... a story repeated
It was our habit several years ago to go to Venice, Florida for warmth
and about three rounds of golf each week. I like to write and a story was
lurking in my mind waiting to get out. It is the story about our baby
daughter and the dirty trick that had fallen to her. There is lots of
details about Melrose, where we had been living since 1963. Here is
Martha’s story again. Also, this picture was around for about 50 years. It was only later I learned that pictures could compliment writing.
A STORY OF MARTHA
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.
ABOVE: Our seven kids. Martha is the baby, bottom center. She is sitting in her special chair.
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 St. They
would park Martha in front of Bob’s and urge her to sing her favorite song,
“White Corral 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 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 2 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 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 newly weds 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 8 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, pushing herself with one foot around the kitchen. Martha has “moxie”
along side her apprehension. Why can’t you lean on her mother who has raised
7 children, is a reasonable question to ask, asked Catherine? 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!
Originally published September 07,2007..
October 7, 2016