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t h e   s p e c i a l i s t

:  a o i f e   m a n n i x

He didn't look like a top specialist. He looked like a man who was beginning to go to seed and so did his office. The walls were not a medicinal white, but a sort of jaundice colour. He hardly seemed to be listening to a word she was saying, which was a shame because she'd run it through in her head over and over on the train on the way up. Making sure she wouldn't leave out any details. Over four years of nothing but doctors had taught her the importance of details. She felt she'd had to learn a whole other language just to follow what was going on. But now that she'd read so many books, researched the Internet for hours on end, she felt more confident. She kept a diary of Jonathan's progress. Making a note every day of any changes. She handed it over enthusiastically to Doctor Browne, pointing to an entry just over a month old.

'You can't imagine the surprise I got when he came into the kitchen. I was just making his breakfast when the door opened. He'd dressed himself, trousers, t-shirt, even put his shoes on, come all the way down the stairs by himself. I was so proud of him.'

Dr Browne removed his glasses and appeared to be examining his fingernails.
'How old is Jonathan?'

'He'll be five next week. We're going to have a party for him. Have the kids from around in. He wants a cake in the shape of a train. He's really excited about it. You know he goes out and plays on the street just like all the other boys. I was worried at first that he might fall, but he's amazing. With the leg brace he can walk fine, even kind of run. And his speech is so much clearer, the other kids can understand him no problem. All the physio has really paid off.'

She was always amazed at Jonathan's patience. Hours spent struggling to get his mouth around difficult vowel shapes. She did all the exercises with him. The speech therapist said practice was the key. They'd told her when he was six months old that he'd never speak. It made her laugh now to think of it. It was hard to ever get him to shut up.

At first Jim had made no effort to understand what his son was saying and it infuriated her how he'd turn away while Jonathan struggled to repeat himself. But slowly even he'd begun to follow most of what the boy was saying.
He'd been so cruel at first telling people their child was a vegetable. He seemed to blame her as if she'd brought this on them by not leading a healthy enough life. Sure she'd smoked, but she'd given up the minute she got pregnant. The doctors all told her it wasn't her fault. She wasn't convinced though.

Jonathan had been paralyzed since birth on his right side. The left side of him was perfect. Sometimes she did wonder if the crippled half came from her. But there was no point in dwelling on it, there was too much to be done. The physiotherapist had explained that Jonathan needed to build up the muscles he could control to compensate for the ones he couldn't. This meant constant physical exercises. He'd only started to be able to walk just over a year ago, but the progress he'd made was truly remarkable. Mental stimulation was also vital. The doctors had said he was severely brain damaged, but anyone could see what a smart kid he was. She'd been down to the local school and they were very enthusiastic about trying to admit him in a year's time.
'It would really be a dream come true to have him go to an ordinary school' she told the specialist who'd stopped taking notes on what she was saying and was looking out the window.

'Am I boring you?' she suddenly asked sharply.

She knew it was silly but the truth was she hadn't only come to Dr Browne for advice on how to make sure Jonathan's progress continued, but also to prove how far he'd come. As the leading specialist, she'd thought he of all people would be impressed by what Jonathan had achieved with her help. She'd quit her job in an advertising agency so that she could dedicate herself to giving him a chance. Not that she regretted it for one minute, though there had been days when she thought she would go out of her mind with the stress and worry of it all. But she'd fought every step of the way to make sure Jonathan got the best of everything. It still made her angry when she thought of that doctor who'd suggested putting him in a home when he was born. People could be very ignorant, but she was sure Dr Browne would understand.

'I'm sorry' she said. 'You just don't seem very interested in what I have to say.'

Dr Browne took a handkerchief out of his pocket and began to polish his glasses. He cleared his throat.

'The thing is my dear lady.' He spoke slowly as if she were a child herself. 'This kind of progress often occurs early on with these kind of children. But it doesn't last. The paralysis spreads. Plus the brain is unable to grow properly so that mental retardation becomes inevitable. He will regress.'

His voice was calm and even, but she felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach.

'But... but he's doing so well,' she gasped at last.

'I am merely stating the facts as they stand.' Dr Browne put his glasses back on. 'Of course I'm happy to examine the boy if you still wish, for my usual private consultancy fee, but I believe it would be a waste of both our time.'
Somehow she managed to get her coat on and stumble out of Dr Browne's office. The coldness of his tone made her feel he was affronted by her arrogance in imagining that her son was special.

On the train on the way back she sat staring out the window with the tears streaming down her face. They didn't seem to be part of her, just so much water flowing. She'd been so full of hope and determination on the way there, and with only a few sentences, Dr Browne had sucked all the energy out of her. She felt tired in the marrow of her bone. The walk from the station seemed to take forever, but she was dreading arriving home.

She let herself into the house and was surprised by the silence. She called out Jonathan's name, then her husband's, but there was no answer. Fear gripped her heart. Maybe he'd fallen while she was away. She heard a sound from out in the garden and opened the back door.

Jonathan was standing there laughing as Jim ran after a football.

'What a shot. And the Man U keeper makes another spectacular save.' Jim threw himself at the ball performing a theatrical tumble to Jonathan's delight.
'Mum's back' he shouted when he saw her.

Jim could see how exhausted she was and insisted on making her dinner.

'What do those doctors know about anything,' he said and held her tight.


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aoife mannix

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