Family

Recently I took one of those DNA tests.  The kind where you spit into a vial, seal it all up in a bag, and ship it to a lab in Utah.  I did this because I was curious to find out my ancestral roots.  For the most part, the results were not a surprise.  I knew I had roots in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.  However, I was surprised to see that I also had traces of French, Swedish, and Russian blood. 

It was fascinating to see the results broken down into percentages.  My ethnicity breaks down as follows:

English, Welsh, & Northwestern European – 36%

Germanic European – 29%

Italian – 12%

Eastern European & Russian – 8%

French – 8%

Irish & Scottish – 3%

Swedish – 2%

Baltic European – 2%

Seeing all of these percentages laid out like this made me yearn to know the stories of my ancestors.  What were there lives like?  What kinds of personalities did they have?  Where did they stand politically?  These are all questions that I will never will be able to answer.  However, I would love to do a little more research into who some of these people were.

I know that much of my mother’s family were Germans who came to the U.S. and settled in rural parts of Pennsylvania.  I am sure many of them were farmers who tried to make a better life for their children.  Fortunately, many of them came before Europe was torn apart by war.  I would like to go back and hear their stories.  It would be fascinating to learn why they decided to leave behind loved ones to come to a new country.  This to me would have been terrifying. 

My maternal grandparents Lauren and Betty Geil were both great people.  I did not know my grandfather very well, as I was quite young when he died.  But I do have memories of him.  My grandmother Betty, was perhaps the coolest grandmother there ever was.  I can remember her doing the “Moonwalk” after Michael Jackson made it famous.  She was also one of the most giving people that I have ever known.    

Lauren and Betty Geil

On my father’s side things are a little more ethnically diverse.  I have been able to research the Bradshaw family back to the 1600’s.  It appears many of them came from Lancashire, a county in the northwest of England.  The Bradshaw line that I am from first settled in Virginia, where it appears they were quite successful farmers, as census records show many of them had quite a bit of land, and a few even owned slaves.  The Bradshaw family began to spread out through the Carolinas, Tennessee, and then into Illinois. 

My great grandparents Shannon and Etna Bradshaw on the far left. I believe the other men in this picture might be Shannon’s brothers with their families.

A few summers ago my wife Amanda and I visited a cemetery just outside of White Hall, Illinois where several of my distant relatives are buried, including my great, great grandfather. I wish they could have all spoken from beyond the grave to tell me what their lives were like. There is a place near White Hall called Bradshaw Mound. I’d like to find out the history of this place. It makes me wish that I’d have asked my grandfather these questions before he passed away several years ago. He was born in White Hall and maybe he could have filled me in on the history of the town where many of my distant relatives lived.

My fraternal grandmother was born and raised on the outskirts of Shaw, Mississippi.  She grew up on a farm where her and her siblings picked cotton, that is until my great-grandmother passed away.  After this event, my grandmother took over as caretaker of the family.  She did the cooking, cleaning, and other chores that her mother once did.  This means that my grandmother was also unable to finish school.  However, she was a woman who knew how to take care of her family. 

Growing up I loved hearing the names of her brothers and sisters, many of whom had been born in Italy before my great-grandparents Vincenzo and Palmina Bastari came to America.  My grandmother’s brothers names were Rigo, Tilio, Aldo, Amilio, Cerro, and Sam.  My grandmother’s name was Mary, and her sisters were Edith, Emma, Jenny, and Clara.  I never had the opportunity to meet my great uncles, but I am sure they all had great stories to tell about growing up in Mississippi.  I can also imagine their lives, especially as they were growing up, were very difficult.  However, they all went on to have their own families and lived full lives. 

From L to R: My great aunts Jenny, Edith, Emma, Clara, and my grandmother Mary Bradshaw

I did have the privilege of meeting all but one of my great aunts and they were all feisty women.  They also were all quite beautiful.  Each one of them maintained part of their Italian accents as well.  My grandmother’s accent was unique.  It was part Mississippi and part Italian.  Her family was from the town of Assisi, which is in central Italy.  Hopefully, I’ll make it there someday.  I am sure there are still some long-lost cousins who live there.

Vincenzo and Palmina Bastari

My dad’s parents, Oris and Mary were married in 1940 in Hernando, Mississippi.  They lived for a time in Memphis, Tennessee before moving north to Rock Falls, Illinois.  I think it was hard for them to move away from Memphis, but my grandfather came north to help his father and mother. 

