We Play The Hand We Are Dealt

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I never stop to ask a handicapped person if they need help.

However, this time I did.

We were walking toward the exit of California Adventure at Disneyland. We passed a young woman on crutches, who was walking slowly, her body leaning on the crutches as her legs followed behind shuffling along.

Out of the blue I asked her if she needed help. She looked up from her small hunched over body, smiled and said, “No thanks.”

My wife and I walked on and finally sat down on a bench to rest a bit.

About five minutes later, the young lady on crutches appeared. She asked if she could sit next to us. “Please, sit here,” I motioned to a place next to me on the bench. She labored to turn herself around, but succeeded and sat down, placing her crutches between us.

“Hi, I’m Roger and this is Cheri.”

“Hello, I’m Christy.”

I would say Christy was in her late twenties. Her hair was long and tied in a pony tail. She had olive skin, big friendly brown eyes, and was attractive. She talked in a child’s voice, but her mind was sharp, and she spoke the King’s English perfectly.

I kept looking at the tennis shoes she was wearing, which were up off the ground several inches. They were white high tops, well worn, but without a spot on them. The shoe strings were laced to the top, and tightly tied. Her white socks came up neatly to the bottom of her knees. And her legs from her knees to mid calf where her shorts hit were tan. It all had a healthy, athletic look to it.

I took notice of a scar on the back of one of her legs.

I said,” I noticed you have a scar on the back of your leg. I have one just like it on my right foot.”

“What did you have?” she asked.

“Polio.”

“When did you have it?” she continued asking.

“When I was seven.”

“What did you have?” I asked.

“I was born with muscular dystrophy,” she said.

She continued, “I’ve been on crutches all my life. Hold on, my brother is calling.” With that she answered her mobile phone.

“I’d appreciate it if you would pick me up at my place. You good with that? About 4? Ok, you’re sure now. Bye.”

She turned her attention back to us and became very lucid. “My brother is a good guy, but he’s always borrowing money from me. And I always give it to him. I teach CPR at HOAG Hospital. I take the public bus once a week from Newport Beach to Disneyland. It’s getting expensive. What do you think of that brother of mine always borrowing money from me?

I laughed, “How old is he?”

“54,” she said.

“Christy, how old are you?” I asked a little shocked.

She didn’t answer, and I shouldn’t have asked. But I did say, “You don’t look old enough to have a 54 year old brother.”

She smiled, and with that stood up, and said she needed to catch her bus.

“Would you like to join us for lunch?” I asked, thinking to myself that this is completely out of character for me.

“How far is it?” she asked.

Cheri and I responded at the same time, but with different answers. Cheri said, “Not too far, just up here a little ways,” pointing back to California Adventure. I said, “It’s inside the park a ways.”

Christy hesitated; you could see her quickly trying to figure it out. “Is it just up here a little ways, or is it inside the park a ways?”

After a second or two, she said she had better catch her bus.

For someone with muscular dystrophy (MD) you can appreciate the importance of making the correct distinction. “Just up here a little ways” means not too far, but “inside the park a ways” is probably too far.

For individuals with physical handicaps, those thought processes go on constantly. My disability is nowhere as serious as Christy’s, but I can assure you there is not one moment when I am walking that I am not aware of the act of walking. I am constantly measuring my gait and adjusting my stride according to what destination I have to reach, and the discomfort I have to manage.

In my heart, I knew Christy would have to put out too much effort to go to lunch whether the distance was short or just a bit longer. As much as she might have wanted to be with new people and converse, she knew how hard it would be.

Muscular dystrophy is an inherited muscle disease. Most often those who have it live a life of deteriorating muscle control. It usually ends in a shortened life span. It can affect brain and speech development as well. Frankly, it is a pernicious disease that affects all the muscles and muscle tissues of the body. You find it mostly in males, and only occasionally in females. Christy was one of those occasional females it hit.

Knowing that MD is progressively degenerative, it takes personal determination to remain active. Christy was one of those who had decided to be active. As I said, her speech was affected, resulting in a child like voice. The reason for the socks coming up to her knees was to cover the deformity in her legs. Evidence of that was the scar from surgery on her right leg. Often, surgery on the legs is performed to improve deformity that has set in.

She is to be admired for taking public transportation each week to visit Disneyland without the aid of a wheelchair. The great effort it takes to walk is a testament to her courage to work at having a normal routine. Her mental capacity does not seem impaired, given her conversation with her brother, and her comments to us about him and other things after she got off the phone. The fact that, according to Christy, her brother borrowed money from her might suggest he is handicapped in some way. After all, MD is a genetically inherited disease.

What we were witnessing with Christy was the dedication to live an energetic life. Everyone has a story, some more dramatic than others. Christy must have a great sense of satisfaction. Nature dealt her a staggering blow which was not of her making. She took it on and has managed to create a measure of greatness with each step she takes, literally.

For now, we do not have a say in the hand we are dealt in life, only how we choose to play it.