Monday, September 24, 2007

Once upon a time, in some hospital far away (no HIPAA violations for me, no sir)...

I was walking to the cafeteria for lunch (probably something from the soup and salad bar, given the other offerings on the menu--why do hospital cafeterias consistently offer such fatty, salty fare? But that's a rant for another time...). A few paces ahead of me in the hallway were a mother, father and son. The son was maybe five years old, and he was sitting in a little wheelchair--a wheelchair shrunk to child-size proportions, and personalized in ways that made me smile. It was obviously his cool-mobile; the handles were neon green, as was the matching trim, and the storage space on the back of the seat had a decal reminiscent of a racing number. A little pair of crutches were hung from one of the handles, and they too had been spiffed up to requisite coolness specifications. I assumed he had some sort of musculoskeletal disease, or maybe a nervous dysfunction, but as his family stopped at the elevator I discovered otherwise. One of his legs was gone below the knee. Maybe it was congenital, I told myself. Maybe he lost it before he could walk, and so he was never thrown off balance--literally or metaphorically--by its loss. In high school I knew a girl who had an above-the-knee amputation before she was a week old. She got around on crutches, and even became a cheerleader; at football and basketball games she left her crutches in the stands and performed all the cheers everyone else did, with one leg (as it were) tied behind her back. She was probably one of the most well-adjusted people I've ever met.
Of course, I couldn't just stop thinking about it there. My brain kept wandering, and wondering--what if he had it amputated recently? How could a five-year old even process something like that, and what about his parents? How could you explain to a little kid that, in the interest of his health (or survival), doctors were going to cut off his leg? That he'd go to sleep intact in the OR and wake up in the recovery room minus a limb?
As they got into the elevator, his mom turned the chair around and I got a better look at him (don't worry, I didn't gawk). Clutched to his chest was a little prosthesis, with a metal foot and a plastic calf covered in the sort of colorful graffiti you might see on the deck of a skateboard. "Why don't you put on your leg, Timmy?" "I don't wanna right now." Scowl of the sort only a young kid can really pull off. And the doors closed.

Forget 50 cent or ZZ Top or Nancy Pelosi. This kid gets my vote for badass of the year.

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