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The Care, Cure, And Education Of The Crippled Child
ON A HOT summer afternoon in 1863, a foreign representative to the United States, several members of the Cabinet, and the President of the United States are said to have been traversing one of the broad avenues of Washington. They were discussing matters of international importance. It was, therefore, somewhat surprising to the others when Abraham Lincoln abruptly interrupted the conversation and left the group. Stooping at a nearby tree, the emancipator lifted a fallen baby bird to its nest. Returning to his associates, Lincoln remarked, "And now, gentlemen, continue."-1-
-1- The author has searched unsuccessfully for the source of this anecdote. It is a story he heard as a young child, and is one which he has never forgotten. It is very appropriately illustrative of the spirit of the movement to aid crippled children.
Although one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known found time to give his attention to an unfortunate little bird, until the past century all humanity has carelessly and consistently neglected its own unfortunate crippled children. For centuries of the Christian Era men have declared, like Mr. Scrooge in Charles Dickens' immortal Christmas Carol, "What then, if he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Hundreds of millions of those declaring themselves followers of the Master who said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of God," -2- and again, to the hunchback woman, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity,"-3- have made crippled children public jests, exiles from society.
-2- St. Mark, Chapter X, 14.
-3- St. Luke, Chapter XIII, 12.
The world has undoubtedly suffered greatly from this carelessness. Hundreds, who might otherwise have contributed to the beauty of civilization, or have led their fellow men to new accomplishments, have been deprived of their birthright. In the past, only the wealthy cripples have had any opportunity for education. And even they have been handicapped by lack of orthopedic knowledge on the part of the medical profession. It is commonly believed that Lord Byron had a clubfoot. As a matter of fact, the great poet might have lived to an advanced age and produced volumes of additional poetry, had he not received the attention of a "quack doctor." As a young boy, Byron was afflicted with "lameness due to a contraction of the tendon Achilles which compelled him to walk on the balls and toes of his feet. The foot (later) was considerably distorted so as to turn inward, a malformation which may have been caused altogether by the violence with which it was treated."-4- "The lad at Nottingham suffered much at the hands of a bone setter, Lavenden. . . . Blind to the nature of the case, the man did precisely as any other pretender of his kind would have done. . . . He rubbed the foot with oil, twisted it about with violence screwing and torturing bone and muscle into better behavior."-1- In the opinion of medical men, had Byron been given the proper care, his deformity might have been entirely cured. As walking was always painful for him because of his obesity, he continually dieted. The dieting reduced his resistance, which, had it been stronger, might have successfully combated the fever which carried him away on the battle fields of Greece at the age of thirty-six years. Thus was the world deprived of one great man through carelessness.
-4- John Cordy Jeaffreson, The Real Lord Byron, Vol. 1, London, 1833, p. 35.
-1- John Cordy Jeaffreson, The Real Lord Byron, p. 77.
The movement to care for and educate children, maimed or deformed by disease or accident, may be considered to have two aspects, the humanitarian and the sociological. This classification is recorded not because any such distinct cleavage exists, but to satisfy those who insist upon a mechanistic interpretation of life. Unless the "science" of sociology succeeds in making life more beautiful for its students, for the immediate spiritual happiness of the largest proportion of human beings, or for generations to come, it is an inexcusable waste of time. Were life really the dismal mechanical existence that some of our sociological scholars are pleased to interpret, it would seem that this information had best be transmitted to as few humans as possible. If life, properly understood, were truly nothing but a birth-to-death struggle, devoid of joy or pleasure, it would seem that the "laissez-faire" policy of those who interpret it in this manner had best be extended to education and study of the sort they pursue. The popular proverb, "ignorance is bliss" is easily extended to this sort of knowledge, for the ignorant might then grasp their few momentary transports of ecstasy without realizing their error.
As a matter of fact, no such situation exists. The study of crippled children brings to the right-minded man an appreciation of his own happy, healthy existence, a deeper understanding of the suffering and distress of his neighbors, leading to a deeper and finer emotional experience, as well as the knowledge of how to reduce and alleviate this suffering.