1. Stone, Sandra

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I called them all "Nurse" for a long time before I came to distinguish those who brought meds from those who tended, those who manipulated my joints from those who tried to interest me in pegs and rods. Then, too, there were those who got in the pool with me and tried to get my knees to bend, those two afflicted stems with bulbous centers.

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I treasure a small, fan-folded book I keep on my nightstand. I can see only page by page. In this way time is stilled. I squint at the faded images, at my notations in pencil. There's the autograph I still have from Woodsy, a tall blonde with mischievous blue eyes-Woodsy, an occupational therapist who specialized in the orthopedic care of children. "Yours, under the moon and those stars."


You would not believe what Woodsy pulled off, despite the strict rules of the hospital administration. Today socialization and mental well-being are crucial parts of any care plan, especially for children. In 1948 they were unheard of.


I was still nonambulatory after two years of hospitalization with what was at first believed to be traumatic-onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. On the afternoon before I was to be discharged to a rehabilitation facility-a pretend child, watchful and joyless among dying and broken children-Woodsy said to me, as I finished lacing a leather wallet, a craft project I hated, "I'm taking you on an adventure tonight. Dress up. Don't forget to pack your toothbrush."


"What?" I exclaimed. "Where could we be going? And who says so?" "I've taken care of all that," Woodsy said. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled. "I don't know you that well," I grumbled.


True, I had had occupational therapy once a week. But I made strenuous objection to its purpose-to amuse me. I was not amused. I preferred to be a bookworm. Woodsy do-si-doed around my wheelchair; she was that pleased. "Be ready at five," she said, braking me at the entrance to my ward.


Oh, the fuss that was made over me that night, how my hair was done up by one of the aides, how clothes (real clothes, that must have been stored for me at the time of my admission) were now brought out. Glass beads. I hadn't seen myself in a mirror in two years. I knew the word puberty, but not what transformations it brought about.


Woodsy wheeled me into the elevator, the same one that, clanking, brought the washing machines up to boil the towels. (It was the year of the great polio epidemic.) My diagnosis had grown fuzzier. I was a conundrum to the physicians, an odd duck, the most ambulatory of the nonambulant. Why should I tell them the secret of my swollen knees: no one knew daddy had just died. Put the past in your lock box. Look to the future, was what the grown-ups had said. This was before the enlightenment of grief therapy. "Where are we going?" I demanded. When the doors opened, I was unprepared. There, spread before me, was the tarpaper roof of the hospital, obstructed by duct work, heating equipment, chimneys, with no guardrail, and a view of the great hazy chasm that was the City of Angels. Before I could open my mouth, Woodsy maneuvered me into a position where I could see at once what was in store for me. Two metal beds with sleeping bags, side by side. One chair and a card table with a checkered cloth set out. A potted geranium for a centerpiece.


There was a picnic basket that had been wrapped gaily by the kitchen. Best of all, from Woodsy, a gold foil-jacketed edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I kept the foil for years, the book forever, and with it, the image of Woodsy. Could she have been past 22?


What arguments must have gone on behind closed doors for Woodsy to arrange this splendor for her most irritable patient?


Woodsy, wherever you are, that was my first epiphany. I soared through stars. I felt myself standing, walking to a less hazarded place. And the possibility of being, if not beautiful, wise.


Sky was a dense navy blue tarp. Pinpricks of light exceeded their competence. Woodsy and I, separate bundles, lay summers apart, campfires, river runs, sunlit glades between us. Woodsy was the best overnighter ever. She told me if I had one moon, I had a guardian friend. She read aloud to me from Whitman, "Song of the Open Road."


For all the clinicians who came after, for those who would remember the ideals with which they set out in their profession, I pass down the legend of Woodsy, who made a starstruck 13-year-old less a child of the limberlost. For who among us does not need a personal moon, a sky raining stars, and a trail that leads to the open road?