Thanking God, even when disability is part of the picture

When my mama talks about her third pregnancy, she always says that she knew something wasn’t quite right. “It’s nothing,” my daddy would say — right up until the doctor saw that I was blue and fading fast.

Mama had been right. The umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck and arm, and I was choking.

As my parents tell it, the doctor never said a word or asked their opinions, he just reacted as a man sworn to save lives. He got me out as fast as he could, knowing that he might be causing nerve damage in my neck and arm.

Later, he would tell my parents that my arm might not ever grow or move on its own. “But, I figured you wanted her alive,” he told them.

So, my parents took me home to my two older sisters and they waited and watched. Two months and three weeks later, I moved my right arm. I could move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, according to my baby book. By six months, I was crawling — not on all fours like most kids, but I could sit and scoot with my left arm. It was progress.

Eventually my arm did grow, although it’s still a little shorter than the left. I can lift my right arm almost to my chin but my wrist seems to always be bent under a bit, something that has forever bothered me in photos.

One of my earliest memories is of having my picture taken in front of a wagon wheel that was almost as big as I was. The photographer had me rest my right arm on top of the wheel and then tried to flatten out my wrist. Within a second, it had bounced back into its U shape. She tried again. It bounced back.

The older I got, the more sensitive I became to being different — and the more determined I became to fit in. Of course, that’s hard to do when you play trombone and have to use your foot to reach seventh position or when you have to swallow your pride and ask a classmate to sharpen your pencil because the sharpener is mounted too high on the wall. Still, I managed, and I even learned a little in the process.

Ironically though, I never knew what my birth injury was called until my late 20s, when pain in my arm made me seek out a specialist in Erb’s palsy. While I was waiting for that appointment I wrestled with my arm in a new way. What if there was something that could be done now to help my arm?

Would I change it if I could? At almost 30, would I re-teach myself to tie my shoes? Would I discover that I’m not left-handed after all?

No, I decided.

I wouldn’t.

I had my arm to thank for my entire world view — a set of values that helps me empathize with others; a set of values that says there are many ways other than the “normal” way.

Like Icy Sparks, a character in a novel by Gwyn Hyman Rubio, my difference has allowed me to flourish. Icy struggles with what she comes to learn is Tourette Syndrome, and in the epilogue she says that life would have been easier without it, “but I would not be me.”

Years later, that book still sits upstairs in my office along with pictures I had taken of my wrist and arm — no longer in hiding, but out front in their rightful place. No portrait of me is complete without them.

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8 thoughts on “Thanking God, even when disability is part of the picture

  1. You and I were sitting in the library together and we chatted about your arm. At 15, you seemed to have such tremendous peace while I felt like I was walking around in someone else’s (ugly) skin. You inspired me that day, though I’m sure you had no idea what your words meant that early on. Or maybe you did? I remember thinking it was what I wished I could be. Thank you for that.

  2. It was fun working with you that summer in Denison. You may recall that I have more than a little gimp in my gait. No big deal, I just dealt with it. It’s me.

  3. Girl, it has been years! Wonderful story, you keep going, keep proving to yourself that you can and will do anything your heart desires. I will be following you from now on! I retired from the newspaper 2 yrs ago due to my health and i love being home if it were not for all the bypasses to my legs. Keeps me walking and not in a wheelchair, so i will keep on pushing! 😀

  4. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond. To be honest, I just wasn’t quite sure what to say. Thank you all so much for your love and encouragement. I’m blessed, blessed, blessed by wonderful friends.

  5. Hi… I am 19 years old, nearly twenty, and I was born with erbs palsy. I’ve read your story and I wish I was as accepting of my condition as you are. I have erbs palsy of the right arm, and even now as I am typing this, I am in a tremendous amount of pain. I live in England and the NHS won’t do anything to help. I’ve had physiotherapy and acupuncture and all sorts. None of it has helped. It’s got to the point that I hate my appearence. In pictures I try and hide it. Some family members tease me about it in harmless fun but as I’ve got older I find the jokes more like criticisms. I hate it so much. I don’t know what to do. It has made me so self conscious that I fear greeting people in case I have to shake their hand. I hate feeling this way. I just wish I had a normal arm. I don’t know how to accept it. Do you have any advice? I need help!

  6. Aamina, thank you for sharing your heart with us. I’m sorry that you are in pain — physically and emotionally. I am starting to see a specialist again due to pain, so as I go along and learn more I’ll be happy to share that information with you. It sounds to me, though, that it’s the emotional stuff that’s more troubling to you right now.

    What I’d like to tell you is that there is nothing wrong with you. Those people who are making fun of you are misguided. You have value just as you are and you have much to offer this world. Remind people of that if you need to.

    Surround yourself with people who encourage you. Find two or three friends you can count on to help you out with the little things you need without making you feel embarrassed.

    Become stubborn. Decide that you are not going to let this stand in your way. Decide that you will find a way to live the life you want.

    And finally, let God use this. He specializes in taking what is broken and using it for good. I think my arm has made me more sensitive to others who are different and more passionate about finding new ways to tackle problems. There is good in everything. Find it and cling to it.

    I wish I could reach across the ocean and give you a big hug, so just imagine that for me. It’s so hard to have a discussion like this without being able to see your face. Know that I’m in your corner. You can do this. You are stronger than you think.