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Topic: Click( 04/18/13)
Song of the Cane
By Janice Kelley
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Click….shuffle….click….shuffle….click….shuffle!! Mom and Dad walked slowly, watching, keeping pace, ready to reach out, but never touching the thirteen-year-old boy as he struggled with each weak and painful step. The steady staccato of his cane on the cement was magical, hopeful, heart-wrenching, and music to their ears. The threesome moved slowly toward their car in the parking lot of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.
It had begun on a hot summer day. The boy was picking tomatoes with his brothers on a neighbor’s farm. They could make a little money for a Saturday matinee at the local theater and an ice cream cone, too. This day he couldn’t work as fast as usual. The pain in his shoulders and back was searing. It took his breath away!
The one doctor in their small town was on vacation. The days crawled by until their doctor returned. As the nurse opened the door to the doctor‘s office she called the boy’s name. The doctor, watching the boy move slowly forward dragging his left foot, reached for his phone and ordered an ambulance. He knew the boy had the dread disease….POLIO!!
It was the mid 1940’s and polio was the fearful rage of the summer. So little was known about the disorder. Was it contagious? What caused it? How did you treat it? A few victims made a complete recovery, others were mildly affected. Most, like the boy, suffered life-changing damage, some died. The prognosis for the boy was not good. He might never walk again. That’s when his determination and stubbornness kicked in. He vowed to walk out of the hospital on his own OR they would carry him out in a box.
And walk out on his own he did!!
Did I say it was easy? Well, it was not!! He lay in a large ward, filled with other victims, with his limbs wrapped in hot, moist towels that soon turned clammy cold. When he tried to get out of bed and fell flat on his face, his determination was noted and he was sent to therapy. He was isolated from his brothers and sister and saw his parents only on Saturdays when they made the one hundred and eighty mile trip.
After he went home his mother spent hours each day doing therapy just as she had been instructed. He was unable to start school that fall. Gradually he gained….a little….and returned to his classes. He was unable to walk up or down the stairs and would halt at the first step and wait. The students behind him would quickly make a “chair” of their arms, scoop him into it and carry him to the top….or bottom….of the steps. While his classmates ate lunch he had to rest. A cot was ready for his arrival in the Home Economics Department. More times than not a plate of fresh-baked cookies was waiting for him….one of life’s little perks!
Another “perk” of this debilitating disease was the rehabilitation offered by the State of Indiana. The boy took a test and was told he had the skills to work well with people. He was given a full scholarship from his home state to any college of his choice for any occupation. He chose a Bible college and in the fall of 1950 journeyed from Indiana to Minnesota where he began studies for the ministry.
Evidence of his battle with polio was apparent: his left side suffered major muscle damage, a limp was hard to hide, his left arm did not work normally. He never complained. He graduated from college and began preaching for a vibrant country church in northern Indiana. He began to roller skate every Saturday night with one of the church families. At first that pesky left leg had to weakly trail behind the right, but roller skating became the best therapy ever. In a short while he could skate backwards, forwards, on either foot flawlessly. He learned many dance-type skating techniques. He taught his daughters to skate and others, too. He met every challenge with enthusiasm and determination. He retired after forty-five years of ministry, and then preached for two more congregations.
He led, served and has been a messenger for God. How different life might have been without the “song of the cane.” That melody slowly melted away as the boy pushed forward in life. In one more week the boy will have been my husband for sixty years!!
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