Random Thoughts

A story of Martha

... Martha didn't know she was surrounded.

by Ed Boyd

We had moved to Melrose, MA in 1963 as we had bought a big house at 350 Washington Street to house all of our kids. Martha Leah Boyd was born on January 28, 1964, the baby of four sisters and two brothers. Ellen was 10, Liz 9, Mike and Maura 8, Peter 7 and Amy 5. It would take Martha a while before she would realize she was surrounded.

As it sometimes happens, you begin to notice something unsettling that, for a while at least, you keep it to yourself; uncertain of what you think you see. After Martha started walking at about 15 months, like all infants she was unsteady on her feet. After a while, though, it was noticeable to me that when she turned to the right she would most often fall. It took a while longer for me and Catherine to speak out loud of our concern. Something was wrong with Martha’s walking.

Our pediatrician was Arnie Fiascone, M.D., whom a friend had recommended when we first moved to Melrose. Dr. F. examined Martha with careful consideration as you might hope from a pediatrician. When Martha seemed less frightened, he laid her on her back on the examining table. He manipulated her legs to show us how her right leg was not engaged in her hip socket. This was the reason Martha so often fell turning to her right. Dr. F. told us that Martha had a congenital hip dislocation, reassured us it was not uncommon and was correctable. He said Martha would have to be seen by an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation and treatment. We talked about who was best and settled on Dr. Scribner who had a fine local reputation.

We saw Dr. Scribner who agreed on the hip dislocation diagnosis. He said it would be necessary to hospitalize Martha, sooner than later, as a better result was achieved with early treatment. Martha would be put in traction to place her hip properly, followed by a partial body cast that would hold her hip in place for several months to help the socket to form.

With such news we began to suffer with the prospect of having to hospitalize a nonverbal infant without being able to have a way to tell Martha what was about to happen to her. As I write these words, I feel the tears in my eyes all over again. What a dirty, rotten trick to have to pull on a beautiful, innocent baby. I’m still feeling guilty some 35 years later. Somehow we steeled ourselves to do what we thought we had to do. Our guilt perhaps was somewhat dampened then, consoling ourselves by the necessity to meet our responsibility.

When our family was young, we insisted that everyone sit at table for the evening meal. This is how nine of us took our supper for many years. The dinner meal that Catherine prepared also gave good occasion for us to talk to each other. This was how we told the children of Martha’s hip problem and what had to be done about it. There were lots of questions and concerns. The best we could do was to stress the necessity, to reassure that Martha would be OK and would be able to walk normally once the cast was removed. We said that if we didn’t have Martha’s hip fixed she could be lame for life. One of the ways I consoled myself was to think about the bell ringer, Quasimodo, the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. The reason for the hunchback is that a dislocated hip, untreated, takes a purchase on the spinal column, distorting it so as to produce the hunch back. I remember seeing Charles Loughton, in the movie, The Hunch Back of Notre Dame, with his hump, dragging his leg behind him sends a chill up my back even today. I may have told the children this story to explain why Martha had to be treated. I don’t remember. When they read this, they’ll tell me. I hope I didn’t.

I had started to write about Martha’s hip while here in Venice, Florida for March. While we were having lunch at The Flying Bridge, I told Catherine what I was writing about and how the old disturbing feelings had surfaced in me after all these years. Catherine said she could understand as the tears welled up in her eyes as she told of having to bring Martha to the hospital to leave her behind. She said she found herself dashing out to her car to let out a flood of tears that she had been holding back so as not to upset our baby.

At that time, the pediatric ward was on the street floor. Family visiting was not allowed. I decided one way to reassure the other kids that Martha was OK in the hospital was to pile everybody into my car, drive to the hospital and boost all the kids, one by one, up to the window to see their baby sister. It was a rainy night so all were in slickers. It seemed right trying to make something not so good into fun. I still think that was one of my better ideas.

What still infuriates me to this day, I’m realizing, is the unpreparedness we had for going to visit Martha following traction. What I did not know was that she had been given bone traction, meaning pins had been placed into bone above her knee and her leg suspended in traction. I was horrified at that sight and totally enraged. I am not a violent man, but if that doctor had been present I have little question that I would have assaulted him. Perhaps it would have made a difference if we had been given more detail about the procedure? We probably would have agreed, as there was no alternative. Looking back, perhaps the down Maine, laconic doctor probably thought we understood? He was lucky to be home that night. It’s as close to murderous rage I have come to, before or since.

