Hard Lessons

To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."

In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Today is my day off. I had lots of plans for things I’d accomplish today. So far I’ve gotten about half of them done. It's 1:00 pm and I feel like I've run out of gas already. As usual, I ask myself why. Is my anemia rearing its ugly head again? Is it from my fibro? Is it because I'm almost 60 years old?

When I got home from work yesterday, I looked at the local newspaper and read that a 20-yr-old man in a nearby KY town had been arrested for assaulting a two-month-old baby girl. She had suffered severe head trauma, abdominal trauma, and numerous other injuries. She was evaluated at the little hospital in that town and then airlifted to LeBonheur (a big children’s hospital) in Memphis for treatment. When I read that article, I thought my head was going to explode. I know that a crying, wetting, pooping baby can try even a saint’s patience but all I could think of was the little bitty 9-wk-old baby girl that one of my acquaintances babysits twice a week and brings to our morning  exercise class on those days. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her, never mind actually doing it. It wasn’t until this morning that I thought of the abused baby and wondered, “Where was that baby’s mama when this was going on?”

In the 1980’s, I worked as a VCASA (voluntary court-appointed special advocate) for the Family Court in Providence, RI in child abuse and neglect cases. A shrink who spoke at one of my training classes emphasized that the parents of those children are not monsters and that putting a lot of energy into hating the parents wouldn’t help the child(ren). Furthermore, the state of RI’s default position was that the best place for a child is with its family of origin, no matter what the nature of that family. I didn’t like that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was 28 years old and still idealistic.
Anyway, my first case involved the children of a prostitute who’d been arrested for soliciting for the 11th time in 12 months. We had to determine whether the children should go into the care of her family while she was dealing with her legal problems. The woman had had 4 kids, but the youngest had died as in infant in a fire in the woman’s apartment (that was the story, anyway).

So I went to the shelter where the 3 surviving kids were being housed because I had to interview them. I didn’t get anywhere with the 2 youngest ones but was able to talk some with the oldest, a 5-yr-old boy. One of the shelter workers had suggested that I look at the little boy’s skin because a doctor had noted venereal warts and multiple skin injuries, apparently inflicted by one of his mother’s “boyfriends”. I said, “Ribby, can I lift up your shirt and look at your back?” He said, “Don’t call me Ribby [his family nickname]” but obediently lifted his shirt. His back was covered with scars. Some of them looked like cuts and others like cigarette burns. I was speechless. Ribby yanked his shirt back down and said something that got burned into my soul forever. While I was wondering how his mother could have allowed some asshole to do that to her child, Ribby said, “When is my mama coming to get me? I want to go home with mama.”

Come to think of it, maybe I’m not physically weary today. Maybe I’m psychically weary.

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