My grandfather was one of the most selfless men that I have ever met.  He always put family ahead of himself.  He gave up a career with the Walgreen’s Company so that he could take better care of his children once his first wife died.  He then remarried, moved to Illinois and did various jobs to support his family.  He was a Coke delivery man, and then towards the end of his working life, he was a custodian at the high school just down the street from where I live now. 

My grandpa Oris

I miss him every day. When my own father passed away I was just a boy. My grandpa always made sure we were all right. We all knew we could talk to him, as he was very patient and kind. He was also full of wisdom. He taught me the importance of staying connected to your family. Family always has been, and always will be important to me. Take time to learn your family’s history. Some things may be ugly, but I am sure you’ll also find some incredible things as well. I appreciate the things that I have learned about mine.

Bleeding Cubbie Blue

In celebration of the of the Major League Baseball season getting underway this week the following is a story that I shared on Facebook a few years ago after one of the best days of my life:

So, let me tell you my story.  It all began at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, November 4, 2016. I was awake this early in anticipation of the day before me.  My brother Cory, my niece Clair, and I would be setting off at 4:30 a.m. to be a part of the Cubs World Series victory parade and rally in Grant Park.  We decided to leave this early so that we could catch one of the earliest trains into the city, as we knew that there would be millions of people attending the rally.

We arrived in Elburn, Illinois at a little after 6 a.m. and promptly caught the train that would take us into downtown Chicago.  On the way we sat in nervous anticipation of the sights and sounds we would encounter as we made our way to the rally.  We arrived in Chicago a little after 7 and we hopped off the train. Almost as soon as we left the train, there was singing and people waving banners.  It was going to be a party!

On excursions such as these I usually take a wheelchair, as it makes getting around so much easier for me.  So, I in my wheelchair, and my brother and niece on foot, set out for Grant Park, which is nearly a mile from the train station.

On our way, we saw thousands of others headed in the same direction.  The streets were a flurry of activity, as vendors were selling t-shirts, beads, and flags.  Street musicians were there providing a soundtrack to the city that was oozing with World Series euphoria.  Was this really happening, or had the last two weeks just all been a dream? The Chicago Cubs, my team, our team, had finally done it.  They had become champions, and we were going to celebrate!

We slowly made our way towards Lake Michigan.  We then walked past the lions that guard the entrance to Chicago’s Art Institute.  They were standing there proudly with their Cubs helmets on greeting the masses as they strolled passed.  As we got closer to Grant Park, the crowds really began to thicken, for we all had to pass through a security checkpoint before gaining access to the park.  We inched along with the thousands of others that had gathered until we finally reached the entrance to the park.

One of the lions outside Chicago’s Art Institute adorned with his Cubs hat.


Hundreds of thousands of people were lined up along the parade route, while hundreds of thousands more began to find their places for the rally inside the park.  Cory, Clair, and I made our way down a rather steep, and muddy hill into the park. This was kind of fun in a wheelchair. I don’t know how Cory was able to keep ahold of me and the chair.  We eventually made it down the hill, with the help of a fellow Cubs fan. Some people are still very kind, a lesson that I was to be reminded of yet again a short time later.

We staked out our spot, which was nowhere near the stage, but close enough to a video board, that we’d be able to catch all of the events of the rally there.  Cory and Clair then went to get some food from one of the many food trucks lining the streets outside the park. The smells in the air were amazing! As I was sitting waiting for their return I made some small talk with a police officer, who was standing inside the security fence that lined the interior of the park.  We chatted for a bit and then I was approached by a very kind looking gentlemen, who was very busy, yet took time to speak to me.

This gentleman asked how long I had been a Cubs fan and how long I had been at the rally.  He then asked me who was at the rally with me. I explained that I was with my brother and my niece.  He asked where they were at, and I replied that they were getting some food. He asked if they would be returning soon, and I said yes.  That is when I knew that this man had something in store for us. Something that would be like Christmas, my birthday, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.  

I quickly sent Cory a text letting him know that he had better return quickly, as our day was going to be getting better than we had ever expected.  Cory and Clair returned in a matter of minutes, upon which the kind gentleman opened a gate and led us down a long aisle that led directly to the front of the park.  On the way he checked to make sure that I was not embarrassed by being wheeled along in front of thousands of others who were not being afforded the same treatment. He did all of this for me purely out of the kindness of his heart.  Cory, Clair, and I were now approximately 30 feet from the stage. The stage that our Cubbies would be speaking from in just a matter of hours! We thanked the man for allowing us access to this part of the park, and he went about his tasks making sure that everything was ready for the rally to begin.  

