From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

I Found Myself Saying Yes

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

Edward E. Hale

It was a normal spring day in 1950. I was asked to attend a meeting with the president of the medical school where I was an attending physician. He didn’t tell me the purpose of the meeting, and when I arrived at his office, I was surprised to find five couples sitting with him. I sat down and wondered what these people had in common.

What they had in common was a problem: All were parents of retarded children, and nowhere in the vast city of New York were they able to find medical facilities to treat their children’s special needs.

As they told me their story, I was shocked to learn how they had been mistreated, badly advised and humiliated; all because their children were retarded and did not “deserve” to be treated as other human beings with medical problems. They had been turned away from all the other teaching hospitals. Their request was simple: They were asking for a weekly clinic to treat the medical problems of the retarded.

Their stories touched me deeply and I felt embarrassed that this attitude existed among my medical colleagues. I soon found myself saying that I would set up a one-morning-a-week clinic for these children and their parents.

Little did I realize then that this decision was the beginning of a new life for me. I soon became the leader of the first and only facility of its kind in the world, tending to the physical needs of mentally retarded children. Parents with their children came out of the woodwork seeking help. I was completely overwhelmed, trying to attend to everyone’s needs in just one morning a week. What should I do? I agonized over the decision of whether to devote my entire professional life to this mission, or to walk away. Needless to say, I decided to commit myself to the plight of this lonely community.

The unexpected spring meeting with those five couples led me to become an advocate, clinician, researcher, administrator and policy-maker. The five couples went on to found the National Association for Retarded Citizens. Jimmy Carter, then the president of the United States, appointed me the first director of the National Institute of Handicapped Research.

I had been challenged to reach deeply within myself to make a better life for all these individuals. I said yes . . . and I found my life’s mission.

Margaret J. Giannini, M.D.

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