From the Superintendent: Kindness From Strangers

by | Mar 22, 2024

Photo by Edgar Soto / Unsplash

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

It started innocently enough. A “sorta” stomach ache. A dull headache. Nothing specific and nothing truly scary. Our youngest son was a step slower than the rest of us during our vacation. We were out of the country and about to move to another island, one substantially less populated and, thus, with less medical support. To be sure that he was OK, we reached out to our Airbnb host and asked for a recommendation. Armed with the name of the local doctor and an address, My Wife headed out with our youngest. 

As it turned out, our host did more than just share information. When My Family walked into the clinic, they were asked for our last name. When the response was “Ricca,” they were shown promptly in to see the doctor. There was no “waiting” in the waiting room. Our host saw to it that our family, a little nervous about being out of the country, was well cared for. The doctor was wonderful: he listened carefully, assessed medically, and sent them on their way with three over-the-counter medications. As he gave directions to the local pharmacy, the doctor also shared his personal cell phone number. If they give you a hard time at the pharmacy, or if he gets worse, text or call. Anytime. 

That night, as we prepared to travel to the more sparsely populated island, our youngest had a low-grade fever – the first time that symptom appeared. Still, he had been checked out by a doctor, and we had the doctor’s cell phone. Our youngest felt well enough to move on to the next island, so off we went. That night, though, his appetite started to fade, and he didn’t even join us on the beach. I figured he needed a good night’s sleep, and after a day or two on the medications, he’d bounce back to his typical teenage self. I’m not that kind of doctor, but that’s the pattern I expected since that’s what I’ve seen happen multiple times in 15-plus years on this planet. 

The following day, though, he had not improved, nor had he slept well. My Wife and I took turns going to the beach with our oldest, and the other would stay in the house with our sick kiddo. All the symptoms were rolled into one miserable young man: very little appetite, low-grade fever, headache, and upset stomach. He wasn’t getting better. I still expected him to turn it around in another day or so. 

The next day was more of the same, although it seemed like his fever was getting worse and his appetite had disappeared entirely. We had chatted a little bit with our “next-door” neighbors, people who owned their own place in this little corner of paradise. They were friendly and helpful, and we shared what was happening with our younger son, so they would check in on him often. 

It all came to a head that night when Brendan’s fever spiked to 102.9, and he threw up. Desperate to connect with someone, we texted the original doctor, who agreed to see us in the morning, but that was a ferry ride away. I hustled to our neighbors and asked for help. They called someone local to the island, and that person put us in touch with a local nurse. Our neighbor handed me her phone and told me to keep it for the night. I must have made a half dozen calls to the nurse that night. While she reassured us medically, with his condition worsening, we made plans to leave and head home the following day. 

As the first ferry was at 8 a.m., I didn’t expect to see our neighbors before we left, so I wrote them a quick thank you note, stuck it on their phone, and put it on their doorstep. As we were pulling out, one of them came across the way to check in on us. We expressed our sincere gratitude and then made our way to the ferry, then to the airport, and finally back home. 

As it turns out, Brendan has pneumonia. He’s been seeing his pediatrician regularly since we got back. He’s on antibiotics and we’re pushing fluids. While he’s still not well, there are small signs of improvement. We’re still concerned but far less knowing that we’re home and have wonderful medical care. 

Our world is full of stories of people who are awful to one another. Where our common humanity means nothing and self-interest is the guiding force. And yet, we encountered the deep kindness of four complete strangers in our vulnerable moments. An Airbnb host. A random doctor. Two “neighbors,” who shared a dirt road with us. 

We are grateful to all of them, but especially our “neighbors,” Phil and Laura, from Little Compton, R.I. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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