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.

Bathroom Humor

“Life is a long lesson in humility” – J.M. Barrie

Have you ever just had one of those days where nothing seems to go as it should?  What do you do when faced with a day like this? Do you cry?  Well, don’t despair because we have all faced times like this in our lives.  One thing I have learned is that in order to get through life’s dreadful days one must have the ability to laugh at themselves and the situation.  This is something I learned in a rather unique way.

The day was May 24, 2000.  I had graduated from college just four days before and I was getting ready to embark on an adventure that would take my friends and me a few thousand miles from home.  We arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at around noon to board a flight that was to take us to the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”  After making it through the check-in process at the airport we set off to our gate, where we discovered that our departure was to be delayed.  This, I thought, would not unfold into much of an ordeal.  However, as I was to learn later it is never wise to assume anything, especially when it comes to air travel, for as the hours passed and my anticipation of touching down in Alaska grew more intense, a horrific hand of cards was slowly being dealt in our direction.

After nearly a three-hour wait in a crowded airport café we were ready to board a flight that would take us on our first leg of the trip to Alaska.  The first part of our trip got underway and we were off to Seattle, where we would catch a connecting flight to take us to Anchorage.  However, due to our delayed departure out of Chicago we knew that catching this plane was going to be nothing short of a miracle, and this is where things began to get horrendously surreal.

Arriving in Seattle, we all ran to see if our flight to Anchorage had departed yet, and sure enough it had.  Consequently, the airline we had flown into Seattle on, offered to put us all up in a hotel for the night.  However, we were determined to get to our final destination.  To that end, we sprinted to catch another flight out of Seattle. 

Watching me “sprint” is not a pretty sight.  It is like watching a whale that has beached itself on the sands of some tropical island.  There is a whole lot of grunting and heavy breathing, but not much movement.  Fortunately, a man with a motorized cart came to my rescue.  However, as I was soon to discover, this gentleman did not speak English very well.  Add to this the fact that I did not have the proper gate number for our next flight and you have the ingredients for a potential disaster.  If it was not for the observant eyes of my fellow travelers I may still be cruising the corridors of Sea-Tac Airport with my affable, but very confused chauffeur.  Once we got to the proper point, my companions, who had run on ahead to the gate, flagged us down.

Boarding the flight, my mind began to think ahead to what would take place once we arrived in Alaska.  Would our luggage be waiting for us once we arrived there, or had it gotten lost in the shuffle?  As it turns out, this was to be the least of my worries.  Upon finding my seat, I realized that I was going to be stuck sitting between two very large people, something that may not have been a problem if it were not for my own size.  I placed my crutches in the overhead compartment, and then proceeded to squeeze in between my seat-mates.  Three hours of the most uncomfortable trip I have ever taken was just beginning.

Once I began to settle in things began to heat up, which is not surprising seeing as how I was sitting next to two people who were giving off enough heat to warm the entire plane.  This, added to the heat my own body was giving off, was just too much.  Just as I was about to scream in agony I remembered that I had an air vent above my head that would provide me with at least a small dose of relief.  Reaching up to turn the vent on I realized that it was broken.  If ever there was a time that I felt like screaming this was it.  I felt helpless.  Here I am about ready to melt and I cannot get any relief.  I had to think of something to keep my mind occupied or I was going to asphyxiate myself with a barf bag.

Being a geography buff I began to recite all of the state capitols in my mind, an activity that really did begin to take my mind off the fact that I was about a five-cent cab ride from taking my own life.  It was about this time that I began to faintly hear the call of “Mother Nature.”  How could this be?  I thought I had sweated every drop of liquid waste from my body, and here I felt the urge to visit the lavatory.  After working up enough courage to ask the rather large, and surly looking woman sitting next to me to get up so that I could get out, I proceeded to the bathroom.

By this time my bladder was quite full, so I decided instead of taking the time to reach up in the overhead compartment to retrieve my crutches I would just grab a hold of the seats as I went along to the back of the plane.  This I can tell you now was not too bright of an idea, for as I made the mile- long trek to the restroom I fell down in the aisle a few times.  Thank goodness the aisle was dark or I’m sure I would have had the other passengers questioning my sobriety. 

