Articles

HOW PETER POCOCK GOT A BREAK

Eva-Lis Wuorio May 1 1950
Articles

HOW PETER POCOCK GOT A BREAK

Eva-Lis Wuorio May 1 1950

HOW PETER POCOCK GOT A BREAK

Articles

Eva-Lis Wuorio

How Peter Pocock Got a Break

Continued from page 15

about six years ago in the United States.

Cerebral palsy is a more frequent cause of crippling than polio, yet hardly anything has been done about it. It’s known that it is caused by a brain injury, usually at birth. This can be mechanical or, more often, the result of anoxia (lack of oxygen). But it may strike at any age following apoplexy, encephalitisoranaccident. In Peter Pocock’s case the birth injury was due to the malformation of his mother’s pelvic bone; had he been delivered by a Caesarean operation, as his sister Ann later was, he would probably have been all right.

There has always been a tragic misconception that because cerebral palsy is a brain injury the mentality is also affected. For a long, long time that worry stayed with Jean and Neil Pocock—was Peter going to grow up mentally deficient? Latest figures indicate that of seven such children only two may be feeble-minded, one will die in infancy, one is badly handicapped, two moderately handicapped and one slightly handicapped.

This handicap, in Peter’s case, as he began to grow up, proved to be inability to control his muscles, either for holding himself still, walking, reaching out for things, or talking. His is the “athetoid” type of cerebral palsy, where the muscles are too loose; “spastic” is the opposite type, where all muscles have gone stiff and the patient can’t move them at all. The cause in both cases is the injured brain, which has short-circuited the message nerves ordinarily send to various members of the body to prompt desired movements.

So when Peter intended to talk or smile he could only achieve a moan or a grimace; and, growing older, when he wants to walk his legs refuse to move him properly and, instead, jerk him into an awkward, uncontrolled gait or fling his body about wildly. For years he could not sit, stand, or even lie still, and could not for a moment be left

For nearly four years the Pococks watched this, and did not know what it was and could find no help for their son.

Neil’s discharge from the Army came some months after Peter’s birth; he joined his family in Toronto and went in the shoe business. He would try to hide his anxiety about his son to encourage Jean. But his “Don’t worry, everything will turn out all right” merely aggravated her.

“I know there is something wrong with my baby,” she would say. “1 know it.”

Some Children Are Slower

When Peter was three months old the Pococks moved to London, Ont. When you carried him these days you had to be extremely careful. His head would fall back, as a dead weight. When he lay flat on his back in the crib he couldn’t move, couldn’t pull his arm out from under himself, or move his head. He had to be fed on his back because otherwise the food would fall out of his mouth.

Jean took him to another child

“Nothing has developed yet,” he told her. “We’ll have to wait.”

Very few Canadian doctors had then (or have now) studied cerebral palsy. This one had no idea, obviously, that each day’s waiting made Peter’s chances slimmer, every day that delayed training taught him more firmly the wrong mannerisms and

lessened his chances of learning the correct ones.

The most difficult parts of that first year were the bumbling kindnesses of friends. They would say, “Oh, don’t worry, some children are slower than others.” Or, “Look at Peter, he’s cut his teeth earlier than our Jim. If it isn’t one thing it’s another.”

“As though teeth mattered,” Jean would say to Neil.

There are instances where a cerebral palsy baby has broken up a home. Husband has said to wife, “It must be a taint in your family. Nothing like this has ever happened in ours.” The Cerebral Palsy Society of New York City lists stories of mothers who have become alcoholics in their misery; instances where the afflicted children have been considered unmentionable and shameful and hidden throughout their lives. In Canada many quite sane but ill children have been entered in the hospital school for the mentally afflicted at Orillia, Ont., because it was thought in the past that such children were mentally deficient.

Neil and Jean Pocock both came from well-to-do families and hadn’t ever been familiars of tragedy or even distress. Neil went to the University of Toronto Schools, and later did particularly well as a salesman. Jean is a graduate of Havergal, a private school for girls, and the University of Toronto. They’d met on a blind date, but they had always known the same people.

