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Ch. 2. Accident.

Author: johnmedler Total hits: 3668 User hits: 11 Date: 03-03-2014

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Chapter 2. Accident

Present day. Atlanta, Georgia.

Charlie Winston pulled the black Dodge Ram pickup truck in front of Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in suburban Atlanta. Today, he was taking his son to a fifth grade football game at another rival school. Roosevelt was in a fairly wealthy, primarily white neighborhood, and his ten year-old son Teddy was one of the few blacks in the school, but Charlie Winston did not care. Most of the other kids at school treated Teddy very well. And it was the education which was important. He and his wife Murielle had moved to this area of Atlanta because it was in the best public school district. Winston was an educator himself, so he knew the value of a good education. He had finished his lectures at Emory University an hour before. He was a Professor of American History at the university.

As the throng of students poured out seconds after the bell rang, he looked for his son in the crowd. He did not see him at first, but then the crowd thinned out and he saw him--the young boy in the wheelchair. Teddy had his book bag in his lap, and was rolling himself over to his dad’s truck. Winston got out to help put his son’s wheelchair in the back of the truck, when his son objected.

“Dad, I can do it by myself.”

“Sure you don’t need a hand?” asked Winston, concerned that his son might fall.

“You know, some day, if you modify the truck so that I can drive with my hands, I am going to drive myself. When that happens, I am going to need to get in all by myself without you being there. You have to let me do it, okay?”

“Sure son, okay,” said Winston, getting back into the black truck.

Teddy rolled the wheelchair to the passenger side of the truck and pressed a button. A small platform came down, and Teddy transferred himself, scooting his rear end from the wheelchair to the platform. Then, using a joystick, he maneuvered the small crane installed on the back of the pickup. Hooking the hook from the crane to the back of his wheelchair, he pushed another button and the crane lifted the wheelchair up in the air. Using the joystick, Teddy maneuvered the wheelchair through the air, where it was deposited into the back of the truck. Then he scooted himself from the platform to the passenger seat and closed the door.

“Let’s roll,” he said.

“What time is the game?” asked Winston.

“Three o’clock, but it’s across town, so let’s hurry, because I want to beat the bus.”

Teddy was the team’s numbers man, responsible for keeping all the stats of the football team. It was a job he really enjoyed. After the game was over, he would input the stats into a computer program he had created for the coach. The team let him wear a green and white football jersey like the other boys.

Charlie Winston drove the truck onto the interstate.

“How was school today?”

“Good, but Leon’s got a new girlfriend. He changed his Facebook status to ‘In a Relationship.’ Makes me want to puke.”

“Fifth grade, that’s a little young to be having girlfriends, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, personally, I think the girls in my class are gross, but you know Leon. He has had crushes on girls since the second grade.”

“Is the girl foxy?” asked Winston, purposely using an outdated slang term which he knew would drive his son crazy.

“Yeah, Dad, real ‘foxy.’ I think ‘foxy’ went out with the hula hoop. I guess it makes sense you are a history teacher. Everything you know about is from ancient history. What is this you are listening to? Sounds like elevator music. Can I change the station?”

“Sure,” said Winston, as Teddy turned the dial to a rap station. “That’s better.”

“Hey, I noticed you haven’t ‘friended’ me on Facebook,” said Charlie.

“Dad, I am not going to ‘friend’ you, because then you will start posting all kinds of weird stuff on my page, and mom will do the same thing. Facebook was not invented for parents, you know?”

“What weird stuff? I am not going to post weird stuff.”

“Dad, I saw your post on Uncle Sal’s page. It was something about newly discovered writings of John Adams. That’s weird. I do not want that on my page.”

“John Adams was very important. Good grief! What are they teaching you at that school? Are your friends doing anything this weekend?”

“Yeah, there is a girl named Mandy who is having a big birthday party at Skyzone, which is that trampoline place. Just about the whole class is going.”

“ ‘Just about…’? Are you going?”

“I didn’t get invited. Leon’s new girlfriend knows another girl who knows the kid. She said I didn’t get invited because they didn’t want it to be a ‘Pity Party.’ Some people are real jerks, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t want to go to her dumb party anyway.” Teddy looked out the window. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Teddy asked, “What time is it? Are we almost there?”

“Sure, son, almost there.”

Charlie Winston looked at his brave son and his legs. For a moment, he thought back to that day two years ago….

It was a rainy night in December. The Falcons were playing the Rams on Monday Night Football. Eddie Rezno, a boy in Teddy’s class, was going to the game with his father, and had invited Teddy along. Murielle was against the idea. It was Monday, a school night, and their hard and fast rule was that no one could go out on a school night. But this was Monday Night Football, after all, and Teddy loved football. Charlie Winston intervened and prevailed upon his wife Murielle to break the rule, just this once. Their son had gone off to the game, while Charlie and Murielle enjoyed a quiet night of reading books by themselves on the couch.

