60: The Unlikely Cheering Section

60: The Unlikely Cheering Section

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

The Unlikely Cheering Section

Always look on the bright side of life.
~Monty Python

I was twenty-one and in a Toronto hospital after knee surgery Back then, nearly thirty years ago, the procedures were more invasive and took a longer time to heal. I was in a room across from a young man whose story was shared with me by the nurses. His name was Ross, and it was obvious he had been in a serious trauma. He was in a full body cast, and had been in the hospital for at least nine months. According to the staff accounts, he had been in a car that was struck by a drunk driver, and suffered massive injuries.

His head injury reduced him to a very young level and he was learning to read again in the hospital. My mother, who visited me frequently, enquired about his situation. Evidently his family had accepted a settlement and had essentially “left town” with the funds, leaving Ross as a ward of the province, and with no additional funds for anything beyond the hospital basics. I recall that the staff members were trying to help Social Services locate his family and take some action on his behalf.

Ross and I were unlikely roommates. He was bright, cheerful and totally delighted by visitors of any type. He borrowed books from the hospital trolley and tried, loudly, to read them. Across the room from Ross was me—a bitter twenty-one-year-old who was both in pain and angry at having an injury that kept me from all the things I enjoyed.

My mother visited several times, and always found herself sitting with Ross, reading with him, and spending time enjoying him. Others who visited me didn’t know how to take him. Ross never had any visitors for himself. My mother considered him a joy, and she was deeply concerned over his situation. We could see that the staff loved him deeply, but there was little they could do. He had no money, and I remember him straining his head to see the TV I had at my bed. He couldn’t afford the TV rental, so mine (and I suppose other patients in that room) provided him with a bit of distraction—even if he couldn’t hear it through the headphones.

Several days after my surgery, the therapy staff arrived to get me moving. The first step was to raise my leg from the bed under my own power. It was extremely painful, and through tears and frustration I said “I can’t.” It was a surreal experience, just like in a film where you watch something and the sounds are spacey and detached. One voice was very clear, rising above the therapist who was sternly telling me I could do this, and that voice was Ross. All through this situation, he cheered for me, encouraged me, kept saying “Come on Peter, you can do it!” I raised my leg, and once the session was over I fell back onto my pillow, sweating from the stress. The pain was intense. Ross was there, telling the nurse and the therapist how great I was for doing it!

That was an amazing moment in my life. I had a revelation that both humbled me, and encouraged me for years to come. This young man had been robbed of his life, then of his entitlement that was intended to rebuild his life. He had nothing; he had lost physical, mental and worldly things and was simply a young man on a bed. Yet here he was, cheering for me. He didn’t utter words of encouragement; he shouted them because he was with me going through that. Looking back, mine was a relatively easy situation. Others have gone through great pain and suffering far beyond mine. I began wondering, what compelled this man to cheer for me and not bemoan his own situation? It was a reflection of the very foundations of my faith, and of his heart that could not be crushed by the accident that crushed his body.

After leaving the hospital, I never saw Ross again. Yet, Ross was always with me. My life was filled with ongoing knee problems—more than twenty operations, including total replacements of both knees. That was a lot of surgery, a lot of therapy, a lot of struggle. For me it seemed relatively easy. Each time I had to come back from a procedure, I had Ross in my heart. When it hurt, Ross could be heard cheering. When I was discouraged, Ross was with me, reminding me that I could get through it.

I often had surgeons, therapists and others commenting on how quickly I recovered, how soon I was walking normally. That has never been a great achievement on my part. Ross reminded me that there are always people who are worse off, and that we can always heal. We are made that way. Ross, in his battered state, was healing too. I find myself thinking of, and praying for, Ross frequently. He taught me hope when I was most hopeless.

As something of a postscript, I learned after I left that a gracious angel had arranged for Ross to have a month of TV in the hospital. It was a small act of love, but I always knew my mom to be such an angel. I know she thought of Ross often.

Thank you, Ross, wherever you are today. I still hear you cheering when the going gets tough. If I ever feel discouraged, I’ll remember those heroes who deal with disease and disability daily, and I’ll push forward to live each day to its fullest.

~Peter J. Green

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