Part 3 of a 4-story series
Albina Dragoli walked into the low light of the hospital room where her boyfriend, Rick Tesso, lay in bed. A ventilator breathed for him, a dialysis machine stood in for his kidneys, a monitor sounded the beats of his heart.
She went to Rick’s bedside.
Hi Sweetie, it’s me, Albina from Australia, she told him. I promised I’d come, and I did.
In a coma, Rick could not respond.
Albina and Rick had been in a long-distance relationship for more than two years, and this was the first time they had been on the same continent, let alone in the same room.
Albina often dreamed about their first meeting as a romantic affair with an embrace and maybe a kiss. The reality was a nightmare.
Rick was being fed through a tube. A sensor tracked his brain injury. His entire body was swollen, which kept doctors from completely closing his abdomen after surgery.
Despite his condition, Albina could still recognize the guy she frequently laughed with via webcam, the guy she had talked with for hours on the phone.
The guy she wanted to marry.
It had been more than two weeks since a car pulled in front of Rick on June 17 as he drove his motorcycle down Washington Center Road in Fort Wayne. He had not regained consciousness since.
After hearing about Rick’s crash, Albina, who lives outside Melbourne, rushed to make arrangements to come to Fort Wayne. Rick’s sisters, Teresa Tesso and Debby Adams, picked up Albina at the Indianapolis airport on July 3 and drove her to Fort Wayne, ending her 30-hour journey. Albina, 46, would stay at their house, in Rick’s bedroom.
I dropped my stuff, and I went straight to the hospital, she said.
After that first day, a routine was established. Albina would sit with Rick through morning and evening visiting hours. She would talk to him and try to coax him into consciousness.
You’re tired because you had the accident. I know you want to sleep, she told him, but added, It would be nice if you could wake up.
A few days after coming to town, Albina went to the hospital to see Rick as usual. She was met by Teresa crying.
Rick is awake. He can’t talk, but he can respond with a nod to questions.
Albina went to his room.
Rick, it’s Albina, she said.
He opened his eyes. Albina knew he recognized her. She started crying.
Rick, 54, couldn’t talk because of the tracheotomy tube in his throat. In time, he started moving his lips to slowly make words that could be read by those around him.
The coming days would be a mix of good and bad for Rick. He was still on life support, and he remained bedridden. In all, doctors operated on him about 10 times. His spleen was removed and plates were attached to his pelvic bone.
When he was in pain, which was often, he’d put a tight squeeze on Albina’s hand. If she would step away, he would wave his hand signaling for her to come back.
Rick would sometimes ask why he couldn’t walk. Sometimes he would point at his midsection, as if saying: Why I am hurting? Then the crash and his injuries would be explained to him.
Other times were sweeter.
He’d smile at us, and I’d look at him sometimes and say, Are you going to blow us a kiss?’ and he’d blow us a kiss, Teresa said.
Albina would tell Rick he had to improve so he could visit her in Australia – so they could get married. She told him she would return to the U.S. once he was healthy.
I’ll come back, Debby heard her say. I promise.
Despite his condition, Rick knew Albina’s visit would be short. With her job and 12-year-old son in Australia, she could stay only two weeks.
His doctors asked her not to tell him when she was leaving Fort Wayne. They worried such a goodbye might hinder his recovery.
Albina disagreed. She wondered why Rick couldn’t be told so he could prepare to say goodbye.
He had his senses, she said. He would understand that, you know, I had a son to go back home to.
In one of her few breaks in watching over Rick, Albina went to the Three Rivers Festival with Debby.
At a photo booth, Albina donned an elaborate dress, a feather boa and a broad-brimmed hat. She showed the black-and-white picture to Rick in the hospital and then propped it on his bedroom dresser back home. A surprise gift he would find once he left the hospital and returned home.
Give him another three months, and he’ll be fine, Albina told Debby.
The day came when Albina made her last visit to see Rick. When it was time to leave, she told him:
Goodbye. I’ll see you again.
Rick motioned with his lips, Are you going home?
Yes, she told him.
He thought his house. He didn’t think home home.