Rob Belli stalked Sam the cat the way Sam the cat stalks everything -- on all fours.
Innocently, Sam ambled through the Belli family's living room toward the piano. In his Incredible Hulk jersey, his brown jeans and his cowboy boots, Rob closed in on Sam from behind. Finally, in a burst of boyishness, Rob pounced, gathering Sam up in a bear hug.
As boy and cat wrestled playfully beside the piano bench, Rob's mother, Cathey Belli, turned to me and said:
"I think he's 100 percent back."
There didn't seem to be much doubt. A week after major surgery at Children's Hospital to repair a hernia on his left side, 4-year-old Robert Belli of Northwest conducts himself like an entirely normal young person, assaults on cats and all.
He walks fine. He talks fine. He eats fine. He sleeps fine. He asks all the time when he can resume his football career, his mother says. And you don't have to ask to see his scar. It has become a pink badge of courage that Rob delights in showing.
I first looked in on Rob Belli two Sundays ago, as he was preparing for his surgery. I followed him last Friday as he went through the mill at Children's -- preparation, operation, recovery and home, all in one day. On Friday night, I went to the Bellis' home to see how Rob and his parents felt about the experience, and the hospital, in retrospect.
It would be hard to imagine a more satisfied group of customers.
True, Rob Belli says that he was a little scared by the smell of the gas the anesthesiologist used to put him under. And true, he was upset that the young man in the bed next to his in the recovery room was crying.
But the night he came home from the hospital, Rob was feeling so secure and happy that he watched the "Dukes of Hazzard," his favorite television show. He snuggled with his 7-year-old brother, John. "By Sunday two days after the operation , I don't think he remembered any of the bad things very well," said David Belli, Rob's father.
For the parents, Children's proved to be that rare oasis: a hospital where a 4-year-old patient isn't an afterthought or a mystery.
"The difference with this hospital is that everything they do is geared to people like Robert," said David Belli. "When you're treating adults and children, it's not the same thing, not the same feeling."
Cathey Belli says the experience was "much smoother than I anticipated. I had gone out of my way to finish all my Christmas shopping before the operation. I thought I'd be tied down taking care of him once he got home. But I haven't been.
"I certainly would go out of my way to go there again," she said.
"Me, too," said her husband, as he watched Rob pursue Sam toward the couch. "They do it right because they do it all the time."