Surgery of any kind isn’t fun for anyone, especially a third grader. I thought I was going to a normal check-up with my orthopedist. I was never a fan of those appointments. Then he said, “It’s time for your back surgery. We can’t wait any longer.” (You can read more about the story here.) That was a moment I wanted to change. I, at least, wanted to delay the surgery until the summer. I wanted to keep being a normal kid and that meant not missing school for weeks because of medical reasons. How could I explain this to friends and make them understand? I didn’t like what was happening or really understand why we couldn’t wait just a few months.
The doctor was doing his job and doing it well. He was caring for my health and thinking about the long term. But this was another normal being tossed around. I knew I would feel different when I returned to school after this appointment and definitely after the surgery. I couldn’t ignore this reality. It was coming much sooner than I had expected.
In fourth grade, I felt different the first day of school. I had a new bus driver and my experience with this one was terrible. I was used to riding the bus. I had been doing that since preschool at the age of 2. It became easier when I got my first motorized wheelchair when I was 7. I could load myself on the bus and feel a little more independent. Even back then, my wheelchair was simply a part of me. I never saw it as a separate thing.
I rode the bus, excited to be starting fourth grade. The year of the back surgery was behind me and I had recovered. But we got lost, couldn’t find the other students to pick up, and the driver tried to take me to the wrong school. On day 1.
“I don’t go to this school,” I said to the bus aide.
She still opened the door and put the lift out. I refused to get off the bus. I didn’t turn my wheelchair on. And I held my hand in place so no one could do it for me.
The driver walked to the back of the bus, where I sat with the tears coming down my face. She wasn’t going to help wipe my eyes or blow my nose. And she still tried to tell me this was my school.
“No, I’ve been going to the other school since preschool. I already went to orientation and met my new teachers. My mom took me there last week.”
Finally the principal came to see what was happening. She got on the bus and immediately recognized me. I was so glad to see someone who didn’t just know who I was…This principal took time to talk to me and to really listen to what I was saying. And she wiped away those tears.
The presence of a person who heard my voice erased the feeling of, “I’m different. My words don’t matter. My opinion isn’t valued.“
I was seen. I was heard.
I calmed down.
I eventually made it to my school.