I assume by observing him that this man was the director of the event, as he went about making sure that others were doing their assigned tasks.  I wish I knew how to thank him, as he gave us all an experience that we will never forget. In the few hours that we spent at the rally I had to keep asking myself why would someone do this for us?  We did not deserve this this type of treatment. We were just there to watch the rally and soak it all in as best we could. The simple answer, there are still humble and kind people in the world. I fall short of this every day.  This man taught me a lesson by giving me an incredible gift. It may not seem like much to others but I spent the day just appreciating being with family, enjoying the beautiful, blue sky, and getting to experience something that is truly once in a lifetime.  I was a part of history today, a beautiful, blue humbling history. GO CUBS!

My brother Cory, me, and my niece Clair at the rally. We were really this close to the stage.

Roger That!

In a few previous posts I have written about my time at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.  It perhaps is a place that I could write dozens of stories about, as there were all kinds of people that I met there as a young boy.  I was exposed to individuals from various ethnicities, religions, and family backgrounds.  Children’s was a place that taught me that we are all people and that we should treat each other with respect.  It also was a place that showed me just how funny life can be. 

As I’ve noted before I was often at Children’s for extended periods of time.  During these stays I had the opportunity to experience things that other children my age would never experience.  For instance, there were times when naval recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station, which is just north of Chicago, would come by and visit patients.  I remember one time a particular recruit came to visit me.  He was a pretty good artist and he made a drawing for me.  This is a picture that I still have stored away somewhere.

When these young sailors would come by for a visit it would make me feel very special because they gave me their full attention.  I felt like I was important to them.  These feelings are something that I will never forget. 

I also had some interesting roommates along the way during my stays at Children’s.  One that often comes to mind when I think of those days is a little girl by the name of Courtney.  She rarely had family come to see her, which always made me feel sorry for her, as it can be terrifying to be in the hospital all alone.  This is especially true for a young child. 

It was around Easter one year when Courtney and I were roommates, and to help her feel better, my mother and father went out and bought her an Easter bonnet and a small purse.  These are two things that I am sure she had never had before.  When she saw them her eyes lit up as if they were the greatest things she had ever seen.  I can remember Courtney calling her parents and telling them about the gifts she had received.  It was heartbreaking to learn that just a few weeks later her brother had gotten jealous of the gifts she had received and proceeded to fill her purse with dirt.  I would like to know what became of Courtney along with some of the other people that I met while I was in the hospital.         

Despite the pain I was often in when I was in the hospital, the nurses and doctors always seemed to make things better.  I think this was because they knew how to treat children who were suffering.  Plus there always seemed to be plenty of things to do to keep one’s mind off of the pain.  For instance, you could make your way up to the ninth floor where there were a few arcade games to play.  Or, there were often magic shows put on by a local magician by the name of Danny Orleans.

Growing up I was a huge fan of Matchbox and Hot Wheels toy cars, and the gift shop at Children’s was always a treasure trove for these.  I can remember several times when I was hospitalized that my parents and I would go to the gift shop where I was allowed to pick out one or two Matchbox cars.  I still have many of these stored away.  They will always bring back great memories.     

Then of course there was the tutor who you went to if you were in the hospital for an extended period.  She was kind of a crotchety old lady who would look over her wire-rimmed glasses at you as she spoke.  You would think having to do school work while hospitalized would have been torture.  The tutor that I had while at Children’s made it all worthwhile though.  I am sure she had been a teacher in the Chicago Public School System since around the time that Al Capone ruled the city.  However, despite her gruff exterior she was actually charming in her own special way.  I think she had a good heart and truly cared for the children with whom she was working.  I just wish her memory had been a little sharper, because she never could get my name correct.  For some reason she always called me Roger, which to this day is one of the nicknames that my family uses for me.  I never really had the heart to correct her.  This woman, I am certain, has long since passed, but the memory of her will live on every time someone calls me Roger.       

Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois shortly before it was demolished. Just inside those doors on the left were two stone elephant sculptures. I wish I could have gotten one of those before they tore this place down.

Patience – Part 2

Eventually the rest of the group caught up to where I was on the river and we continued on our way.  At times the river’s current began to pick up, which made it a little more difficult to avoid obstacles that were in the water.  However, I did fairly well dodging these logs, rocks, and small rapids.  As time went on I was beginning to feel more confident in my abilities to make my way down the river. 

After floating a few more miles, the group decided to take a break along a sandbar.  Despite the fact that this was a July day, it was quite cool and there had been sprinkles of rain on and off throughout our journey down the river.  It perhaps was not the best day to be out on the water, but we continued on after a brief rest. 

