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An Encounter With Down's Syndrome

—a Matter of Perception or a Love Story?

Majid Ali, M.D.

 

For years in my seminars, I have related a story of an eight-year-old boy when addressing subjects of human experiences, perceptions, and healing. In July 2011, our grandsons and I were talking about how children see various things, react differently, and learn. I related the story again.My wife also heard it and remarked that the story was first about love and only then about seeing things and how we respond to them. With amusement I wondered about my own perceptions. I realized that I had missed the main point of my own story during its many tellings and re-tellings. I understood it only after it was pointed out to me—years after I had observed its events. Here is the story.

In 1970's, I worked as an emergency room physician at Irvington General Hospital in Irvington, New Jersey. One day a boy with Down's Syndrome, about eight years old, was brought to the hospital after he fell and injured his head . It was an unusually hectic day. There were several victims of a traffic accident who required immediate care. All the stretchers in the emergency department were occupied. I decided to see the child while he sat on a stool by my desk.

Children with Down's Syndrome are usually amiable, lovable and loving. And so was the injured boy. Saliva drooled from one corner of his mouth to which he was oblivious. He grinned broadly as I examined his scalp wound and shined a light in his eyes to evaluate the state of his pupil reflex. I decided to treat his head wound while he sat on the stool by my desk, then send him for X-rays of the skull—a deviation from the normal procedure that seemed reasonable since no stretcher was available. It was evident that if I didn't sow his wound there and then, the treatment would be delayed for hours. That meant he had to stay on that stool by my desk until a nurse could bring me a suture set and I could clean the wound and suture it.

I returned to completing the clinical charts of other trauma patients and felt his gaze on my face. I looked up and smiled. He smiled back and then withdrew, staring at the floor timidly. I returned to my chart work, wondering why his response had changed abruptly. Several moments later, I look at him again. His eyes were still downcast though he seemed to be aware of his surroundings. As minutes passed, he began to cautiously look around, still avoiding eye contact with me, as well as with other staff members in the large room.

Then an unexpected thing happened. His eyes moves to one corner the emergency room where a nurse frantically tried to pull muddy shoes off the feet of a traffic accident victim. The little boy watched her intently. At one point, the nurse turned to say something to me. The boy caught her eye and flashed a broad smile. The hassled nurse frowned though, I'm sure, not at the boy. He froze for several moments, then slowly lowered his eyes—as if caught in a shameful act of probing. I was amused but said nothing. More time passed as I waited for my suture set and a nurse to assist me. Ever so slyly, the boy raised his head, looked at me, and then his eyes fell to the ground again. His initial warmth was gone. He seemed uncertain and tentative. I touched his face. He smiled but not as openly as before, and looked away.

Several more minutes passed before his eyes began to to explore the rest of the emergency room and then settled to the opposite corner of the emergency room where another nurse was replacing sheets on a stretcher for another patient. As his eyes found hers, she sent him a warm, pleasant smile. The boy responded with visible enthusiasm, then he looked back at for my approval. I touched his shoulder, again with both hands.

The boy had to stay in the emergency room for a few hours. There were delays at every step. There was considerable delay in the X-ray department. Then the lab took its time. During this time I observed something that I will forever treasure: the sensitivity and perception of a little boy with the Down's Syndrome. All during that time, every time the first nurse—the one who had inadvertently frowned when he first glanced at her—passed by him, he stiffened. And every time the second nurse—the one who had responded warmly and kindly to his drifting eyes—passed by him, his face softened and he smiled to himself.

The power of love! Now I see it clearly, decades after I first observed the events and considered them merely in the context of human experiences and perceptions

 

List of Related Stories

* The Sword Story

* Soul's Sweat Stories

A Bullet for Hypertension

* Conversations With Angels

* The Bite of the Neck Muscles

* The Bite of the Grey Dog

Do You Think He Heard Me?

Why and How Do Not Matter 

*  An Encounter With Down's Syndrome—a Matter of Perception or a Love Story?

*  How Could I Be All Stupid If God Is Within Me?

Giv' Me Five—Communicating With An Autistic Child

 

 

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