I’ve mentioned before that I had to take a lot of this nasty drug called Prednisone as a kid, and how the side effects were almost as bad as the Crohn’s Disease flare-ups the drug was meant to snuff out.
Well, my old elementary school friend Myles Lynch posted some class pics on Facebook that show the physical impact. Looking at them brings back memories good and bad.
Let’s start with first grade, before the disease surfaced. I’m dead-center in the back row, looking like a normal kid:
By the time the second-grade class photo is taken, I’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and I’ve spent six weeks in the hospital. The results of the Prednisone on my face are pretty clear. I’m second from left in the back row:
By the time the third-grade pic is taken, I’ve been through my second flare-up and six-week hospital stay. I’m in the back row, two kids to the right of the teacher, Ms. Cole:
I’m not in the fourth-grade class picture, because as the photo is being taken, I’m in the middle of a third six-week hospital stay for another flare-up. The disease usually struck sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. This time, it waited until spring.
By fifth grade I’m back in the class photo, and I’ve been off Prednisone for a while. You can see it in my face, back row, far right:
There are a few things worth noting about the other kids in these pictures. First, look to the kid at the far left in the front row of the last image. That’s Mark Hedgecock, one of my best friends during childhood. Last time I checked about 10 months ago, he was a thrice-convicted sex-offender living on the streets of Boston. I have a hard time accepting that he’s a pedophile, because to me that’s one of the worst crimes a person can commit. But he too is an addict who doesn’t want to be that way, so I try hard to look at him in a forgiving way. I’ll let you know if I ever get there.
The other kids have had their own challenges and joys in life. I’ve kept in touch with some of them. But here’s the important thing: Back then, when we were a small, close-knit community, before the puberty-driven bullying of middle school, these kids did all they could to make me feel better. When I was in the hospital they would send hand-made get-well cards. When I’d get out of the hospital, they would give me a warm, cheerful welcome back.
Those acts of kindness are something I will never forget.
The pictures also remind me a lot of what life was like in the hospital. Those hospital wards were like little communities, where the young patients would try to find ways to pass the time. We shared each other’s toys and watched the same TV shows. I always seemed to be the only Crohn’s patient on a floor full of kids with Cystic Fibrosis. Treatment for that disease was nothing like it is today, and many of the friends I made in the hospital died before they got to adulthood.
I lost a lot of blood back then, because I had a colon full of holes. But compared to my lost friends, I got off lucky.
I owe that to God and all the helpers he put in my path.
Whenever I’m having a bad day and I start to get cranky and impatient with people, I try to think back to those days. Doing so makes me remember how blessed I am, and how I should stop wasting time on hard feelings and earn that blessing by spending my life as one of those helpers.
I’ve been walking past Children’s Hospital these days on the way into the neighboring hospital my father has been in since suffering a stroke last week, and the memories come flooding back of the time when I was a frequent resident there. And seeing my father, with his eye patch and slackened mouth, makes me remember the things he used to do to keep me going.
During one stay, I was obsessed with getting a talking View-Master, where you put in these paper disks and look through a view lens at the scenes that blow up larger than life on a screen inside the gadget. The taking variety was all the rage in 1979, and I bellowed about it like the spoiled brat I was. You get very spoiled and miserable to be around when everyone is tending to your every need.
My father got me the talking View-Master, and bought me a new Star Wars action figure each week, followed by a trip to Friendly’s for ice cream on those occasions where I was allowed to have it.
The more emotional variety of affection was something he always struggled with, though in his way, he was doing all he could to show his love.
Amazing, the things that come back to you after looking at a few childhood pictures.