As we got further down the river the current became a little more swift.  Likewise, there were a few more rapids to navigate.  By this time I was beginning to feel like I wanted this trip to end.  Little did I know, it was actually just beginning. 

As noted in part one of this story, I am quite inexperienced kayaking on rivers.  So, as the current began to flow a little quicker, I began to feel uneasy.  I just wanted to be out of the kayak and back on dry land where I could warm up a little.  However, things were going to get a lot colder in just a little while. 

More and more obstacles began to come into view the farther we got down the river.  Lots of trees had fallen into the river, which meant we had to navigate around them.  There were also more and more rocks to swerve around as well.  At times there were only very narrow spaces to float through as we went along downstream.  It was in one of these tighter spaces that the front of my kayak snagged a log that had become partially submerged.  This was also a spot where the water was moving quite rapidly. 

As my kayak smacked into the log, I was flipped upside down.  Upon realizing what was happening I tried to grab ahold of my crutches, which I foolishly had brought with me in the kayak.  Despite my best efforts they both shot away from me very quickly as did my glasses.  So there I was submerged upside down in the river trapped inside my kayak.  Fortunately, I was able to squirm my way out of the craft.  I then swam up to the surface, where luckily I found a nearby sandbar. 

I climbed out of the water in a daze not being able to see anything at all, as my glasses had quickly disappeared to the bottom of the river.  The rest of the group came to see if I was all right.  After assuring them that I was, they began to trudge around the river bottom looking for my crutches and my glasses.  However, after searching for several minutes neither my crutches nor my glasses were found. 

So, without being able to see anything, I hopped into a canoe with Amanda, while her cousin Doug took over piloting the kayak I had been floating in throughout the day.  Despite having very little idea of what was going on around me, I still felt it necessary to be a “backseat driver.”  Fortunately, Amanda did not whack me across the face with one of her paddles.  Although, I am quite certain she felt like doing that at some point.

As we got to the spot where we were to climb out of our canoes and kayaks there was yet another obstacle for me to face.  Without my crutches or my glasses, I would need to crawl several feet back to the car.  So, there I was sopping wet, cold, and nearly blind.  As I was drenched from head to toe, I decided to climb in the back Alice’s SUV and lay across some blankets that had been put down for me. 

I can say without a doubt that the trip back to my in-laws house was one of the longest car rides I have ever experienced.  On the way calls were made to various medical supply stores to see if they sold the type of crutches that I use.  However, by this time, it was fairly late in the day, so no shops were open.  This is when I remembered that I had a spare pair of crutches in the trunk of my car.  I also had stashed a pair of old glasses in the glove compartment as well.  So, once we got back to my in-laws house, I took a nice warm bath, cleaned the sand from all my cracks and crevices.  Then I spent the rest of the weekend walking around on an old pair of crutches and staring through lenses that were a few prescriptions too old. 

From now on I will always have a spare pair of glasses and some old crutches with me just in case I need them.  I have also decided that I will stick to calm lakes and streams from now on if I want to go kayaking.  However, I don’t think I have much of a desire to do that, at least for several more years.  Finally, I will always be grateful for the patience of Amanda.   

Oh, and one last thing before I go. If you are ever on the Meramec River in Missouri and you come across a pair of crutches, let me know, as I will forever wonder what became of those sticks of mine.                     

Patience – Part 1

“Patience is not passive, on the contrary, it is concentrated strength.” – Bruce Lee

My wife Amanda is one of the most patient people that I know. I am very thankful that God has placed her in my life. This is because I often test my own limits, and she is there to pick up the pieces. It is a great thing that we live right across the street from our local hospital, as we visit the ER at least once every six months. The reasons for our trips have varied over the years. One of the last times we were there was for a surgical incision that had split open and had become infected. This was probably due to me trying to resume normal activity too soon.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of Amanda’s patience was during a canoe trip that we took a few summers ago with her sister Alice, and some of their cousins. This was the second canoe trip Amanda and I had been on together. The first one ended with me tipping over the canoe in which we were floating. Fortunately, it was pretty hot that day and we both dried off rather quickly. However, I think due to this experience, Amanda was a little apprehensive to have me float along in a canoe with her on our trip with Alice and the cousins. Therefore, I was exiled to my own kayak, which was fine with me, as I enjoy kayaking very much. The only problem is that before this second canoe trip I had never taken a kayak out onto a river. I had only ever floated in rather calm lakes.

