In nursing school I've spent a lot of time learning how the brain and peripheral nervous system work. I've been doing this because, even though it was taught in anatomy, it usually came up towards the end of the semester, after weeks of the professor being bullied by students to push tests back because they weren't ready. So by the time the nervous system came up, we skimmed over it, barely discussing it. So I've spent the last week or so teaching myself about the nervous system.
I don't regret the time. I've learned so much. I was fascinated to learn that some nervous system disorders are not a problem with the brain, but a problem of communication. Either the brain doesn't communicate with the body, or the nerves in the body don't communicate with each other or with muscles.
I remember first becoming aware of cerebral palsy when my cousin had a child with the disorder. Like most people I didn't understand the condition. Like most people I lumped everyone with neurological disorders into the same category - retarded.
One cold winter day some 18 or so years ago, I began watching a movie that came on. The movie was My Left Foot. It is the story of Irish poet, artist and writer Christy Brown who was born with cerebral palsy. What struck me about this story is how devoted his family, especially his mother, was devoted to caring for him. He was 10 of 21 children, and yet his mother gave him the extra attention and care he needed to survive.
This made me ponder the point in human evolution when people looked down at one of their own who needed extra help to survive. Instead of moving on and allowing the person to die, someone decided to put forth the effort and care into making sure the person survived. To me, this is the first step to civilization - compassion.
I am glad that more research is being undertaken to better understand what happens when a person's mind and body are broken. They are helping understand what the parents knew all along - there's a person in there; a person with a mind and spirit, with thoughts and ideas trapped inside them. They just can't communicate them because their muscles won't obey what their brains are telling them.
Then yesterday our instructor shared with us the story of Dick and Ricky Hoyt - father and son team who compete in triathalons with Dick rolling Ricky the whole way. Read their story and watch the inspirational video below and see how Team Hoyt works together. I was very touched by how much this man loves his son. I only wish I could find the same discipline and devotion if it were my child with cerebral palsy.