I was born in November 1964 and I almost died in the delivery room. What happened? As I came out of my mother’s womb, the doctors could see that something was wrong. It seems I could not swallow the fluid in my mouth or spit it out.
The doctors responded quickly and saved my life. I was rushed to the NICU for monitoring. It seems that something was wrong with my esophagus. Though Point Pleasant Hospital in New Jersey was a teaching hospital, the doctors could not do anything. Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there for my Father had other plans.
Someone must have been praying because a door opened up at the Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in New York City. Years later, my mother would tell of a Dr. Santoulli who successfully operated on my throat. Of course, my family and I are quite thankful and I praise God the Father for this miracle.
When the dust finally settled, my parents began to deal with another terrifying fact about my birth. At some point, my mother was exposed to someone with German measles when she was pregnant with me. When I was born, the doctors discovered that I was very nearsighted and supposedly deaf. I was medically diagnosed with congenital rubella.
In 1964, my future was deemed bleak and my parents were given little hope for the future. No man knows the future with certainty. In those days, children with severe disabilities were not given much hope. Group homes, sheltered work programs and poverty were all too common for people who were physically or mentally disabled.
Thankfully, my father came from a strong Catholic family and my mother and her mother were devout Catholics. I strongly suspect my grandparents were probably praying for me during the whole ordeal of my birth and disabilities.
As for my parents, they chose to raise their three sons in the basics of the Catholic Christian religion. As a small child, I received a King James Bible from my maternal grandmother. I can still recall reading the many stories contained within that book. The Bible was easily my favorite book to read and enjoy.
I can still recall talking with my Father about what I read. It seemed so natural to talk with God and I could not imagine prayer in any other way. Heck, at the time I did not know that I was praying. For me, “Hail Mary” was a prayer; I was just talking with God about what I read. “What is prayer?” I would have asked.
In those days, children with physical disabilities were sent to specialized schools. These schools were often far away or expensive. I was given the impression that they were a one-way ticket to a sheltered lifestyle.
What were my disabilities? Did it warrant such a drastic move? My parents did not think so.
I was not born deaf as everyone originally thought. I was born with a conductive hearing loss in both ears. The degree of loss is actually a mixture of moderate to severe in the right ear and severe to profound in the left. That’s why I only wear one hearing aid.
I can sit down and hear most of what’s being said in a quiet room; however, I get into trouble with multiple conversations.
If I focus on one conversation, then I am okay. It’s a skill that I learned over the years. It has come in handy many times.
As for my eyesight, I was born nearsighted. In a classroom setting, I could generally see what was happening around me; however, I’d miss out on a lot of subtle details. When it came to the chalk-board, I could see the teacher writing on it; however, I’d have trouble reading the chalkboard.
I have a third problem and it’s not the result of the rubella. I suffered a pinch nerve that resulted in a slight facial paralysis. It’s hardly noticeable these days; at least I don’t think so. It came as a result of the doctors saving my life.
In the ‘60s, you were not likely to find many disabled children in public schools. For one reason, the public schools were not built to accommodate children with physical disabilities. Thankfully, I could safely navigate around as I did have vision and I could walk or run.
A second reason centers on a child’s ability to handle the classroom materials. It was commonly believed that one’s physical disability affected a child’s mental capability. Like my parents, I was born with an above average intelligence. The same thing is true of my two brothers. It runs in the family.
Guess what? Education was not a serious problem; however, the real problem came in the form of acceptance. In those days, young children were not taught tolerance towards children with disabilities. Without guidance, it’s a very difficult thing for both sides.
What about my parents? My parents were not in favor of a special school for the disabled. Here is how they viewed the situation. “Barry needs to function in the outside world and he’s to be like all the other kids who don’t have disabilities.” Though such schools do have their places, the sheltered lifestyle is not something I’d care for.
I started school in 1971 and I entered the first grade in ’72. I am grateful for my parents’ decision. Though public school did prove challenging and I certainly had my shares of frustrations, I don’t regret it. One challenge came in the form of a question. Is this child mentally capable of handling the materials presented in class?
This challenge resulted in my taking an IQ test. Imagine their surprise when my test showed my IQ to be quite high. Though I am not a rocket scientist, I was clearly not a dummy. Did the school have legit concerns? To an extent, they did have some legit concerns. My physical limitations did affect my ability to take in information from the chalkboard, hear everything the teacher said or finish my tests in a timely manner.
Once they saw my IQ level the school became more relaxed. However, they did see some potential problems. As a result, I was assigned a Special Ed teacher, a social worker and a speech therapist.
I’ve been blessed by Mr. Ollie Lokerson, my Special Ed teacher, and Mrs. Stapler, my Social Worker, many times. As for speech therapy, I’ve had many therapists throughout the school years and they’ve been quite helpful. Alas, there is one problem the school board could not help with solving. Like you, they probably saw it coming; hence the need for the social worker.
<-Chapter 1: A Lesser Human (Part 1) TOC Chapter 1: A Lesser Human (Part 3) ->
Did you do a quick scan of this chapter? I don’t blame you. 😉 The above is from my first book, A Lesser Human: An Anthology of Overcoming.
Years ago, I struggled with depression, low self-esteem and rejection. My book contains a collection of short stories of how I overcame these things. It’s my hope that these stories would be of help to others.