the best concert of my life

Today I was witness to the most wonderful concert. It was the *Day for Protecting the Child* here in Russia. The concert was in front of our hospital, where a makeshift stage was erected, sound systems connected, decorations hung and the kids brought down from their departments by their nurses.

There were a few professional musicians and dancers who had given their time ex gratia, and the rest of the ensemble was a motley crew of doctors, nurses, janitors and parents. It was well organised. The music was loud. The dances were infectious, for want of a better word (and, I thought, quite appropriate for an event held on hospital premises).

And the little ones had the time of their lives. It was a joy to watch them shake their booties and shout out the lyrics to their favourite songs in joyous out-of-key abandon. Without a care in the world. The injections could wait for the moment. The operations would be done on another day. Today was their party. And they had come to have a blast.

I noticed a little girl hanging on for dear life to the huge bunch of balloons filled with helium that was threatening to take her with it to the skies. She was shrieking in excitement, only the sound that came out was hoarse, like an old woman with a lifetime on cigarettes. She had a tracheostomy tube in her throat that helped her breathe because she recently had a cancerous growth removed from her vocal cords. And the rough rasping screams would be hurting her throat. But she was not bothered, all pain was given a back seat as she held on to the balloons, floating a feet above ground, watched carefully by her nurse. Her cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. She had maybe a few months to live. And very little time actually, before an oxygen cylinder and a portable ventilator would become an extension of her person.

There were quite a few kids with their own sad and not so sad stories. There were some in wheelchairs, a few with breathing apparatuses, plenty in masks, many with tubes in their arms and necks and bladders — feeding, draining, sustaining life and health. There were the “healthier” ones that seemed out of place, nothing to indicate that they were “inmates” except for the colour coded bands on their wrists. You would be surprised to see that the little boy jumping up and down with the music had a purple band on his wrist, which branded him as an oncology patient. You only wished it was nothing malignant, nothing that would ravage his tiny body, leaving him a wasted skeleton in a few months or years.

My favourite moment was when the MC took the mike to the throbbing bunch of children and asked them what was special about the day. There were different versions of the festival’s theme rendered. The words “child”, “protection”, “festival” and “party” floated in the air like fluffy clouds amongst much laughter and merriment. Then the mike was thrust in the face of a baby from the cardiology department, as pronounced by the green band on his wrist. He was a Down’s baby, probably awaiting surgery for a congenital heart anomaly, very common in these special children. He grabbed the mike with a big smile on his face, eyes wide open, and shouted, “Happy New Year!”

I noticed a young woman standing near me clapping the loudest, tears streaming down her face. And I didn’t have to ask to know who the proud mother was.


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June 2010
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