Despite my inexperience kayaking on anything but a serene lake, we all set off down the Meramec River, which winds its way through various parts of Missouri.  About five minutes into the trip I floated my way over to some rather large rocks that were near the bank of the river.  I then extended my right hand out in order to grab ahold of one of the rocks, as I had gotten ahead of the rest of the group.  Fortunately, just before I touched one of the rocks, I noticed that a snake was perched about 6 inches from my hand.  I believe this was a pretty harmless snake, as it slithered its way into the river and out of my sight.  However, this was perhaps a sign of things to come.   

Dew Shine

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra

As winter slowly melts into spring here in Northwest Illinois, my thoughts are turning more and more to being outdoors and to soak up the sunshine.  The sun is something that we do not see much during the winter. One of my favorite outdoor activities in the spring and summer is bicycling. I have a Sun HT-3, which is ahand-powered trike.  It is a pleasure to ride for hours, just taking in the sights and sounds of the outdoors. 

Here in my hometown of Sterling, Illinois there are various bike paths on which I enjoy riding.  A few of these run along the Rock River, which can be beautiful around sunset, as you can see in the picture below.  The park district has done a great job maintaining these paths for all cyclists to enjoy.

Sunset along the Rock River

On occasion my wife Amanda and I will also load our bikes into the back of our SUV and drive to other cities where there are great paths to explore.  Chicago has a great bike trail that runs along Lake Michigan. This is perhaps one of my most favorite paths on which to ride.  There are so many things to see, and best of all, there are places to stop and eat. 

Another city nearby that has a great trail system which to explore is Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is home to two lakes, along which you can ride. One of these paths takes you through various neighborhoods of the city with lots of beautiful homes and well-manicured lawns.  However, the best parts are along Lake Monona, where you can catch views of the city’s skyline.  Then after you are done riding you can stop in at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and have one of their delicious cheeseburgers andsome deep-fried cheese curds.

There are times when my trike has needed repairs and thereis no better place to go than a shop we have right here in Sterling.  I cannot say enough about the staff at Mead’s Bike Shop, especially the owners, Bryce and Marcy Mead.  Their customer service is second tonone. 

When I was looking for a bicycle, Bryce took the time tohelp me order my hand trike.  His teamthen assembled it when it arrived. Thanks to Mead’s I have spent hundreds of hours riding and enjoying theoutdoors.  However, without the help ofanother organization I would not have been able to purchase my trike. 

A few years ago I was looking for a bicycle that I couldride where I could use my hands to pedal, as the strength in my legs is not the greatest. That is when a friend of mine told me about something called the Challenged Athletes Foundation. 

This organization helps provide sportingequipment to disabled individuals.  So, I wrote a grant, which they accepted, and thus I had a shiny, new trike.  One on which I have had many adventures.

Perhaps, one of the most fun rides that I have had since getting my trike, at least in hindsight, was with my nephew Dalen a few summers ago.  He and I decided to set out one warm and sunny afternoon.  We had no particular goal in mind.  We were just out for a joyride.

About 30 minutes into our aimless journey, Dalen asked if we could stop at the store so that he could get something to drink.  Thanking that he was just going to go in and grab a bottle of Coke, I agreed and we stopped at a store just down the street.  Little did I know that he was going to come back out with a four-pack of glass bottles of a soda he was into at the time called “Dew Shine.”  I am not sure what he was thinking when he bought those glass bottles, as we had no way to carry them while riding.  However, this is typical of Dalen, to not think ahead. 

So, there we were a few miles from either one of our homes with 4 glass bottles of soda and no place to put them.  I suggested that we each carry two bottles and make our way towards his house. However, in doing so we would need to ride along a fairly busy highway.

We started out quite well but it was difficult to hold two glass bottles between my legs and for him to carry two and hold on to the handle bars of his bike at the same time.  So, we pulled over at a nearby gas station where we each downed a bottle.  We then carried on a little further before the chain on my bike slipped off.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix and we were back on our way.  However, a short time later, the chain slipped off of Dalen’s bike, which wasn’t as easy to fix.  We did eventually get the chain back on his bike, and made it home shortly thereafter.  This was the last time he and I ever rode together. 

This was a great 22-mile ride along Lake Michigan in Chicago

                    

A Mother’s Perspective

For today’s post I asked my mother to contribute a story in which she gives her perspective on raising a child with spina bifida. What follows is her story.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 NKJ)

On March 13,1977 the Lord blessed my husband Tom and me with our third son, Ryan Thomas Bradshaw.  Little did we know on thenight that he was born that our family’s life would be changed forever.  Ryan’s birth and the years that have followedhave taken us on an amazing but sometimes perplexing journey.  Through it all we have been there for eachother with God as our guide.

