A while back, I said I might relay some stories of my time driving a senior citizens bus. After the recent political clap-trap, I think this may be the time to tell one.
The passenger manifest called for picking up Wally at his group home at one o`clock. The manifest said Wally was in a wheelchair and would be accompanied by an attendant. I was to take them to a doctor in a downtown medical tower.
I arrived a few minutes early, so I put up a third seat and laid out the four wheelchair restraints. At the appointed hour, I got out, lowered the wheelchair lift and walked to the front door. You could tell at a glance the house was a group home and not a “home” home, for the place was dilapidated and the lawn was chock-a-block with weeds — a sore thumb in this nice neighborhood of well-tended properties.
Wally was housed, along with another half-dozen or so residents, in this old one-story frame house. It was painted a dirty mustard color with brown trim. In the manner of most such group homes, a long plywood ramp ran from the driveway up to the front stoop. This ramp, used for wheelchairs and walkers, was covered by a glued-on indoor/outdoor carpet that was perpetually soggy so the plywood beneath had become spongy and gave with each step. A smell like mushrooms arose from the carpet and rotting wood.
The front door was a flat, solid thing with a little peephole. A dorbeel button was loosely mounted on the frame. I gave the little button a long press, for experience had shown that unless I did, the warders within would take their sweet time answering. Presently, the door opened a crack and a eye peered out.
“I’m here for Wally,” I said. No response, just a blank stare. “WALLY,” I said again. No response. “WALLY!” I hollered. The eye blinked. “Oh, Wally” a woman’s voice replied and the door closed.
I decided to wait out by the bus.
Five minutes later, the door opened and Wally and his attendant scooted out. With the door open, I noticed it was dark as a cave inside the house. The door closed with a bang. The attendant wore a snot rag on her head and she spoke no English.
The creature in the wheelchair — Wally — began making loud ululations and shrieks, none of it intelligible. With each bellow, the smallish body trembled in a strange microjerking manner. You see, Wally was a pinhead, more kindly known as a microcehpalic. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about pinheads: “Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the circumference of the head is more than two standard deviations smaller than average for the person’s age and sex. Microcephaly may be congenital or it may develop in the first few years of life. The disorder may stem from a wide variety of conditions that cause abnormal growth of the brain, or from syndromes associated with chromosomal abnormalities. Two copies of a loss-of-function mutation in one of the microcephalin genes causes primary microcephaly.
In general, life expectancy for individuals with microcephaly is reduced and the prognosis for normal brain function is poor. The prognosis varies depending on the presence of associated abnormalities.”
There you have it. Whatever could have gone wrong for Wally, had.
Wally’s body was tiny. The fingers curled backwards across the tops of his little hands (about the size of a five-year old child’s) which were covered by skin that was livid in small patches. All four limbs were small and stick-like and were strapped to the wheelchair with stout cotton bindings (evidently, Wally thrashed around a good deal). A 4-point harness a la a fighter jet held Wally securely in the chair. Wally’s feet were covered in white sock-like things with no toes.
Bad as that all was, it was Wally’s head that drew the eye. The lower face and jaw appeared to be of normal proportions while from the cheeks up, it tapered sharply to a low-riding point. Because of the extreme taper, the orbits were too small for the eyes so they stood out from the face like those of a toad. Both eyes roamed in random directions, each going its way, focusing on nothing.
Wally’s age could not be readily ascertained, but he had a five-o`clock shadow so he was obviously an adult.
The minder parked the wheelchair, set the brake, then went off to the bus’s passenger door and hopped on. I took hold of the wheelchair to turn it about, for I like to board wheelchairs with the occupants facing outward and me at the back, the better to haul them in from the lift. As soon as the chair moved, the quivering and screeching began again.
