Nine-year-old Gabe Carranza bounds up to the pharmacy window, a smile breaking beneath the mask he wears to protect himself from stray coughs and sneezes. Though he's had a long day already, Gabe never leaves Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester without stopping to see pharmacy tech Adam Savage and deliver a dose of humor. "What does Godzilla call motorcycle riders?" Gabe asks when he sees Savage. "Meals on wheels!"
It's just one of many jokes the two have shared since Gabe first stepped up to Savage's window with his mom, Andrea, to pick up medication. Back in December 2015, Gabe was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and came to Mayo Clinic for treatment. Along the way, he's had many, many doctor appointments, tests and blood draws. And he's met many, many caring staff. But no one quite like Savage, who shares Gabe's enthusiasm for one-liners.
Though there's some disagreement over how things got started — Savage remembers Gabe telling the first joke; Andrea remembers it the other way around — there's no argument about how much the silly exchanges mean to everyone involved.
"I look forward to going to see Adam at the end of the day," Andrea says, her voice breaking. Gabe "goes through pokes and prods and poison. It's not an easy day. It's a hard day for me, it's a hard day for him. And to have him able to leave at the end of the day with a smile … it gives my heart a little peace. It makes all the hard and all the bad so much easier to tolerate."
Savage calls his interactions with Gabe "magical" and tells us that he was surprised to discover Gabe's sense of humor. "I didn't expect a little boy with a mask to tell me a joke," Savage says. "He's really made an impact in my life and holds a special place in my heart. I look forward to seeing him. It fills up my tank."
Both Gabe and Savage do their research, stockpiling jokes to share whenever they see each other. Which is often. "Even if we're just there for random whatever, and we don't need to go to the pharmacy, we still have to make a trip to the pharmacy to see if Adam's there," Andrea says. If Savage isn't, Gabe will tell a joke to one of his co-workers and ask them to pass it along. Savage does the same, leaving jokes with colleagues to share with Gabe in his absence.
Sharing jokes may seem like a small thing. But to Andrea, it's a gesture with ripples that extend far beyond a punchline. "At the end of the day, you get to leave with a little bit of love and a little bit of laughter," she says. "That's Adam to us. He radiates kindness. And that's what the world needs more of. More of Adam's infectious kindness everywhere."
Savage credits Gabe for helping shape that attitude. "My interactions with Gabe invigorate me," he tells us. "I wish we could all do that for each other, be as good of a team as Gabe and me."
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