A week or so before Ryan was born I told my mother that I just felt that something was wrong with the baby I was carrying.  Her response was, “Oh, you’re just tired of being pregnant.”  That was true, but I still felt uneasy.  Because my second son had been born so quickly they told me when I went into labor with this third child I should not waste any time getting to the hospital.  So, when labor started early in the morning on March 13 we took our 4 and 5 year old sons to their aunt and uncle’s and headed to the hospital. 

I labored all day and around 5:00 PM the doctor told me we should consider a Cesarean Section as the baby was beginning to show signs of stress on the monitors.  Almost immediately my labor became very intense and the baby started crowning.  Forceps were used during delivery and as Ryan came through the birth canal, however, the myelomeningocele that had developed on his back ruptured during the delivery.  So, Ryan and my husband were rushed 130 miles away by ambulance to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.  So, my feeling that there was something wrong with my baby was true. 

We had so much to learn over the next few months regarding what was in store for Ryan and our family.  Because Ryan has already written about his birth defect I will not. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, life in this family has been an adventure.  The growing up years were not always pleasant for my boys but a good sense of humor helped in many situations.  You may wonder how our family stayed intact with two other boys to care for, jobs and a home to maintain.   

I believe there are three things that contributed to maintaining a “healthy” family unit.  First, and foremost, knowing that God is in control no matter what happens.  The Lord has answered many prayers on Ryan’s behalf and for the rest of us.   Then, we had strong support from extended family and friends that made all the traveling and overnight hospital trips possible.  Last but not least, as has been said many times; love conquers all. 

Me in one of my first pairs of leg braces.

Providence

My life is but a weaving between my God and me. 
I cannot choose the colors 
He weaveth steadily 
Oft' times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not 'til the loom is silent 
And the shuttles cease to fly 
Will God unroll the canvas 
And reveal the reason why.  - Corrie Ten Boom 

I believe in the providence of God because of one place.  That place was Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.  On March 13, 1977 I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, two conditions that would lead me to spend several weeks at a time at Children’s when I was a young boy.  I was born in a small town called Sterling, Illinois, which is just a couple hours west of Chicago.  Soon after my birth I was rushed by ambulance to Children’s Memorial.  From this point, into my early teens, Children’s was often my home away from home. 

I learned a lot about life during my stays at Children’s  I began to see life from a different perspective.  From an early age I saw how joyous life can be.  I also caught glimpses of just how tragic it can be as well.  For instance, I met a boy there during one of my stays whose mother had set him on fire.  This boy’s name was David.  He and I became friends while we both were staying at Children’s.

David was there getting treatment for his burns.  I was there being treated for a case of osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone.  David used to push me around the floor of the hospital where we both were staying.  He and I would talk about the things kids our age typically talk about.  However, there were also serious conversations.  It was through one of these more serious talks that I learned just how difficult David’s home life was for him.  His mother was a drug addict, who set him on fire one night when she was in a drug-fueled rage. 

Despite his circumstances, David was a very empathetic person, who seemed very kind to others.  He certainly treated me well and we enjoyed spending time strolling the halls of “three-west.”  This was one of the best floors to be on if you were staying at Children’s because the nurses were so much fun.  One such nurse was named Augie.  She was a very kind and loving woman. 

One afternoon I was given permission by one of my doctors to leave the hospital for a few hours.  Augie, my mother and I, then went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which was several blocks away from Children’s.  It was an afternoon that I will never forget.  I had been in the hospital for several weeks, and it was such a joyful experience to get out into the fresh air and soak in the sights and sounds of the zoo.  Plus, it was fun spending time with Augie, as she loved to laugh.  It was an afternoon where I was allowed to forget about things and just relax. 

Many of the doctors and nurses at Children’s were so kind.  They were people who truly knew how to care for children.  I had the privilege of meeting individuals from all walks of life while I was at Children’s.  My orthopedic doctor, Luciano Dias, was from Brazil and was fluent in both English and Portuguese.  My urologist was a short, Jewish man named William Kaplan.  I can say he is the first doctor that invited me in to his house only to have me urinate in the entryway.  However, that is a story for another time.   

My favorite doctor of all was my neurologist, Dr. David McLone.  He was such a kind and gentle man.  He was one of the first doctors to treat me when I arrived at Children’s shortly after my birth.  Dr. McLone was the one who told my parents to take me home and love and treat me as they would any other child.  I believe it was this advice that has led me to not look at myself as someone who has a disability. 

