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Latham: Weekend plans -- One sweet, slow walk

Dec. 5, 2017 at 11:55 p.m.


One of my most difficult days as a parent came roughly 25 years ago during a round of appointments at the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas.

My daughter Molly was 2 years old and not walking. For that matter, she was not even crawling or attempting to do so. To get from one point to another on the floor, she rolled. This was amusing at first, but when we realized she could not do anything else, it turned scary.

I distinctly remember coworkers being sympathetic when they told me things like, "She's probably just developmentally delayed. It could mean she's a little slow, and they have programs for that."

For a parent, these are not necessarily uplifting words.

"A program for that" is a code phrase you do not want to hear.

We were referred to the Scottish Rite Hospital because there was — and is still — no place better. I had a moment of sheer panic at the check-in desk when I tried to present my insurance card and the receptionist told me sweetly, "We don't take insurance."

What? No insurance? How was I possibly going to pay for this one visit, much less any treatment that might follow?

As it turns out, the Scottish Rite Hospital also doesn't take cash, at least not as payment for services. The hospitals are supported by endowments or donations.

Molly was to be tested for every possible cause for her delayed crawling and walking from the top of her brain to bottom of her toes. Naturally, all that they mentioned to me were frightening.

Every. Single. One.

I carted her from office to office within that gigantic hospital, feeling both deflated yet strangely buoyed by the competence of the professionals and the fact my worries were nothing as compared with most of the other parents. If those parents could have hope, I thought, then so could I.

The day had started at 10 a.m., and at 6 p.m., Molly and I were still walking into different offices.

The process was this: She would get prodded and poked until she began to wail loudly, while I would be questioned until I was nearly in tears myself.

How many times must a man explain the nature of his daughter's poop? The answer, my friends … well, you just don't want to know.

Near the end of the day, exhausted beyond all belief, a nurse told me that we had just one other task.

"I need a urine sample," she told me.

A urine sample? How the heck was I, her father, supposed to get a girl who was still in diapers to pee in a cup? I must have appeared so bewildered that the nurse finally took pity on me and said it could be done later. It never was.

Molly fell asleep immediately in her car seat. I don't think I had a decent night's sleep for weeks afterward, at least not until all the test results came back.

As it turned out, the problem was more about the bottom of her toes. They were hypersensitive, and she was afraid to use them.

A physical therapist fixed Molly's problems after working with her for a few months, slowly and patiently getting her to walk. She's never looked back.

It's absolutely true that adversity makes you stronger. I've never known anyone with quite the determination and gumption of my daughter. I've never worried for a moment that she could navigate her way in the world.

Yes, I am biased in this regard. You might see this in your own daughters, and I hope you do.

Saturday, I'll walk with that young woman down the aisle in Austin as she gets married to a first-class young man.

I'm happy as I can be, but don't misunderstand. Our walk will be strong and confident, but I intend to also make absolutely certain that walk is slow.

— Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the News-Journal. His column appears Wednesday. Email platham@news-journal.com

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