Friday, January 22, 2010

One Step at at Time

Amputees come to my office every day.  Below knee, above knee, below elbow, above elbow, breasts, toes, feet…. Diabetics, veterans who lost limbs serving our country, breast cancer survivors, accident victims, and God knows all the ways good, everyday, folks end up minus a body part… Maybe they are coming in for a BK adjustment, a new bionic arm, or to pick up a few prosthetic socks. After a while some feel so part of the “family” here that they just walk right back to the staff room and help themselves to a cup of coffee.

The greatest days here are when a new amputee walks for the first time on her/his new leg. It’s like they have life again. I’ll never forget the look on a local police officer’s face the day he first tried out a new leg designed for high impact, heavy duty use. He ran across our walk room, and it wasn’t the running that was amazing, it was the smile on his face that literally filled every corner of the building. Some months later, this handsome man in his late 30s met all the physical requirements to be a fully active police officer, without any restrictions… saved from the fate of a desk job for the rest of his working years. 

The harder days are ones like today. A young woman came in, pushing her husband in a wheelchair. I am not sure what happened to him. I heard the words “burn victim,” which explained the fingerless gloves on his hands, hands that were missing most, if not all, of their fingers. His right leg, above knee and down, was also missing. Both their faces still bore the strain, grief, and shock, of everything that they have gone through, and he has suffered, since the terrifying moment that transformed their lives forever.

The great thing is they will get through this. He will walk, even run, again. Someday when he becomes a dad, he’ll be able to run and play with his kids. He will have hands to lift and hold his babies close to his heart. The face that is now drawn, grieving, and frightened, will again shine with light and he will again feel joy. His life will be transformed again.

Honest to God, I don’t always love all the things my job entails, but I do love what we do here, and that gives purpose to everything else.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Through the eyes of a child

I was thinking today about how I have always had an underlying belief that somehow the amount of gifts one receives has something to do with how much one is loved. I know that this is a perception and not a reality. Like many perceptions that many of us "adults" operate on, it comes from somewhere, and probably from something that happened many years ago. I am thus reminded of this short story I wrote a few years ago, about Christmas morning when I was three or four years old.

It was Christmas Day, the first one I remember.

The first thing I heard that morning was my big sisters squealing in my ear, “Wake up! Corinne, Wake up! Santa came! Santa came!” I followed them into the living room rubbing my eyes with my hands, adjusting to the early morning light. And then I saw the Christmas tree, all lit up like the night before, but with presents piled everywhere around. Carol and Nancy were first to their stockings hung on the mantel, and I could see all the candies and little toy surprises come pouring out and their faces so lit up with big smiles. Carol got mine down and handed it to me. It felt heavy and round. I turned the stocking upside down, in complete wonder about what could be in there!

And then a large onion tumbled onto the floor. I stared at that onion trying to comprehend that it was there and there weren’t any candies or toys at all, and all I felt was a terrifying crack in the world... We three girls in our flannel pajamas with happy little Santas, Nancy Fancy Pantsy always with ruffles…  The Christmas tree still sparkled with silver tinsel and lights, all decorated with twirly ornaments and the colored paper chains we had made with Mommy. Baby Jesus was in the manger with all the animals and angels and Mary and Joseph standing in the hay...

And somehow out from them and out from the walls of the living room that I knew, out through the windows with drapes flying, the onion and I were hurled through space, to some place else far far far away, where there was nobody else. My eyes looked for my mommy’s, hoping for some words that would bring me back to where things were right. She stood, holding my baby brother in her arms, her slender face surrounded by pink plastic curlers, and she explained, “Santa gave you an onion because you still suck your thumb.”

I was struck with disbelief, so much so I didn’t cry, I didn’t ask why, because what it all really meant I didn’t understand and it was too much to try to understand. She didn’t say anything else about the onion. I suppose my lesson was learned. Then we all started opening presents and dolls, toys, and games… and even though it seemed like I was back, nothing was ever the same again.