YOU CAN NEVER TELL
When Dr Marlin was a young medical student, he had pretty strong convictions in the stupidity of cluttering up the world with people who are hopelessly ill and handicapped. He war s strong advocate of euthanasia. He used to argue about it with other students in his class.
“But that’s what we’re for,” they protested, “to take care of the lame, the deaf, and the blind.”
“Doctors are here to make sick people well,” Marlin always countered, “and if nothing can make them well, they’re better off dead.”
On his hospital duty one night in Marlin’s senior year, he delivered a baby to a German immigrant woman in the slum section of the town. It was born with one leg a good deal shorter than the other.
Force of habit made Doc blow into the baby’s mouth to get him to breathe, but after a moment, he thought, “What the hell! All his life, he’ll have to go around with the awful game leg. The other kids will call him “Limpy.” Why coax him to live?
“The world will never miss him.”
But, the doctor in him was strong, and somehow he couldn’t stop trying to make that small pair of lungs begin working, so he started again. Finally, there was the gasp he’d been waiting for, the rush of red to the baby’s face, and then a feebly protesting walk.
Doc picked up his bag and left, kicking himself all the way across town. “I don’t know why I did it,” he grumbled. “Too many children already in that poverty-stricken home. Why did I save this defective one? The world would be better off without such cripples.”
The years went by. Doc moved to a small manufacturing city and built up a large practice there. His youthful radicalism was now gone and Doc was just another plodding, always tired physician, working like a dog to keep people alive no manner how much better off they’d be dead. Old Hippocrates had won.
Doc had his share of troubles. His only son and his son’s wife were killed in a car accident, and Doc took their baby girl to look after her. Doc adored her. The summer she was 10, Barbara woke one morning complaining of a stiff neck and in her arms and legs.
At first it was thought to be polio, but it turned out to be a rare virus infection that occurs so seldom it rates only a brief reference in medical textbooks. In all his long practice, Dr. Marlin himself had never run across a single case of it. He called in neurologists, who shook their heads. They said there was no known cure for the disease, which always progresses slowly to a greater or lesser degree of paralysis.
“There’s a young doctor, however, who wrote an article recently about his success in handling some of these cases,” one of the specialists told Doc. “The name is T J Miller. I’d get in touch with him if I were you.”
Doc took Barbara to the small private hospital where Dr Miller had instituted crippling diseases. Doc noticed that he walked with a decided limp.
“This lame leg makes me one of them,” Dr Miller said, as he noticed Doc’s glance. “I let the children call me Limpy and they love it. In fact, I like that better than my real name—Thaddeus—which always seemed to me rather stuffy. You see, like a lot of kids, I was named after a young medical student who brought me into the world.
Dr Thaddeus Marlin swallowed hard. He remembered how, when he was a young medical student he had said to himself. “The world will never miss him.” How blind he had been in those days!
“It’s better to go through life crippled than blind,” he said.