I thought I would give you a little glimpse into my childhood.I was born back in March of 1966 which for the mathematically challenged would be nearly forty two years ago. I'm the youngest of three boys. Mark is five years my senior and Gene is a whopping seven years olderthan me. Yeah, he's pretty much ancient.
Now when mom and dad had their first look at me it probably wasn't what they were expecting. I'm sure they did the regular counting of fingers and toes, which were all present and accounted for, but when they got to my face it was obvious something wasn't right.
You see, I was born with what is commonly referred to as a cleft lip and pallet. In simple terms it means, in my case anyway, that my upper lip had not grown together properly in the middle. It basically looked as if it had been cut or torn straight down from the base of my nose. As an added bonus the roof of my mouth, known as the pallet, had a rather large hole in it that went to my nasal cavity. As I'm sure you can imagine, I was not exactly the poster boy for Gerber Baby Foods.
And so my journey through this life began. Of course my mom and dad's journey through parenting was also taking on a different direction. What they had come to expect about caring for an infant had instantly changed in the blink of an eye.
Most of the challenges fell on my mom. Part of that reason was because dad had to work long hours to make ends meet and part of it was that forty years ago the rolls of parents were defined differently than they are today. Mostly though, it's because mom always took the time to be a great parent.
Relatively simple tasks for most young parents like feeding their new baby became momentous undertakings. Breast feeding was totally out of the question, and even bottle feeding was nearly impossible. When your mouth can't close all the way you can't form any suction, thereby making either of those options practically null.
Spoon feeding wasn't much easier. When you have a hole in the roof of your mouth food doesn't like to travel in the normal direction. Excuse the graphic, but rather than going down to my stomach, the majority of it would go up and through my nose. I can not even begin to imagine the patience it must have taken to get a meal in me. What should have taken about ten minutes was now stretched into hours.
My father worked for the State of California, and thank the good Lord had fantastic medical benefits. So at the ripe old age of eight weeks old I had my first operation. This would be the first of twenty some odd procedures through my childhood years to correct my unique features.
Stop for a moment, especially if you're a parent, and think about sending your child into the operating room at that age. The absolute fear and heartache my parents must of gone through is incredible. They had to have thought, "This is not what we signed up for!"
They and I would later find out that the surgeon who would perform several of my many operations was one of the best in his field. Dr Trucker was an amazing man. I don't remember much about him, but I have reason to thank him to this day. His type of surgery was not the Hollywood flash variety; it was more of the kind that restored hope to families who had to wonder if their child would ever be able to have a normal face. Thank you doc!
Now when your two or three years old, your parents can't just say, "don't scratch the stitches on your lip." and expect you to listen. Some of you may argue that this 'not listening' stage lasts well beyond this age and continues right on through the teenage years, but that's a whole other story.
Some type of plan had to me made so I wouldn't tear out all the sutures. As you can see from a couple of the pictures, I was fashioned with cardboard tubes around both of my arms so they would not bend. This would keep me from destroying all the work that had just been done to me. I can't help but think this had to be both difficult to deal with and hilarious to watch at times too.
When it came time to learn how to speak, a whole new set of challenges came about. Certain letters and sounds just didn't come out right. Mom tells me that once while grocery shopping I yelled out, "KETCHUP", but what everybody for several isles around heard was "CAT SHIT".
On another occasion while eating at a truck stop type of cafe I looked out at all the big rigs outside and again in an excited little boy's voice yelled, "INTERNATIONAL . . . there's and International out there!", but what came out this time was, "Ear an asshole . . . there's n ear an asshole out there!"
Oh what I'd give for a recording of those priceless moments.
Some years later I would have the good fortune of meeting a speech therapist at Chico State College by the name of Barbara who would prove to be an incredible teacher and motivator to me. The room where she and I sat had a large two way mirror in it so my mom could sit on the other side of the glass and see how this woman would transform my speech into clear communication.
Rather than simply work off of boring flash cards or some other mundane style of teaching, she found out what interested me and let that be the tool I would learn from. One of my favorite assignments was to learn to pronounce the entire starting line up for the 72' Oakland A's. I loved that team and she knew that would be something I'd want to practice.
One other exercise that sticks out in my mind was from the very first time I met her. She told me, "Jeff, when you can correctly say, 'Barbara, I would like an ice cream cone' we'll walk across campus and get you one." Mom says I practiced that line every waking hour for the next week and when I sat down with her again I recited it perfectly. That week's lesson was over and the three of us finished our time over an ice cream cone. Thank you Barbara.
Fast forward several more years to when I was about seventeen. My body had nearly stopped growing (at least up instead of out) and it was time for the final couple of reconstructive surgeries. The hole in my pallet and the "cut" in my lip were nearly gone but my nose was still nowhere close to being straight. As a young man interested in girls, finally getting to have a "normal" face was something I'd been waiting for for a long time.
Enter into my life Dr Micheal Tavis. The plastic surgeon who would transform me into the amazing looking stud that I am today. OK so he didn't get that carried away but he did do some pretty intricate procedures.
He would reshape my nose and lip so that I could be an average looking guy and he would also finish the work on the inside of my mouth at the same time. Even though I was excited to have the work done I was also scared to death about it. Sensing this he invited my family and I to his house where he would go over the entire process of each operation so that I would feel more at ease. How many doctors are willing to do that?
Tragically, Dr Tavis was murdered a few years later so I can not personally thank him now, but none the less, Thank you Dr Michael Tavis.
So there you have it, two great doctors, one wonderful speech therapist, and a family that could not possibly be replaced. Thank you all