Friday, March 27, 2009

Adapt or Change – Life with a Disability

It all began on a balmy fall evening. With siren wailing, the ambulance slid to a stop at the emergency room. Rapidly, people were bustling about the stretcher occupied by a very pregnant lady. The attendants wheeled her into the closest available labor room. Sometime later, upon proper dilation, she was taken into the delivery room. About twenty minutes later, a healthy green eyed baby boy was born. Starting to fill out the birth certificate, the nurse glanced at her wrist watch. The time was one twenty A.M., October 31, 1951. Three days later the new mother was released from the hospital. The weather had changed drastically. It was now very wintry and cold in Houston, Texas. As the child grew, that weather change was a peek into the change coming in the infants’ life.

At seven months the child was christened in the Lutheran church. By this time, he was pulling himself up on furniture and doing other things in preparation for walking. Two weeks later, the child became ill. At first, the young mother thought he had the flu. A day or two later, while resting in his crib, the attractive young mother noticed he wasn’t making the effort to standup holding onto the rail. Knowing there was the beginning of a polio outbreak in Houston, she rushed her child to the doctor.

She was promptly called back to visit the doctor. Examining the child, the pediatrician confirmed the hopeful mother’s fears. Robert had polio. The doctor began preparations to treat the child. At the time, the only hospital with adequate facilities to treat polio was the VA hospital in Houston. The doctor arranged everything. Two hours later the child was admitted as the youngest patient to ever be hospitalized in that VA hospital. During his stay, Robert spent time in an iron lung and received massage therapy. A few weeks later, Robert was scheduled for release.

Dorothy, Robert’s mother, was called in for a final consultation with the attending physician. She was told that the polio had started in Robert’s right arm, spread through his entire, tiny body and settled back into his right arm. She was told his arm would never grow to be normal and the bone would always be brittle. From that day forward, she vowed to protect her son as only a mother can. She was told he would always have to wear an arm brace to straighten his bent wrist and protect his arm.

Till he was eight, Robert lived a fairly normal child’s life. He was taught the things most mothers’ teach their children, respect, manners and the difference between right and wrong. He entered first grade at five years old in Louisiana, because he would be six before the end of the calendar year. His first teacher pitied him and didn’t teach him anything. Fortunately, for Robert and the rest of the people he would touch; the family moved to a new home in Lafayette, Louisiana.