... and other signposts along the road.
Today marks my 55th year of life on this planet. It has not always been fun, or even fair, but it has been interesting, and educational.
Fifty-five years ago, almost at this very minute, I drew my first breath. That breath did not come easily, however, or without a price. You see, in 1954 rural America we did not have such modern tools like sonograms to warn us when our babies had somehow managed to entangle themselves within their own umbilical cords. In my case, that near catastrophe didn't become apparent until I made my appearance... blue, shriveled and lifeless.
Lucky for me, my mother's doctor was one of those exceptional breed who takes his daily battle against death perhaps a bit too seriously. According to her account, he worked on me for over thirty minutes, applying every technique and device at his disposal to restart my heart and lungs. Finally, when lesser men might have given up, he finally succeeded. I was alive, and breathing on my own.
We wouldn't find out until two years later that the lack of oxygen during that thirty minutes had damaged my brain. I had cerebral palsy.
What the doctors told my mother next was not the kind of news any mother wants to hear. My prognosis was not good. I would never walk. Perhaps I would never even learn to talk. I might not even live long enough to see my seventh birthday. Predictions based on averages, they quickly added. Perhaps I would beat the odds. Kind souls, offering hope.
My mother chose to cling to hope, as any mother will.
Then two things happened that would make liars out of anyone who had predicted those dire consequences for me. The first was a seemingly random encounter that led my mother to Shriner's Hospital for Children in St. Louis, Missouri. I was seen, evaluated, and then promised the best of care that money and technology could provide, free of cost to us. After a series of operations spanning fourteen years, I could walk, albeit with the aid of crutches, but I could walk.
I also, obviously, did live to see my seventh birthday. Happy birthday to me!
The second "miracle" involved a new social experiment which would one day come to be known as "mainstreaming" -- i.e. placing disabled kids among otherwise "normal" kids instead of teaching them as separate groups, as had been the norm before. Our local public school (Park elementary) was selected for one of these early pilot programs, and I (along with about 20 others) were selected as "test subjects." At age 6 I started school for the first time.
[To be continued next week. - Lawrence]