May 5, 2002

Thursday can’t come too soon.

Roberto Jose, his mother Berna and I leave for his last beacon of hope. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. U.S.A.!

For nearly 4 months, Roberto Jose has carried a baseball-sized tumor in his forehead, the audacious evidence of nasal pharyngeal cancer that has slowly inched its way to his eyes and his throat.

Until a few days ago, we were huddling in limbo with no guarantee that Roberto Jose would even make the grade at the U.S. Embassy for a visa to enter the U.S.   At 3 that afternoon, we bathed in the sweat of suspense while an arrogant embassy worker strutted his power to deny Roberto’s passage into the U.S.

I pleaded Roberto Jose’s case like a defense attorney fighting to keep my client from a death penalty.  In a way, that’s exactly what I was doing. I described the questionable chemo treatments in Managua where an unqualified physician administered an intravenous solution at nearly double the strength required.

I explained, quite eloquently I thought, that there were no other alternatives to save this boy’s life in Nicaragua. But a world-class hospital in the U.S was offering to accept him as a charity patient.

While I countered each reason of the embassy drone’s denial, more of Roberto’s strength drained out of him until he could no longer stand upright. He bent over to lay his head on the counter of the Embassy worker’s cage, his eyelids fluttering, wanting to close forever.

“Please look at this boy, sir.” I pleaded. “He’s dying before our eyes!” By now my own eyes were brimming with hot tears.

I hope that I was only imagining the man’s smirk when he said with unbelievable calm, “Yes, I can see that.”  Then perhaps realizing his own stupidity, he casually turned his name card toward his chest  and left us to stand alone at the caged window.

Even as a taxpayer myself, I failed to see the problem But then, I’m far from being a hospital administrator. As it is, Mayo Clinic has taken Roberto Jose as a charity patient. No payment for his treatment is expected. We’re thankful for that.  Now, Mr. Embassy Worker,  just let us go!

I’m not certain what opened the man’s heart to finally allow us at least the one chance to save Roberto Jose’s life. But fifteen minutes before closing time at the Embassy, we were told to return the next day to pick up two visas.

We were out the door before any change of heart could stop us.

It has been a difficult past two weeks for Roberto.

The chemotherapy that he received from a Nicaraguan oncologist was, according to a Mayo Clinic physician who read his medical records, way off base. He was receiving much more dosage than warranted. Radiation burned his throat so that eating was painful. He was losing weight, and on a tall, lanky body, it was showing up as a walking cadaver.

Just two weeks ago, he still had a hint of the playful humor that is part of being a 17 year old. He played chess with friends. Teased his younger sister a little, but warned her strongly about hanging out with boys. He hugged his mother a lot.

Today he is weak, has little appetite, and has lost all interest in life. He has given up his fight.

There are those of us high-fiving one another because Roberto Jose has a chance to live. We’re jubilant!  But it doesn’t seem the same to Roberto who will leave his own home, his father and younger sister to go a strange land at this stage of his battle.

“Wait until he’s in the U.S.,” we say to each other. “When he meets his host family, he’ll feel so much better.” We were talking ourselves into what we wanted for him.

Now we know…much too late…what Robert Jose wanted. He wanted to die in his own home.


May 7, 2002

The plane flight itself took a toll on RJ. It was early May, but he was from sweltering Nicaragua and he was cold when we arrived in Minneapolis, even in a ski jacket and a knit cap.

We wheeled him down the ramp to meet the smiling Sue and David Dripp who would host the three of us for what would be a hellish two months. But Roberto couldn’t care about propriety. He was dying, and he knew it.

Still, I had hope, a lot of it. Mayo Clinic had saved Jesus Mayorga. Cleveland Clinic had repaired Farida. This would work. We were in the right place. Yes, I had hope.

I knew there was nowhere else to go except where we were right now.

May 9, 2002

Roberto Jose checked in to Mayo Clinic. This was it. The end of the Hope Line. Either he would find his way out of his living Hell here or it was over.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sherri
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 20:48:08

    How is he doing?


  2. donna tabor
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 14:25:56

    Sherri, Sadly Roberto JOse died shortly after returning to Nicaragua. I will post a story about his return and his death in the very near future.


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Donna and Friend

Donna Tabor blogs about life in Nicaragua.

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