© Copyright 2015 by Carol Kloskowski
I cleared the house of my five noisy children and began making supper, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was worried about my six-year-old son, David. My husband had taking him to see an orthopedic specialist.
A month ago, David had complained about a pain in his right leg. One morning I found him crawling around in his bedroom because his leg hurt terribly when he tried to stand. I immediately made the appointment with the doctor for him.
Now, at home while the rest of my children played outside, I cooked supper and watched the clock anxiously awaiting their return.
Finally the front door opened. My husband was alone and grim. “Where’s David?” my voice was shaky.
“He’s with the kids, Carol.” His voice was solemn. “I wanted us to be alone when I told you what the doctor said.”
Afterwards, putting our overcooked supper on the table, I began to absorb some of what he told me. Perthe Disease…deteriorating leg bone in his hip joint…only happens to little boys… no medicine… eventually it will stop deteriorating…rebuild itself… no weight on leg until it does…crutches for two to five years or permanent crippling could result.
Crutches for two to five years! That night, in bed, I prayed silently, “God, he’s only in kindergarten. Please help us keep David off that leg, and please, don’t let us spoil him because of his disabilities or make him feel helpless.
David was overjoyed when we told him what the doctor said. None of the neighborhood kids had crutches—he was bound to be the center of attention!
His metamorphosis began with a visit to a local shoemaker the doctor recommended. His son had had Perthe, and the shoemaker had found a simple way of keeping his little boy’s leg elevated by attaching a chain with a locking hook on one end to the back of a leather belt. The hook fit into a metal eye he inserted into the heel of his son’s shoe. My son is fine now,” the smiling shoemaker assured us as he worked on David’s belt and shoe.
“How long was he on crutches?” I couldn’t help asking.
“Four years, but he’s fine now,” he insisted. All I could think about was “four and a half years.”
After adjusting David’s new crutches for the first time we helped him attach the hook hanging from the chain on his new leather belt into the metal eye on the heel of his shoe. Then his father and I, suddenly expert crutches manipulators, gave him pointers for navigating the stairs. Instructions over, he rushed off to show the neighborhood kids the “New David.”
All his friends wanted to try the crutches. Pretending one leg was hooked up like David’s; off they would go, leaving him sitting helplessly until they returned. He didn’t mind though. I began finding candy and money in David’s pockets. He was being paid to use his crutches. Time took care of this, however. The neighborhood children lost interest.
By then, David had realized the effect his crutches had on adults. One Saturday, the kids in the neighborhood, including mine, invaded a small traveling carnival visiting our shopping center parking lot. His money spent, David on his crutches, dejectedly watched the Ferris wheel go around. The kind-hearted ticket taker gave him a free ride. Soon David discovered a pathetically sad expression on his seemingly innocent face also worked on relatives, neighbors, and teachers. We scolded David about this.
Severe punishments followed when David discovered that a crutch could be used as a weapon. God was not giving us any time to feel sorry for “poor David.”
There were also positive changes in my son. Because people were so nice to him, he was losing the normal shyness children have with adults and becoming friendly and outgoing. He acquired a heartfelt empathy for other handicapped people. I remember the family watching “The Miracle Worker” on television one night. At the end of the movie there were tears in David’s eyes.
I discovered the joy of caring neighbors. As word spread that David shouldn’t put any weight on his leg, the phone calls began. “I live around the corner, and I saw your son with his chain undone, running on his bad leg. I thought you’d want to know.” I did want to know. If not for these caring neighbors my son might have become a cripple as an adult. We bought a sturdy leg brace with small locks at various strategic points so that he’d have to be Houdini to get it off.
Once spring arrived and the other boys were busy with baseball and their bikes David had to sit at home. “Can’t I please at least try batting a ball?” he’d beg.
“David, you can’t hold onto crutches and swing a bat. Please stop pestering me.”
After three days of playing with his four-year-old sister and her Barbie dolls he was so miserable that I let him try batting. He would lean forward onto his crutches, his weight holding them in place. With his hands and arms free, he could hold the bat and swing. David was careful not to swing too hard and lose his balance. Our neighbor, a Little League coach, then let David practice batting with the boys who would have been his teammates. No more playing dolls with his sister!
There was no stopping David now; he wanted to try riding a bike. “No!” my husband and I both continually insisted until the day our unstoppable son proudly presented us with a third place ribbon he’d won in a running contest at his school’s field day. (Having crutches can be a big advantage in a second grade running contest—longer strides pay off.) “If I can win a prize for running, I know I’ll be able to ride the bike,” he pleaded.
Learning to ride a bike was frustrating for David, but he wouldn’t quit trying. Someone had to help him get on the bike, and then hold the back of the seat and one of the handlebars while he tried to turn the left pedal and keep the bike balanced. It was more than a year before he could do it. Finally he was allowed to ride a very short distance from one person to another and then we’d hold the bike and help him get off.
Three years later we burned David’s crutches in a campfire pit in our yard. The doctor had finally told us the leg bone in his hip was back to normal. We gave him the shiny new bicycle we’d bought as a surprise. He jumped on it and rode off just like any other boy. “You know, Carol,” my husband said as we watched, “It’s like he was never handicapped.”
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