On the 13-story-high roof of St. Louis Children’s Hospital this week, the superheroes pulled on their hooded masks and disappeared over the ledge.
On the floors below, kids with conditions like asthma, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy and cancer were just waking up.
Brooklyn Lintz, 17, is on the eighth floor. She was telling a nurse how badly her hip hurt when a figure caught her eye. “Is that Spider-Man?!” she sat up. “I have to take a picture!”
Crippled by pain, Brooklyn asked the nurse if he could open the blinds all the way. “He didn’t already leave, did he?”
Two Spider-Men returned to her window, waving and striking poses, as if webs were going to shoot from their wrists. One reached into a yellow bucket and pulled out a sponge and squeegee. He cleaned her window.
Brooklyn had spent much of the previous four days in the hospital sleeping, exhausted from pain medications. She suffers from two forms of sickle cell disease, she explained, one that deteriorates her bones and another that can cause severe pain anywhere in the body.
The pain put her in a wheelchair and caused her to miss her junior year of high school in Cape Girardeau. She had a hip replacement in January. She’s fought gallstones, dangerous blood clots and infections.
“That’s so awesome,” she said softly as the Spider-Men disappeared.
They are fighting villains far more real and worse than the Joker or Green Goblin.
IT'S FOR THE KIDS
Outside, temperatures climbed into the upper 80s. Window washers Matt McGehee, 41, and Andy Weeks, 31, were soaked with sweat under their full-body superhero suits, filled with thick padding to look like bulging muscles. They think the tights are inappropriate even without the safety harness around their hips, so they have jeans on, too.
They could barely breathe through the two holes cut out under the noses of their hoods, and they struggled to see through the mesh. But they didn’t dare pull it off.
“You can’t reveal your secret identity,” Weeks said.
McGehee, 41, started ALLGLASS Window Cleaning about three years ago. For the past year and a half, he and his crew have been cleaning the windows of St. Louis Children’s Hospital dressed as superheroes.
Around the same time, other companies across the country were starting to costume their window washers at children’s hospitals, including the likes of Captain America, Batman and Superman.
“It’s just for the kids,” McGehee said. “The kids look up, and their eyes get all big, and then this slow smile creeps across their face.”
Weeks loves it so much, he didn’t want to take off his mask on his ride home after work.
“Without the mask, without the kids, I’m just plain Andy,” he said. “So, I kept it on.”
HOW DID THEY GET UP THERE?
Isaiah Bush, 6, saw ropes hanging in front of his window, then what looked like rain and bubbles.
“What is it?” said the boy, who loves watching Thor and The Avengers and pretending to fight bad guys with his little sister. They have a life-size Incredible Hulk on their bedroom wall.
Isaiah has sickle cell disease, and had awakened in the middle of the night with a stomach ache and swollen spleen. A trip to the emergency room from his home in Belleville landed him in the hospital room.
The boy crawled into the window seat with his mom, Tamekia Bush, 34, to get a better look. Spider-Man suddenly peeked around the side, and they were face-to-face. “I cannot believe it,” Isaiah said.
Spider-Man took an extra long time cleaning the window, throwing suds and water at the glass. The superhero shouted through the pane, “Hey, you feel better, OK?” Isaiah shouted back, “OK!”
The boy was left wondering how Spider-Man got up there, how he disappeared so quickly. Spiderwebs, Isaiah concluded. “I think he jumped off the building.”
JUST TO SEE THEM SMILE
Spider-Man saves the day for the grownups too.
Beth Damsgaard-Rodriguez, 48, said her son, Jacob Rodriguez, 10, was miserable and sore when the Marvel Comics hero waved through the window. “That’s exactly what Jacob needed at the time,” Damsgaard-Rodriguez said. “That was the first smile I saw in a couple days.” Two days before, the Glendale youth had an appendectomy after suffering from a painful burst appendix.
Being in the hospital is scary for Cody Mitchell, 17, of Quincy, Ill., said his mother. He has intractable epilepsy — medication can’t control his seizures. He’s had surgery to disconnect the two lobes of his brain, but the seizures won’t stop. Seeing Spider-Man made him happy.
“He’s had a rough morning,” said his mother, Linda England, 37. “For him to be able to see that and smile, it made me feel so good.”
Brooklyn’s mother, Rachel Clifton, 40, can’t stand seeing her daughter in pain. Only tears come when she tries to talk about Brooklyn’s prognosis. Clifton can’t say the words. “It kills me to think about it,” she said.
Clifton does what she can to make her happy. They get their nails done, drive around listening to Beyonce and spend Sundays watching Lifetime movies and eating Imo’s Pizza.
When Clifton returned to her daughter’s hospital room after getting breakfast, she got to see her smile. Brooklyn beamed, “Spider-Man came to wash my windows!”