Graceful movements

The human body has always held a certain fascination for me since my preadolescent days.

During my 6th grade year one of the many paperback books I purchased through the Scholastic Book Club was Wonders of the Human Body by Anthony Ravielli. I spent countless evening hours pouring over the drawings and diagrams, reading through the text as though it were a sacred scripture. Looking back, I’m convinced that the words and pictures in that small tome seeded the roots of passion for a career in clinical medicine. Ravielli’s book still sits on the shelf in my study, wedged between Stuart Little and The Writer’s Mind.

•   •   •

When I open the exam room door, I find her leaning against the edge of the exam table, holding an open book in her hands, flanked on either side by her daughters, their faces mesmerized by the story she’s been reading to them.

Quickly, she finishes up the last few lines and closes the big book. “That’s it for now; Doctor’s here.”

The closed book breaks the spell. The little girls sigh and shift closer to their mother.

“It’s all right; the doctor is our friend,” she says. “He’s just going to look into your ears and mouth and listen to your chest to make sure that you haven’t got anything more than a cold.” Then she turns to me with a radiant smile and says, “Nice to see you.”

I smile back; then with my questions I proceed to gather the salient points of the medical history and perform an abbreviated medical exam. The girls are quiet, a bit shy, somewhat reticent to comply; but with some gentle coaxing from their mother the task is soon completed. I reassure her that her daughters have the sniffles — nothing serious, nothing that would require prescription medication.

“That’s what we like to hear,” she says, beaming that radiant smile. She strokes the girls’ long hair and simultaneously lays her arms across their shoulders. “Doctor says that in a couple of days you’ll be fine. Now, let’s put the books back into the box before we leave for the next kids that come in.”

I hold the door open for this threesome as they step out into the hallway, the mother shepherding the two little girls back down the corridor. To the untrained eye her limp is barely perceptible. If I didn’t know her medical history, most likely I would not suspect that she is a bilateral amputee, having lost both legs below the knee because of massive intractable lymphedema when she was a little girl herself.

In pediatric practice I see a fair number of adolescent girls who have been taking dancing lessons since their preschool days. Many of them are quite good, having learned the refined movements of point and ballet to such an extent that they seem to move effortlessly across the floor.

But none of them, I reflect, seem to move with the underlying grace of this young mother.