Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Story of Tony the Teddy Bear

#HAWMC Day 7: What is an item you have kept with you that reminds you of an important time in your life? Whether it was a good day, a stressful time, or a happy moment... why does this item remind you of that period of your life?

When I was 15 years old, I dislocated my knee doing a basic gymnastics move that I'd done tons of times. In a matter of seconds, I broke my tibia, pulled my ACL off the bone, completely tore my PCL, and partially tore my MCL. Simply put, I broke my leg, tour almost all of the ligaments around my knee, and it swelled up with blood taking on the appearance of a cantaloupe. After three months of physical therapy and thinking I was almost home free, it turned out they'd missed something on the original MRI (the complete rupture of my PCL, which happens to be the strongest ligament in the body) and I required surgery. 

After the operation, I got numerous flowers, gifts, cards and the like, and I truly appreciated each and every one of them. One, however, stood out. It was a small, maybe four to five inch tall yellow stuffed teddy bear, attached to... something. I sadly can't remember - I was pretty amnesia'd and medicated up those first couple of days post-op. I'm guessing it must have been flowers. I have to imagine if it was something more permanent I would have kept it, and so I'll use flowers for the purposes of this blog. It was from a man named Tony, a colleague/friend of a family member who I'd never actually met. 

Two years prior, Tony had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I don't remember what kind, but I know it was considered terminal. I went to a catholic high school, and as part of our religion class that year. we had a prayer chain. Any student in the class could add someone, or something, and at the start of each class we all prayed the prayer chain out loud.  I had heard Tony's story from my family member, and I added him. I wasn't asked to do this, and I am not a particularly pious person who believes in the healing power of prayer above scientific and medical advancements, but I felt I had to do something to help.Despite having never met this gentleman, for some reason his story wracked at my heart. He stayed on my prayer chain at school every day. A few months later, the doctors told Tony his cancer was improving against all odds. They were dumbfounded, but his "life sentence", as it were, was reversed. Today, 23 years later, Tony is still alive and, to my knowledge, cancer free. He has told my family member that he credits me with saving his life, via the prayer chain. 

When it was my turn to be in the hospital two years later for that knee surgery, Tony remembered and sent the flowers and teddy bear. For some reason, this touched me more than all of the other gifts, cards, balloons, and everything else. Maybe it was the unexpected nature of it. Maybe it was my first glimpse of camaraderie through shared medical experiences, which I find so often today as a mental health activist in the digital age (albeit terminal cancer and a knee surgery are worlds away from 'shared experiences'). For whatever reason, the bear was special. I named it Tony, after him. I've never been super creative with names. 

I still have Tony (the bear) with a few other coveted stuffed animals from my youth - those that were passed down through family, some I received on special occasions, etc. I thought I'd pass him down, along with the others, to my kids some day. Well, we all know that story. Luckily, my boyfriend's son has a room that's perfect for a basket of stuffed animals. When I gave him the basket and asked him which he liked the best, he immediately picked Tony up from the pile. Maybe it's his bright yellow color, or the fact that he's a teddy bear and little kids seem to like teddy bears. Either way, I'm glad Tony once again has a place of honor in someone's room. One day, when my boyfriend's son is old enough to understand things like "reconstructive knee surgery", "cancer", and "prayer chains", perhaps I'll tell him Tony's story. For now, I've just told him that Tony is a very special teddy bear, and to take good care of him. 

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