Charlie had gotten nearly halfway through a biography of Frederick Douglas when his wife told him to stop reading. The game had been over by 11:00 p.m. It was midnight, and their son was still not home. Murielle began making phone calls. She called the Rezno’s home, but Mrs. Rezno had not heard anything. Mrs. Rezno had tried her husband’s cell phone, but no one was answering. She was worried, too. Charlie assured his wife that Mr. Rezno had probably taken the boys somewhere after the game, maybe to get burgers or ice cream or something. Murielle was not buying it, but she decided to sit tight for a little while longer before she started calling the police. At 1:00 a.m., the Winstons got a call from a nurse at the Presbyterian Hospital. There had been a terrible accident. An eighteen year-old boy had crossed the center line in the rain. Mr. Rezno had tried to swerve out of the way, but the oncoming car struck the side of the car behind the driver, right where Teddy was sitting. He was now in intensive care. No, the nurse did not know any other details.

Charlie and Murielle Winston, terrified, drove at high speed to the hospital. All the hospital staff would tell them was that Teddy was in intensive care, and the doctor would be out as soon as he could. They were soon joined by Mrs. Rezno in the waiting room, who had learned that Eddie had a broken arm, and would recover without incident. Mr. Rezno had a fractured pelvis, three broken ribs, and a ruptured spleen, but would ultimately make it. There was still no news on Teddy.

After another hour, the spinal surgeon, Dr. Ben Wolff, came out of the operating suite.

“Mr. and Mrs. Winston, your son Teddy has had a very serious spinal cord injury at the level of the tenth thoracic vertebra.”

“Is he going to live?” asked Murielle Winston.

“Yes, Mrs. Winston, but the spinal cord has been compromised.”

“What does that mean, ‘compromised?’” asked Charlie Winston. “Is it severed?”

“No, it is not severed, but there is a tremendous amount of swelling around that level of the cord as a result of the accident. We won’t know his prognosis for a few days. But right now, he has no feeling beneath the belly button.”

“Oh my God!” exclaimed Murielle. “You mean he is paralyzed?”

“We do not know that for sure yet. But if he does not regain his feeling below the waist within a few days, then it will probably be a permanent injury, yes, ma’am.”

“What are the chances he will regain the feeling below the waist?” asked Murielle.

“I cannot give you chances,” said the doctor. “For Teddy, it is either 0% or 100%. We just don’t know.”

Murielle became irritated by this response. “Doctor, I know you are doing everything you can, but please, do not patronize me. I am a scientist. Can you just give me what his chances are?”

“Again, Mrs. Winston, I just cannot say at this time. We will know more in two or three days, when the swelling has had a chance to die down. It is possible that the swelling could subside and the spinal cord could regain its full function. The spinal cord is a finicky animal. We just do not know at this point.”

“Okay, thank you, doctor,” said Murielle. When the doctor had left, Murielle groused, “Finicky animal? That’s the best he can do?” Murielle’s lip began trembling, and she collapsed into Charlie’s chest. Murielle was accustomed to keeping cool under pressure as a result of her job. But this was too much. She broke down sobbing and was inconsolable. Charlie took his wife down to the hospital chapel to pray. For the next three days, they prayed at the hospital. They made every promise to God they could think of if only He would let their son be able to walk. But Teddy’s condition did not improve. Unfortunately, they would later learn that Teddy’s condition was permanent. He would never walk again.

The next year was almost unbearable, as Teddy learned to four adapt to his new world. He would learn incredibly difficult regimens for urination and defecation. He would learn to power his wheelchair over high curbs and get himself up and down stairs. The entire home had to be remodeled with ramps and special toilet facilities. They set up his own kitchen area with microwaves and other appliances built low to the ground. Life as Teddy previously knew it was over.

Charlie had taken a leave of absence of six months from Emory to help his son through the rehabilitation process. It was a grueling time, with nighttime “accidents” happening frequently. Winston felt like he had washed all the sheets of defecation in the middle of the night almost one hundred times. He felt so badly. The worst part was that at times he blamed himself for letting Teddy go to the game on a school night.

He tried not to look down at his son’s legs, but he could not help himself. He wished there was some way to wave a wand and bring his legs back. The truth was that Teddy had adjusted to his new life much easier than Charlie Winston and his wife. Charlie and Murielle Winston had spent the last two years researching potential cures for their son’s illness, but they had found nothing.

When they got to the rival school’s football field, Winston waited as his son used the crane to swing his wheelchair down to the ground.

“It will be great when I can drive,” said Teddy. “Then I will not have to drive like an old Granny like you.”

“Granny? Who are you callin’ Granny?” asked Winston.

Teddy laughed, and hopped into his wheelchair.

“Hey, hand me my book bag, Granny,” joked Teddy.

Charlie Winston bent over with a stoop, like he was a hundred years old, and squinted at his son. “Why, I cannot find the book bag,” he said, mimicking an old lady’s voice. “Where is that blasted book bag?”

Teddy laughed and grabbed the book bag himself, and wheeled off to the field.

“See ya, Granny,” he said. Charlie Winston smiled and walked toward the field to watch the game.  
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