Thursday, September 22, 2016


Here is the first example of several stories I have received concerning boyhood illness and disability, and the ways it which they left lasting marks on the one who suffered them. All of them managed to triumph over their affliction in one way of another. Jayme Odgers, the author of this current story, simply dug his heels in, refused treatment, and handled the problem in the way that he saw fit. He did the same, many years later, with other attacks of ill-health and rejection of doctors' urgent recommendations. As you'll see from the resume on his website, Odgers has a history as a graphic designer with scores of distinctions and awards, and his paintings have been widely exhibited. He is currently at work on a remarkable and deeply moving series of self-portraits...

... tracking the inevitable (for us all!) path of aging, illness, and the confrontation with death. 

I N N E R   C O N V I C T I O N
by Jayme Odgers

Truth be told, the most normal of childhoods is anything but normal. Mine was exceedingly cornbread-apple pie, Montana-mid-Western normal, so it was a considerable shock to me when my mother carted me off to the doctor’s office at roughly eight years of age. She had seen something I had been overlooking, if not completely ignoring. I was pigeon-toed. My right foot toed-in slightly; my left foot, however, turned inward considerably. To me, my feet simply seemed idiosyncratic, akin to my being left-handed. To mom, it was something that needed to be fixed. Off to the pediatrician we went. I recall feeling that if my mother thought it was important enough to see a doctor, it was. She always knew what was best.

Within a very short time at the doctor’s office it was determined that this was not going to be a quick fix by any means. In the midst of considerable confusion for me, a disturbing word arose out of the din: braces. Why did he use that word? It was a word that clearly applied only to other people, certainly not me. As the pediatrician continued to diagnose my condition and determine that I needed braces, it stopped being an abstract word, it became literal—cumbersome metal bars leather-strapped to my legs for an indeterminate amount of time. How could I run? Worse, how could I be me? At one point, my mind went blank. Strangely, the conversation that centered around my feet and legs stopped having anything to do with me. It was like an out-of-body experience.

The next thing I recall is being back home with my mother going over what the doctor had just said to be sure I understood what was to come next: going back to the doctor to be fitted with those gothic, life-altering braces on my legs. It was then that I rebelled and went against my mother’s wishes and the doctor’s demands—I simply put my foot down and absolutely refused to accept braces in my life. Even though mom was always right, and doctors were gods incarnate, I refused to obey their commands.

“What do you intend to do then?” my mother challenged. I pleaded with her to give me a chance to fix the condition myself, that I would take care of it in my own way. Slyly she acquiesced, probably knowing I’d soon change my mind and become a wiling supplicant. With an insane amount of focused concentration, heightened by a deathly fear of braces, each step I took, repeatedly, every day, every week, month after month, over time I mentally forced my feet to become straight. It worked. Mind over matter. They have remained thus to this day.

I chose this story for several reasons. I’ve always sensed that it gave my parents confidence that I could take care of myself even at an early age. It also gave me a sense that I am in charge of my own life to a greater degree than I could ever imagine.

Five years ago, at age 71, I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a hellish condition if ever there was one. Once again, I willed and worked my way out of its horrendous clutches against exceedingly stiff odds. By age 73, I had become my neurologist’s poster child for MG, free of all medication, strong and active. One year later, I was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. The doctors emphatically suggested four series of three-stage chemotherapy, and I quote, “If you live through that,” removal of my left lung. I refused both therapies, telling them I’ll take care of it in my own way. With that, they sent me home with instructions to get my papers in order.

That was two years ago. Every other day my partner and I hike in Griffith Park. When I’m at the top of the mountain after an hour-long hike up some fairly steep climbs, feeling invigorated, I look around. Not surprisingly, everyone else up there is half my age. Life is good.

P.S. Here's Jayme today, taking the waters in Lake Hemet!

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