29 April 2013

This is Not Walking

Everybody has a story.

One of my favorite parts of being an Occupational Therapist in Niger is that I get to help change how that story ends.

Most of the time, when patients come to my office, they are hoping I have some sort of special medication . . . maybe there's a pill the doctor didn't give them which I keep stocked next to the bubbles.  Sometimes, disappointment is written on the patient's face when I explain that I am the medication . . . that my exercises or silly toys are better than a pill . . . or that my adaptive thing-a-ma-bob will make their lives easier.

Sometimes, that realization brings on pure joy.

This is H.

He speaks even less Hausa than I do.  Four years ago, he fell of a donkey cart which resulted in a spinal cord injury.  His father died sometime before his accent, and an old relative brought him to our hospital . . . finally.

The old man didn't know the full story of H.'s injury, but instead of asking him, this uncle would just repeat the little he did know.  Only when he was forced, did the old man give this sweet boy a chance to speak.

Small kindnesses go a long way, and H. explained more of his medical history which helped give a clearer picture of what had happened to his little body.

I told the uncle I would give H. a wheel chair.

The old man insisted there was no need--that if I would just give him a stick, he'd be able to walk.

I had already tested the strength (or rather, lack thereof) in H.'s legs and arms, but the tsoho insisted that he was right . . . and since old-man-with-gray-hair trumps  single-chick-with-a-masters-degree, I rolled the boy over to the parallel bars and readjusted them to kiddo-height.

'Stand up' I said, knowing what the outcome would be.

H. strained to lift his arms up to the bars; with all his might he unsuccessfully attempted to stand.

'You have to lift him up first!' the old man commanded.

Hating the necessity of using this sweet boy as an object lesson, I lifted him into standing.  Knowing that if I let go, he'd crumple to the floor, H. and I maintained a middle-school-slow-dance position.

He pulled at his arms, hoping that the sheer force of his will would propel him forward.

I looked up at the old man.  'You call this walking??' I asked him.  'THIS is NOT walking!'

Returning H. to the wheelchair, he looked sadder than when he was first wheeled into my gym . . . and his uncle was even more impatient and irritated.

I fetched the wheelchair I was going to give him and explained to the old man that it was a gift for H. He nodded, completely ignoring that the boy was still in the room.

'Tell him that this chair is a gift for him!' I insisted.

The old man towered silent above his seated nephew.

'Tell him!'

He mumbled something in Tamajeq and H.'s eyes shot up to meet mine.

H. sitting proudly in his new chair.
I nodded and smiled at him, 'It's true!'

The sorrow on his face melted into the most stunning of smiles!

Trying to teach his uninterested uncle how to safely move him in and out of the chair seemed like a waste of energy . . . but H.'s smile did not fade!

Once he was sure he was in the chair for good, our little champion lifted his hands as best as he could and flung them over the arm rests.  Using what little grasp he had, he tried pushing himself forward . . . unfortunately, he only went backward . . . but HE went backward . . . for the first time in four years, he had moved his body through space.

His energy didn't last long.

But despite the failings of his arms, that beautiful smile never once
left his lips!

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