did you become friends?” “We did; fast friends, best friends for a few years. I called her ‘Willie,’ and she called me ‘G.’” His daughter then interrupted him. “That’s nice, Daddy, but what does that have to do with someone being a superhero?”
He then explained to her that “Willie always wanted to grow up to be a superhero, and her favorites were the Lone Ranger and Batman. She liked them, because they wore masks, and nobody could question if a girl could be a superhero if she were behind the mask. Do you know what I mean?” His daughter smiled. “I think I do.” He continued: “Every Halloween she’d dress up like them, and she’d run around pretending to save the day.”
Giovanni was smiling now at the memory and reached over to take a sip of the orange juice next to his hospital bed. He looked lost in thought, and so his daughter said, “Where are you, Daddy? You drifted off.” Giovanni replied, “I was just thinking that it’s terrible how we make these amazing friends as children and then let them slip away. I hadn’t talked to Willie or even thought about her in decades.”
Giovanni then squeezed his daughter’s hand and said, “Until I got to this hospital and I couldn’t breathe. I was crashing. I use that term because I heard them yelling at each other: ‘HE’S CRASHING, HE’S CRASHING.’”
He met his daughter’s eyes and said, “I was so scared. Then someone touched my arm and got right down in my face and said, “Shh…I’ve got you now. It’s going to be all right.” His daughter then said, “And that’s the superhero you mentioned with the green eyes?” Giovanni smiled and said, “Yes, but I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m saying.”
Just then there was a light knock on the door of the hospital room, and a nurse in her 50s slowly approached Giovanni’s bed. He locked eyes with her and instantly began to cry. “Daddy, what’s the matter?” his daughter said. “It’s going to be okay.” She then turned to look at the nurse standing at the foot of the bed and realized behind the mask and protective plastic shield, all you could really make out were her piercing eyes. They were emerald green and danced in the light. Giovanni’s daughter saw the way this nurse was looking at her father and finally understood. She whispered to the nurse, “Are you Willie?”
The nurse’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at her patient, and said, “I am. And this is G.” G. reached out to take her hand and said, “I knew it was you by your eyes. You’re a nurse?” Willie just smiled and nodded. G. wiped his tears away and added: “You got your wish, Willie. You grew up to be a superhero.” The nurse smiled under all her protective equipment and said, “And I got to wear a mask. Although this is not exactly what I had in mind.”
As the two old friends stared at each other in silence, Willie’s eyes suddenly looked sad. G. asked her, “What’s wrong?” She replied, “When we were little and played superhero, everyone got saved.” He nodded, as the ICU nurse said, “G., I couldn’t save everyone.”
The man in the hospital bed reached out to hug his daughter and said, “But you did save me. Thank you.” Willie then said, “Can I tell you a secret?” “Sure,” said G. “I don’t want to have to wear a mask anymore,” she said. G. then said, “Can I tell you a secret?” Willie nodded. “You don’t need to,” he said. “You nurses and doctors were heroes all along.”