Boy, interrupted

September 1, 2004

What made the time with my disease infinitely easier was this ability of my parents to brainstorm and find alternative ways for me to enjoy myself.

This guest editorial was written by 21-year-old Franklin Branch, who remembers how his parents and other adults supported him when he faced physical limitations that prevented him from participating in activities he loved. It is a reminder of how important the choices are that parents make, even though at the time they make them they have no blueprint-only common sense and love.

When I was 8 years old, baseball consumed my life. All I needed was an open field to play whiffle ball on, and I would be content for hours simulating all my heroic World Series hits. I never thought until now how funny it probably looked to people strolling by my house to see me hit balls and then sprint around the yard to outrun an imaginary defense.

Baseball was my life, until the day I found myself in too much pain to get out of my seat at the movies. I was scared to get up and had to be carried out of the theater by my mother. What I thought was a persistent pulled muscle was actually the slow deterioration of my left hip joint from a rare bone condition, Legg-Perthes disease. I was more confused than angry when my doctor told my parents and me that I would no longer be able to run or play any sports for the next couple of years and probably for the rest of my life. I was then fitted for a brace I would wear for one year that went around my legs and was attached by a metal bar between my knees, similar to the one in Forrest Gump. Within a couple of weeks I had been removed from the baseball field and placed into a squeaky contraption that announced my entrance to every room.

The most important place to feel comfortable for me was in school and other social situations with children my own age. My parents asked a friend who was a pediatrician to come to my school and, in front of my whole grade, explain my disease and the brace I had to wear. Their logic was that if my friends were scared and confused by my disease then that is how they would respond to me. At first I was against the idea because it added more attention to myself, but after other children began trying on the brace and laughing I realized it was a great way to break the ice.

I never wanted to talk about my condition with my friends because it only made me uncomfortable. I did, however, need the compassion from my parents. Words of encouragement were very important for me, even though I always tried to act tough and seem like I didn't need them. My mother could always put me in a good mood with just her calmness and sincerity. There was, however, a fine line between my parents being supportive and showering me with pity. Receiving too much attention made me feel like I was more of an art exhibit than a person.

What made the time with my disease infinitely easier was this ability of my parents to brainstorm and find alternative ways for me to enjoy myself. When I was still focused on what I would no longer be able to do, my mother and father were thinking of the many activities I could find to replace sports. The great thing about being young was that it didn't take much for me to be happy. Shortly after I was placed in the brace my favorite hobby became going to the neighborhood pool with my father and seeing how many times we could throw a tennis ball to each other without dropping it. I think our record was somewhere in the 200's.