Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The One Where We Face Our Fears

Today, My Friend Jim wrote a post that begins with a confession:  Since childhood, he has had an aversion to amputees.

I know exactly what he is talking about.  I don't know how, or why, or when (although Jim has a very clear memory of how he arrived at his aversion) but I do know that since childhood, I have too have had this... fear... of amputees.  For many years it was so strong that I would feel physically ill, just being in the presence of someone who was missing, well, any part.  Arm, leg, hand, foot, finger... didn't matter.  It *bothered* me in a way that I couldn't really articulate as a child. 

When I was about 10 years old, my Dad had an accident that mauled his fingers.  I saw it happen from a distance - I was across the alley in our neighbors backyard.  Daddy tore off his jacket, and he wrapped it around the damaged hand, and ran for the house.  I tore off across the lawn, running for the house.  When I ran in the kitchen, what I saw stopped me in my tracks.  I gasped, and Daddy ordered me to go straight back over to the neighbor's house, find my little brother, and stay there until he and Mama got home from the doctor's office.  Mom shooed me out the back door, and before I got back across the alley, she had called the neighbors, and told them she had to take Daddy to the hospital. 

Where we lived, at the time, was way, way out in the country.  The nearest "emergancy room" was more than 20 miles away; it was a local joke.  People went there to either be pronounced dead, or to be shipped off to the closest "real" ER, which was another 40 miles on further.  Mama knew this, so she put all the back seats down in the station wagon, and made Daddy lie down, holding his mangled hand up in the air.  She took off for the "real" ER, driving like a woman possessed,  praying that there would be a surgeon on duty that evening.

Mama and Daddy didn't come home for *hours*.  Our neighbor did the best she could to get me to eat - to get me to stop crying, even to get me to go play with the other  kids.  But I couldn't forget what I had seen; I just knew that Daddy was going to come home minus most of the fingers on his left hand.  It was nearly midnight - almost 8 hours later - when I finally saw the headlights of our big station wagon sweep across our back yard as Mama pulled the car through the yard, and next to the back door.  I knew that meant that she had brought Daddy home; otherwise she would have parked around at the front of the house like always.

I pelted out the neighbors back door, running straight to the car.  Daddy got out of the car slowly, holding out his hand.  It was wrapped in miles of gauze, and tape.  I couldn't tell if Daddy's fingers were in there or not.  I was suddenly awkward, and afraid.  For the first time in my life, I had to come face-to-face with not just one, but two of my biggest fears:  First, that something bad might happen to my Daddy (or my Mama).  Second, that whole amputee thing.  What if Daddy was one of *those* people now?  How could I ever hold hands with him again?  How would he able to work on the cars?  How would he be able to do his job?  Oh, my childish little mind was awash in fear and morbid curiosity. 

Soon, Daddy was sitting in the living room, telling the neighbors how he had caught his hand in a piece of equipment.  He proudly told them how Mama had made him stay awake all the way to the ER, and how she had been so brave.  He told them that the angels must have been looking out for him, because there wasn't just any surgeon in that backwater, small-town ER that night, but a surgeon who had just gotten back from a seminar on "microsurgical repairs", and he tried out some of the new techniques on Daddy's hand.  Daddy said that he had a real good chance of keeping all of his fingers, but he would need a couple of surgeries down the road.  I nearly swooned with relief at that news; all of Daddy's fingers were in there.

Fast forward about 24 years.  Baby Twinks is not quite a year old, and we are making our first trip to Hospital City, courtesy of The Shriners.  My lifelong aversion to amputees is still firmly in place, but not for much longer.

When we arrive at Hospital City, I see kids everywhere.  Kids in wheelchairs, kids on crutches.  Kids with braces on their legs.  And kids with their prosthetic limbs.  Everywhere I looked, it seemed as though another one would pop into my line of sight.  A helpful Shriner takes us on a tour of the Hospital and Clinic.  "And here is Orthotics & Prosthetics!  Look right there - they are fitting that little guy with his new leg!".  I nearly swooned again.  And then, something amazing happened.

The little guy stood up on his new leg.  He wobbled briefly, then took off across the big open space between O&P and Physical Therapy.  He walked straight to the practice stairs in the PT area, and carefully and deliberately walked up those three steps, turned around, and crowed "Look at me!".

I couldn't stop looking.  I couldn't stop watching.  Suddenly, I wasn't afraid anymore.  I don't know if it was just seeing that little miracle - that little guy walking for the first time on his new leg that day, or if it was because I had to be brave now - after all, I was a Mommy now, and I had to put on a good example for Baby Twinks.  Maybe it was because suddenly I saw that amputees really could function - quite well - with correctly fitted prostethics.  Maybe it was my own little tiny miracle that day.   But my fear vanished.

Good thing too, because the next time we went back to the Hospital, the other family on the Shriner's van with us was a young mother with an adorable little girl who was a quadruple amputee. 


These last few years, I have had to face many of my worst fears:  That my Mom's health would take a turn for the worse (it has, but we deal with it one day at a time).  Being trapped in a burning building (I made it out; I survived.  Guess I need to tell you about that one, hmm?).  Going to the Dentist for the first time in almost 35 years (I did - with TW holding my hand the entire time). I'm a bit tired of being brave, but as long as I can keep facing my fears, and keep getting them out into the sunlight where I can deal with them, I think I'll be OK.


Donate to Project Valour-IT here

Contact the Shriner's to find out how to help here

I know that both groups will appreciate any help you can offer.  Thanks.


Suldog said...

Thank you, my very, very good friend! I am always awed by the level of your spiritual generosity concerning me.

Steph said...

I'd donate to the Shriners if I could. I'm currently out of work and whatever spare money I have is going towards a new furnace.
I just wanted to agree how great Shriners is. When I was 2, I was badly burned down my back. I went to the Shriners Burn Institute in Boston and they did miracles, all at no cost to my family. 29 years later, and the only time my scars are visible is if I'm stupid and get a sunburn.