You might ask what does all of this have to do with the providence of God.  When I was born in 1977, not much was known about spina bifida and hydrocephalus.  However, all three of the doctors that I mentioned above were physicians who were on the forefront in the treatment of spina bifida at this time. 

For instance, Dr. Dias was a pioneer in some of the surgical procedures that have allowed me to walk.  In fact, the picture of me that appears on the very first post of this blog is from a medical journal that details information about a procedure that Dr. Dias performed on me that straightened my legs, enabling me to walk. 

As noted above, I was born in a small town, which was just a two-hour drive from Children’s Memorial Hospital.  In 1977, Children’s was one of the leading centers in spina bifida research.  I was cared for by some of the leading doctors in the treatment of spina bifida.  I also had parents who sacrificed their time, finances, and energy to insure that I received the best care possible.  For the first year of my life, my parents drove me to and from Chicago each week.  There is no way this all happened by just a stroke of luck.  Children’s Memorial Hospital is no longer there on Fullerton Avenue in Chicago.  However, it will always be a part of me.  Likewise, it will always be a reminder of the providence of God. 

Bob Avellini and me in the cafeteria of Children’s Memorial Hospital. Bob was a quarterback for the Chicago Bears from 1975-1984. One of the perks of being at a children’s hospital is that professional athletes and other celebrities would often stop by for a visit. If only this could have been Walter Payton! Oh well, I look pretty good in that hospital gown and that IV sticking in my arm.

                                 

Air Jordan

I’ve heard it said that one should never meet their heroes. I believe there is some truth to this, as it does diminish some of the mystique surrounding their persona. However, as a 14-year-old boy I did meet one of my heroes and it something that I will remember for a lifetime.

It was Saturday, January 11, 1992. I awoke at 9 a.m. and was hardly able to contain my excitement about the day’s events. I got dressed, did some last-minute packing, and then walked out of the house to get into the car. As the car pulled out of the driveway, my family and I were filled with anticipation as we began our drive toward Chicago.

Our immediate destination was the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Upon our arrival at the Hyatt we were greeted by a doorman who took our bags and escorted us to our complimentary room. After depositing our bags in the room, we went off for a walking tour of the area and to get a bite to eat.

It was an enjoyable afternoon taking in the sights and sounds of the “Windy City.” Our walk took us a few blocks south of our hotel, before we stopped and ate lunch, which was also compliments of our hosts for the weekend. As we left the restaurant, we decided to go back to the Hyatt to rest up for the events that were to occur that evening.

At 5 p.m. we left our hotel room to go down and get a taxi that would take us to our much anticipated event. After a brief ride, we were there! We were standing outside the Chicago Stadium where my family and I were to be Michael Jordan’s guests for the evening.

I felt rather important as we entered the stadium through the doors which the players entered each night. While were waiting for our escort, we saw John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong enter and head toward the locker room.

When our escort arrived, we were given VIP passes and were led out onto the floor. How exciting it was to be walking right next to the court! On the floor the Luvabulls (cheerleaders) were warming up, camera men were preparing their gear for the night, and Bill Cartwright was practicing lay-ups. Soon we were joined by another staff person who worked for the Chicago Bulls. This individual escorted us down to the locker room.

As we were making our way toward the locker room, we walked past several other players and the Bulls mascot, Benny the Bull. He was standing just outside the locker room door. The one we were about to enter!

As we entered the locker room, my legs felt just like rubber because there sat Michael Jordan along with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. Michael greeted me with a handshake and there were introductions all around. We visited for a few minutes while Michael and the rest of the starting five signed some basketball cards and other memorabilia for me. Game time was rapidly approaching, so we had to return to the arena to find our seats. I was privileged to have a seat at the end of the Bulls’ bench.

Throughout the game a few of the players talked to me and made me feel like one of the guys. As the game ended, I realized that this was an evening I would never forget as long as I live.

Just this past week Lebron James surpassed Michael Jordan on the list of the NBA’s top career scoring leaders. There has been much debate as to whether Lebron or Michael should be deemed the greatest of all time. In my opinion there is no contest, Michael will always be the greatest. Now if I could just sell all of those unopened Wheaties boxes with his face on them that I have stored in my basement. Anyone interested?

Michael and me in the locker room of the Chicago Stadium
The letter from the “Starlight Foundation” confirming our invitation. The “Starlight Foundation” was the organization that granted me my wish to meet Michael Jordan. Those toll charges to and from Chicago have more than doubled now and I am sure it is probably closer to $50.00 to park at the Hyatt these days.