While securing Wally’s wheelchair to the floor of the bus, I looked him over. The body was covered by blankets with two tubes running up from bottles suspended under the chair’s frame while another, larger tube with a clip crimping the end, came out through a space in the blanket (a feeding tube?). A bib was tied around Wally’s neck and the area of his crotch was swollen with diapers. A foul smell came from Wally — a suppurating pressure sore, perhaps? Whatever it was, the minders had tried masking it with Old Spice without success.
I took my seat, started the engine and off we went.
During the trip, I heard an awful gurgling sound. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the minder reach over with what looked like a turkey baster and suck drool from Wally’s mouth. If she hadn’t, I’m sure Wally would have drowned in his own juices.
Taking Wally off the bus caused more “vocalizations” as those in the industry call the hoots, hollers, squawks and shrieks made by those with no mind. Also, any movement of the chair caused more violent twitching (thank heaven for those straps).
As the minder was off the bus, I took a few seconds for a little test: Holding my hand a few inches from Wally’s face, I snapped my fingers. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
While lowering the lift, I caught more of Wall’y stink. Gad!
Years ago, unfortunates like Wally usually died at birth, often on doctors’ orders: Do not feed, do not water, do not treat. Let nature take its course because there isn’t a damned thing we can do. If a soul like Wally didn’t die right off, he or she was taken home and shut up in a spare bedroom — or attic, or basement — where the harried parents would give what care they could until death claimed the child as its own.
Then medical science progressed and people like Wally could be saved. And because they could be saved the American people decided they would be saved, and that we would care for them, most often at public expense. We would treat their illnesses (often heroically), feed them , make them comfortable and offer whatever “enrichment” was possible — even if it was just being parked in front of the TV.
It was the right and noble thing to do.
Enter now Congressman Paul Ryan, hot on the heels of the Bush Depression. Wild-eyed, he runs to-and-fro tearing his hair over the deficit and proposing all sorts of drastic remedies. Paul Ryan would cut, if not eliminate, Federal programs like Medicaid that support Wally and others like him. At the same time, the good Congressman absolutely, positively forbids raising taxes on the likes of Donald Trump. Wally is to be given the back of Uncle Sam’s hand while Trump, Gates, Buffet and others like them, are spoon fed one tax break after another. “We must protect them so they’ll invest,” says Congressman Ryan.
So what’s to be done? In days of old, parents of such unfortunates as Wally simply laid them outside on a cold night and left them there. They’d be dead by morning. Of course we can’t do that, it’d be murder in the first degree and no right-thinking person would tolerate it.
OK. Well, we could pack off Wally to his family. If they agreed to take Wally in (by no means a sure thing), they’d take a stab at caring for him, but it will be a 24/7/52 job. There’ll be no relief, no one to help, and the folks will have to stand the expenses themselves. Eventually, the family’s money and frustration levels will reach the breaking point. Exhausted, sick at heart and with nowhere to turn, they’ll steal into Wally’s room one night with a pillow. Dumping Wally on the family is not an option either.
Re-opening the pest houses that were closed in the sixties and seventies would work, but they cost money, and that means taxes. In Paul Ryan’s world, that’s a non-starter.
If exposing our Wallies to the elements is unacceptable, if rendering them to the custody of their families is too chancy and if reopening the orphanages and mental institutions too costly, there is only one thing left: The Adolf Hitler solution. We’d have the police round up the defectives, take them to a central facility and have Dr. Kevorkian give each a lethal shot of Ketamine. It would be humane, it would be quick, and above all, it would be cheap.
I’d like to bring Congressman Paul Ryan along with me on my rounds. I’d like him to see, first hand, the kind of poor souls he plans on throwing to the wolves. Unless he’s an absolutely pitiless beast — which he may well be — Congressman Ryan will rethink his priorities. He may tell the Teabaggers to go to Hell, then raise taxes on the folks who drive the Bentleys. But if Congressman Ryan doesn’t do that, if he stays his course, and if we obey his dicta, we’ll be turning our backs on the very principals we claim to hold dear. And we’ll be placing ourselves in moral peril.