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The Tiny Foot

By: Joe Wheeler

Several years ago a fragile young woman came to my office, expecting her first baby. One month before she was due, the baby was in a breech position. The death rate of breech babies is high because of the difficulty in delivering the after-coming head and the imperative need of delivering it quickly after the body is born.

During the delivery, I waited as patiently as I could for the natural forces of expulsion to thoroughly dilate the firm maternal structures. At last the time had come, and I gently drew down one little foot. I grasped the other, but it would not come down beside the first one. To my consternation, I saw that the other little foot would never be beside the first one. The entire thigh from the hip to the knee was missing.

I knew what a dreadful effect this would have upon the unstable nervous system of the mother. The family would almost certainly impoverish itself in taking the child to every famous orthopedist in the world. I saw this little girl sitting sadly by herself, while the other girls danced and ran and played.

I could slow my hand; I could delay those few short moments. No one in this world would ever know. The mother, after the first shock of grief, would be glad she had lost a child so sadly handicapped.

The little pink foot on the good side bobbed out from its protecting towel and pressed firmly against my slowly moving hand, the hand into whose keeping the safety of the mother and the baby had been entrusted.

I couldn't do it. I delivered the baby with her pitiful little leg. Every foreboding came true. The mother was in the hospital for several months — she looked like a wraith of her former self. As the years went on, I blamed myself bitterly for not having had the strength to yield to my temptation.

Our hospital stages an elaborate Christmas party each year for the staff. This past year, three lovely young musicians on the stage played softly in unison with the organ. I was especially fascinated by the young harpist. She played extraordinarily well, as if she loved it. Her slender fingers flicked across the strings, and her face was upturned as if the world that moment were a wonderful and holy place.

When the short program was over, there came running down the aisle a woman I did not know. "Oh, you saw her," she cried. "You must have recognized your baby. That was my daughter who played the harp — the little girl who was born with only one good leg 17 years ago. We tried everything else first, but now she has a whole artificial leg on that side. Best of all, through all those years, she learned to use her hands so wonderfully. She is going to be one of the world's greatest harpists. She is my whole life and now she is so happy ... And here she is!" The sweet young girl had quietly approached us, her eyes glowing.

Impulsively I took the child in my arms. Across her warm young shoulder I saw the creeping clock of the delivery room 17 years before. I lived again those awful moments when her life was in my hand. As the last strains of "Silent Night" faded, I found the comfort I had waited for so long.

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