At last I finally made it to the restroom.  This, I soon found is kind of a misnomer, for an airplane’s bathroom is neither restful, nor is it very roomy, especially for someone that is carrying a few extra pounds.  I think a better name for these places would be “torture closets.”  If you need a visual aid to help you understand what I mean by all of this just watch the hilarious comedy “Tommy Boy.”  This movie does a very good job illustrating the horror that large people go through while trying to use the bathroom on an airplane.  This closely mirrors my own experience.

Once inside the bathroom, my bladder let go a little prematurely and my underwear ended up a casualty of this struggle.  Therefore, not wanting to go back to my seat with soiled underwear, I began to take my shoes and pants off so that I could discard my underwear.  This is where the real fun began!

Having a limited range of mobility made the process of disrobing very cumbersome and awkward, however, with all that was in me I finally got the job done.  By this time, though, my shirt had somehow gotten soiled as well so I ripped it off and tossed it in the trash.  I was very fortunate to have worn my jacket back to the bathroom, for this was now going to have to act as an impromptu shirt.  After what seemed like an hour I was once again dressed and ready to exit this chamber of horrors.

Going back up the aisle, I gave a repeat performance of pratfalls and grunts, until I finally arrived back at my seat.  To my relief the flight lasted only about another forty-five minutes before we touched down in Alaska.  However, the nightmare was not over.

Once we got inside the airport we discovered our luggage had indeed not made the trip with us.  So, there I was in a strange city, thousands of miles from home, with no underwear, wearing a jacket as a makeshift shirt.  After reporting our lost luggage to the proper personnel, we left the airport in a rental car and headed for our hotel.  We could finally get some sleep.  Luckily, the next morning our luggage arrived at the hotel, bringing an end to one of the most overwhelming ordeals of my life.

Next time you are having one of those days where nothing seems to be going your way just imagine that your are trapped inside the restroom on an airplane and compare that to your present circumstances, and I’m sure you will see most things will pale in comparison.  Oh, and one last thing, always make sure you have a clean pair of underwear with you at all times.  You never know when you are going to need them. 

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” – J. M. Barrie

Put the Crippled Kid up Front…

Thanks for joining me!

“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” — Lord Byron

Me at 6 years old looking quite dapper for my debut in a medical journal. The eyes were blacked out to provide anonymity. However, the leisure suit was screaming “I’m loud and I am proud!”

Writing a blog is an idea that I have had for quite some time. However, I have always hesitated because I was not sure anyone would be interested in anything that I have to say. Then, it occurred to me that writing is something that can be very therapeutic. If people enjoy what I have to say then that is just a bonus.

Since I was in high school I have always enjoyed writing. Being a life-long introvert, writing gave me a way to express myself. It also helped me to unlock some of the thoughts I had kept bottled up inside of me for many years.

When I was born my parents were told to take me home and love me and to treat me as they would any other child. The problem with that is I was not like any other child. I was born with a birth defect called spina bifida, which would require frequent trips to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Children’s was like a home away from home for much of my adolescence. Despite what you might think, I have fond memories of Children’s. The nurses and doctors there provided a level of care that was second to none. This was also a place, where as a young boy, I began to see the absurdity in life.

Self-deprecating humor got me through many days and nights in the hospital. If I was not able to laugh at situations it would just lead to frustration. Having a disability is frustrating!

Living in a world that was not made for someone like me forces one to overcome. Thank goodness for my stubborness and for my sense of humor. They are two assets that I have used in my life to climb over obstacles.

This leads me to why I chose “Put the Crippled Kid up Front” as the name for this blog. This comes from an incident when my family and I were at a local restaurant. The wait for a table was quite long, so my mom whispered, “put the crippled kid up front.” I then walked to where the owner of the restaurant could see me. He took one look at me and we had a table.

Since this time “put the crippled kid up front” has become an inside joke for my family. It is a way that I have used humor to overcome obstacles. It has also led to some surprises along the way.

In this blog I will share some of those surprises and will explore how living life with a disability can be both challenging and rewarding. I hope you will stick around and see where life has taken me.

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