The Winter of My Discontent – Part 3

My roommate the first few nights was a gentleman in his early fifties who suffered from anxiety attacks.  Therefore, he was unable to sleep unless all of the lights were on and his television was tuned to “Nick at Nite”.  Thankfully, I had an abundance of pillows with which to cover my eyes from the light and my ears from the noise.  However, this did not help the fevers to come down that I was still experiencing due to the infection that had weakened my body.  After spending two or three nights in quiet desperation I was ready for a new roommate.  Luckily, one was on the way. 

My next roommate was an 88-year-old man who was having severe back pain and was unable to walk because of it.  I thought he would be a welcome change to my previous bunkmate and he was for the most part.  He was rather quiet and was heavily medicated most of the time and best of all he had no issues with anxiety. 

The nurses that took care of me during my time at “Club Dread” were generally very efficient and very caring.  However, there were a few people on the medical staff that I began to fear during my recovery.  One of these people was a nurse who I began referring to as “The Bruiser,” as she was not the most gentle person.  After a few days she began to refer to me as “Guy” so I thought the least I could do was reciprocate and give her a nickname as well.  After having endured several sponge baths by this woman I felt as if I was in a prison camp.  I was ready to pack my bags and return to the home front. 

I was eventually allowed to leave the “Stalag” and was sent home with yet more antibiotics and enough battle scars to last me a lifetime.  The wound on my backside had been left open so sitting down upon my return home was not much of an option.  This also necessitated that a home healthcare nurse come to my house three times a week and change the bandaging on my wound.                                  

A few days after Christmas I went back into the hospital to have yet more surgery.  During this procedure my wound was stitched in a few places and then a device called a Wound Vac (which stands for Vacuum Assisted Closure), was placed inside my wound. It was composed of a sophisticated pump, hoses, and a monitoring system held within a portable compact case that weighed about 15 pounds.  Its job was to suck infectious materials out of the wound while promoting the growth of healthy tissues.  It proved to be a rather cumbersome device at times.

The tubing on the Wound Vac was all suctioned down airtight to the skin by means of a very sticky adhesive tape.  This enabled the machine to create the vacuum, which in turn created all of the suction needed to promote healing at the wound site.  If this adhesive was punctured or ruptured the Wound Vac would begin to make some very strange sounds. 

Many nights I went to bed with the Wound Vac making noises quite similar to the sound a warthog makes when chasing down some prey.  This was an indication that I had sprung a leak and that a patch job was in order. 

Trying to find the leak was often times very difficult, yet other times it was very apparent where the leak was because the area would make a whistling noise. During this period I added a new talent to my repertoire.  Being able to whistle with my butt was something that I thought I’d never be able to achieve.

Living with the Wound Vac was not something that I enjoyed. However, my cat at this time started to make a new friend.  Most of the time the device would make a sound quite similar to that of a cat purring so it is easy to see why the cat would have developed feelings for the Wound Vac.  One of his favorite activities was to sit and stare at the machine while it was sucking away.  I truly think once the device was removed, he went into a period or mourning.

Another thing that was quite difficult to manage was all of the tubing that was involved.  Many times I woke up during the night to discover that I was tangled and twisted up in the tubing.  I wonder how I kept from strangling myself with all of it. 

Walking with the device can also pose a bit of a problem.  Having been born with spina bifida, a birth defect that has left me unable to walk without the aid of crutches presented all sorts of complications during this time.  As I mentioned above the Wound Vac itself was about 15 pounds.  It came in a “convenient” carrying case, which was a misnomer for someone who has to walk holding on to two crutches. 

I found that strapping the case around my neck and wrapping the tubing around my neck like a snake worked well.  That is unless the tubing got caught on something then I would almost asphyxiate myself.  I felt like a member of a chain gang, shackled to a machine that only my cat loved.

Perhaps the great English author Alexander Pope said it best when he wrote:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

Man never is, but always to be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Those months that I was recovering, I tried to stay hopeful that all things would turn out for the good.  I believed that they would.  However, my soul was uneasy at times and I certainly felt confined.  However, I was able to rest on thoughts of being well again and of better things to come.

I learned some important lessons through all of this. First, don’t ever be so arrogant as to think that you have everything under control.  Life can often produce challenges that you never anticipated.  Second, due to the lack of sensation that I have in the lower part of my body, I always need to be on guard for any cuts or scrapes that might become infected.

My problems started with one little pressure sore.  I should have been more cautious in caring for it. However, I felt I was invincible.  My ignorance caused me a great deal of pain. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.  I have the scars to prove it!