I was nervous. I had been to Blythedale Children’s Hospital on a few previous occasions, and my youngest brother, Taylor, had been a patient there. But I was still nervous. Participating in a Young Women service project at the hospital was a new experience. The children at Blythedale are all preparing for or recovering from major surgeries. Many children there have cerebral palsy or other disabilities. I was worried about what to do, what to say, and how to act in these unfamiliar circumstances.
I first noticed Libby because she was the last to finish her “paper pizza,” the craft project we were doing with the children. All the other children had finished their projects. But not Libby. Her jet-black hair hung down over her face as she focused intently on her work. She sat in a wheelchair, hovering over her pizza and arranging the pieces to her liking.
“Can I help glue those pieces on?” I asked.
“Nope,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I can do it.”
My Young Women leaders were crinkling up newspapers and packing other supplies, but Libby continued to work, unrushed. I realized that Libby would need some help to finish, but she seemed intent on doing her project herself. I noticed that Libby didn’t have enough “confetti cheese” for her creation, so I searched under the tables to find more. I even had to pick through the newspapers that were in a large garbage can, but we finally found enough and Libby put the final touches on her masterpiece.
After placing the pizza neatly in her lap, Libby maneuvered her wheelchair around to join the “singing circle,” and I followed. We sat side by side, singing silly songs with all the other kids. Libby frequently reached over and clasped her arms tightly around my neck, bringing me close to her face. This display of affection surprised me, but I responded by placing my arm around her small neck and smiling. Libby didn’t sing many of the songs, but she seemed happy to sit with me, listening as I sang.
As I sat with her, I realized that Libby reminded me of my youngest sister, Lyndsey—especially her hands. Libby’s tiny hands had long, thin fingers, and her fingernails were all cracked and broken, obviously from being bitten.
“You know what, Libby?” I said. “You look a lot like my sister Lyndsey, who’s around your age. In fact, your hands look exactly like hers. She bites her nails just like you do!”
Libby looked up at me, biting her lip. Then she asked me an unforgettable question.
“Did your sister have to have her legs cut off, too?”
I froze. It felt like my heart ceased to pump for just a second. Lyndsey’s legs were strong; they climbed trees and rode bikes, jumped on beds and turned cartwheels. They ran barefoot through the grass in summer and skied down steep slopes of snow in the winter. But how could I say that to Libby?
Libby gazed at me calmly, waiting for an answer. I mumbled some response which she accepted and then moved on. After I answered her, I realized that Libby, like most people, wanted someone who could understand.
Singing time came to an end. Libby asked me to help her pull her braces over her knees, all traces of independence vanishing as the question was asked. As I pulled the rubbery braces over her feeble knees, she reached her slender arms around my neck and grasped me tightly in one last hug. Then she turned her wheelchair and pushed herself determinedly down the hall.
I watched Libby until she disappeared into her hospital room. I wanted to reach out and do something more for her, but I realized I had done all I could do that night. Our brief friendship is still special to me. On my trip to Blythedale I learned something I’ll never forget. We are two totally different people—different races, different lifestyles, and different challenges—yet we felt a love for each other.
I was only a 14-year-old girl, but I think I may have succeeded in making a connection with Libby, simply because I was willing to try. I hope she thinks so too.