An Encounter With Down's Syndrome
Matter of Perception or a Love Story?
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
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
List of Related Stories
* The Sword Story
Soul's Sweat Stories
Bullet for Hypertension
The Bite of the Neck
The Bite of the Grey Dog
You Think He Heard Me?
Why and How
Do Not Matter
Encounter With Down's Syndrome—a
Matter of Perception or a Love Story?
Could I Be All Stupid If God Is Within Me?
With An Autistic Child