My beautiful grandson Max was born in early April, in the scariest part of the pandemic. He was born at our small local hospital, with his parents masked and gowned and the staff in full PPE.
We knew before his birth that Max would come to us with bilateral club feet. While congenital club foot is a very common birth defect, and can be successfully treated, it was still a scary situation for my daughter and her husband. For all of us, really!
But Max was brought into this world by his rockstar of a Momma, who labored in her Covid protectant gear and delivered all 10 lb 3 oz of him naturally.
He was brought home safely, and all of them managed to stay virus free, thank all the gods and goddesses.
Our little guy was put into casts when he was less than a week old. He wore them for a few months, having them changed weekly as he grew. Eventually he was fitted for his “boots and bar” which he wore for 23 hours a day until yesterday. That was when his orthopedist said that he could start to go barefoot for 6 hours a day. Hurray!
Over all this time, growing and gaining control of his body, Max has had his feet rotated outward and held in place to allow the bones and muscles to grow correctly.
He’s done spectacularly well and he’s going to be totally fine when this is all over in a few years.
So this morning after his Dad dropped him off to me for the day, I carefully removed his bar, then the leather strapped “boots”. I took off his socks and put one pudgy foot into each of my palms. I rubbed my thumbs across the skin of his ankles, making happy sounds and smiling at my boy with tears pouring from my eyes.
I’m so grateful. And I’m so profoundly aware of how lucky we are to have been able to give our little guy everything he needed to insure that his birth defect will never slow him down.
My daughter and her husband are both professionals. They have excellent health insurance. They are able to afford the deductibles, the copays, the uncovered parts of the treatment (including the very expensive little boots).
We live in a part of the country with great medical facilities that are within driving distance. Max’s family has a car so they can get him back and forth to the doctor’s so frequently. They have jobs with good benefits, so they can take the time needed to care for him and their older two kids. I live nearby and am able to help every day.
So it’s all going to be fine.
But as we head at last toward the Presidential election in a week and a half, I can’t help but think of all the parents out there in this country with similarly beautiful children, whom they love just as much as we love Max. I think about the many kids (about 1 in every 1,000) born with club feet like his.
What if their parents don’t have good health insurance? What if they can’t afford the copays, the weekly visits, the boots, the deductibles? I think about how awful it must be, as a parent, to be put in a position where you know what your baby needs to thrive, but to be unable to give it to them.
I picture another grandmother, bathing her grandchild and looking at his feet, still turned sharply in, still deformed at 6 or 7 months old. Maybe the family went through the casting part, but wasn’t able to get the time off to change it every week. Or maybe they had him fitted for his boots and bar, but needed a couple of months to save up the money to pay for them. Maybe they couldn’t afford them at all.
Our Max will most likely have no repercussions from his adventures with club feet. He will probably walk, run, ice skate, bike ride and swim without an issue.
What about those other kids, though? What about them?
The shortsightedness and cruelty of our profit based healthcare system will never cease to astound me. How can we endure a system where babies can’t get the care they need because for some reason in this country we have connected jobs to health insurance?
I’m going to vote for Joe Biden this year because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. But as soon as this election is behind us, I’m going to redouble my efforts to work toward universal healthcare for every single person in this country.
I’ll do it with Max’s healthy, strong feet cupped in my grateful hands.