When Martha saw us, she too was enraged. The best I could think of was to hold her, as I had been accustomed to holding disturbed children with tantrums. Catherine and I took turns trying to soothe our baby. What a dirty, dirty trick! After a while Martha slept from exhaustion.

Once Martha was placed into a cast she was ready to go home. The cast was made to form what’s called a “frog position”. Imagining a frog lying on its back tells what this position looks like. The cast covered up to her waist and totally covered the bad right leg and to the knee on the left. There was an opening in the middle of her cast so that she could void. It was mid-summer. In a fit of guilt, I suppose, and without a pot to pee in, I went to Hugo’s and bought an air-conditioner for Martha’s room. Wrapped in that God damned cast, I thought, at least she would not have to suffer from the heat.

Sometimes good can happen from bad circumstances. We found out that there was a family in Reading whose child had had a similar problem. The family had bought a special wheeled chair for their child that they would be glad to loan to us. It looked like a baby butler with a chair and table attached. Also, there was a drawer underneath that could be voided into and emptied. There was a set of wheels and handle that could be used as a carriage. The older children could take Martha out for a walk. One funny story about those walks we didn’t learn about until years later.

As Catherine tells the story, the children would take Martha in the special stroller with table to the variety store, Bob’s Market, on Wyoming Avenue. I would park Martha in front of Bob’s and urge her to sing her favorite song, “White Coral Bells.” Here she was, blue eyed with plentiful golden curls singing at the top of her lungs. Soon there would be a collection of coin on her tabletop that the kids would have used to buy goodies from Bob’s Market.

Martha was in the “frog” cast for about 10 months with two or three changes of cast to accommodate for her growth. The cast was finally removed when Martha had just turned two years old. During those months and for years after I could not help, from time to time, wonder what psychological damage was done. It would be several years later when I became acquainted with Margaret Mahler's now famous THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BIRTH OF THE HUMAN INFANT published in 1975. Mahler tells of the “Early Practicing Sub-phase, characterized by, “… crawling, paddling, climbing and righting himself - yet still holding on.” What damage had we done, I could not help wonder by confining Martha, wrapped in a cast, from such freedom. It was true that she was not completely immobile. I can still see her sitting on the floor of the kitchen in her special chair, using her one free foot to try to scamper about. Martha had “moxie”, I remember thinking and smile to myself as I think of that today.

Elementary school was uneventful, best I remember. It was not until early high school that Martha’s reticence to talk with us about what she was thinking about, what she was doing, or what would she like to do. I realize that, “Where are you going?” answered by, “Out” is characteristic of adolescence. Martha’s reluctance to “let us in”, so to say, persisted well into adulthood. One of the family therapists in the ‘70’s said, “Never pursue a distancer.” We were inclined to follow that lead, not knowing, anyway, how to get someone to talk who seems to not want to. I also felt, too, that maybe we now have the manifestation of the resentment that may have been bottled up from being hurt and trussed up as an infant? Martha’s early hurt with my guilt lived side by side, I wondered? We decided not to find fault, to wait it out.

Martha fell in love with Bill and they set up housekeeping in Malden. Things loosened up a bit, but not a lot. After a couple of years, Martha and Bill decided to marry. One of the nice parts of that proposal was that we, the parents, became part of their discussion. The wedding at St. Mary’s church and the reception at The Andover Country Club were just marvelous. Martha said that her wedding was all that she hoped for and more.

The newlyweds bought a house in Melrose. After a year or so they decided they would like to have a child. Jillian Claire was born on July 29, 2001. Jillian is now eight months old. The weeks following Jillian’s birth were somewhat difficult for Martha. She was a brand new mother, obviously apprehensive about her new responsibility, strained by her insistence to “do it herself”. I remember, again, seeing her pushing herself with one foot around the kitchen. Martha has “moxie” alongside of her apprehension. Why can’t she lean on her mother who has raised seven children, is a reasonable question to ask? My hunch is, when you learn early not to trust other than yourself is the aftermath of a serious unconscious hurt and abandonment. On the other hand, maybe I’m just too inclined for such quirky speculation? My psychological mentor, Dr. Bob Young, once told me that everything has meaning. I guess I’m always on the search?

Back in July, I had arranged travel back from Venice, Florida on Sunday, March 31, 2002, not realizing that it was Easter Sunday. Easter is never that early! So I flubbed, but to our delight, Martha invited us to her house for Easter dinner. I walked into the kitchen holding Jillian and Martha gave me a marvelous smile and a greeting kiss. I felt very welcome!

September 7, 2007


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