11 October 2014

Always Room for Three More

James had his club meeting today, so one of the things I did was go back to the book sale. We had a deluge while I was inside (at one point the rain was falling diagonally) but it was bright and sunny when I emerged. I ended up buying James three books, one an oversized illustrated book about the Battle of Britain, one about the Polish pilots who flew for the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and the last a collection of magazine articles written by P.J. O'Rourke. Mine were Shenkman's One-Night Stands With American History, a book about gays and lesbians in Hollywood from the silent era through the 1960s called Behind the Screen, and finally Marie Killilea's Karen, which, believe it or not, I had never read. Stories about children who overcame physical handicaps were very popular when I was growing up, and this book is a classic.

Karen, born in 1940, was three months premature and didn't go home until she was nine months old. Her parents soon notice that she doesn't move like other babies. She is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and at that time there was no support at all for children (or adults for that matter) with cerebral palsy. The first doctor her parents took Karen to basically told the Killileas to put her in an institution and forget her. The next said she was probably mentally deficient. They went through over a dozen doctors before they found one to help Karen. The grueling schedule the family went through to do Karen's physical therapy made me tired just to read. Plus their elder daughter had sinus problems, a bout with rheumatic fever, and then a tuberculosis scare.

I was amused to see how so many modern reviews of this book on Amazon had shocked people exclaiming how often the characters smoked and how bad that was! Even in the Sixties everyone smoked! Doctors recommended cigarettes in advertising. I remember family parties and weddings blue with smoke. I was more appalled by the way so many doctors treated Karen as if she was some sort of vegetable. They couldn't seem to get past the fact she was "crippled" as if her motor problems affected her brain. And this was the state of medicine only 25 years before I was born! (I recall a neighborhood friend whose sister had severe Down syndrome—back then they were called "Mongoloid"—and her family was considered unusual because the girl lived at home and was not in an asylum.) The work Marie Killilea and her family did eventually resulted in the creation of the United Cerebral Palsy organization.

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