Their first three years of marriage, before Neil went into the Army, were lighthearted. Neil, a traveling salesman, would take Jean with him wherever he went. They were young and much in love. They were not seasoned to trouble.

And now, here in their own home, they met it. They would lean over Peter’s crib, and only the eyes of the baby would tell them he recognized them, for he could not make himself move. Their grief became a challenge.

They knew, without saying it in so many words, that they would do everything in their power to help their baby. And they would hold in silence the feelings of frustration, and anger, and fear, that sometimes seemed so overpowering.

Jean didn’t let up for a moment. The

baby simply could not be left alone. Even when she was taking a bath she would bring Peter in his carriage to the bathroom. The gay young Pococks were forced to spend all their evenings at home. In two years they went to the movies twice.

The First Gleam of Hope

Peter was in his third year when Neil’s sister came to visit them. An American friend, motoring in Canada, dropped over to see her. It was a surprise visit but it may easily have been the most important thing that ever happened to Peter. The visitor was a doctor and at the first glance at the small son of the house he suspected what was wrong.

Gently, but directly, he told Peter’s parents. “You can do a lot to help

“But how can you tell so quickly,” they questioned, astonished. “All this time we’ve only got ‘you can’t tell for certain yet,’ and ‘wait.’ ”

“Well,” said the American, “I’ve put some time on this problem. See how he kicks his feet up together, not first one then the other like normal babies do. That’s the simplest indication. Now, what you should do, is to put a weight on one of his feet at a time so he’ll learn to co-ordinate his movements.

“You see, a cerebral palsy child is not ill. He’s suffered an injury. Though the injury is in his brain it doesn’t mean he is a mental case. It merely means that, the control centre for his muscles, located in his brain, has been injured. He can’t send messages to his limbs to move automatically. Peter will have to memorize how to walk, how to control his jaw, how to lift his arm, or pick up a spoon.

“And mind you,” the doctor added, “many people born with cerebral palsy grow up to have way above normal intelligence. Isn’t it logical? If, even as a child, you must concentrate on putting out your hand to pick up a toy rather than just doing it without thinking, your brain will get such concentrated exercise it’s bound to develop more than otherwise.”

That was the first glimmer of hope. Now Neil and Jean Pocock concen-

trated all their efforts on trying to find as much information as possible about cerebral palsy cases, and what had been done to help them. They found hardly anything had been done in Canada. In the United States there were a few specialized clinics. It would have cost them from $300 to $360 a month to .send Peter there; that is, if they could have got him in. The waiting list was long.

The Pococks decided to start a saving fund right away for Peter’s ultimate entry to such a clinic. Meanwhile they became ingenious themselves in trying to help him.

They screwed down all the chairs in the dining room so they wouldn’t slip when Peter grabbed at them for support. They would hold toys out of his reach to make him concentrate in directing his hand. They built up an ordinary child’s walker—the first quite successful effort to mobilize him—and showed him he might get about upright, as well as on all fours. (When he crawled he’d do it like a frog, bringing both knees up at the same time.)

They had noticed his delight in other children, so when summer came Jean and Neil decided they would try to tempt playmates for Peter. The Pocock garden took on the aspects of a miniature fairground. There were wading pools, a couple of sand boxes, and mountains of toys. The toys were carefully selected for their therapeutical value to Peter. For example, he loved toy cars but they had to be just the right size so his hand would go around them. His interest made him concentrate in reaching for them, and trying to push them along gave him marvelous exercise.

They tried to find him bulky cutlery and deep dishes held to the table by suction cups. All of it was far more expensive than normal toys. Neil judges that in Peter’s few years they’ve spent an average of about $35 a month merely in trial and error of therapeutic toys for him.

Peter was growing into a slim boy with huge bright eyes and undefeatable cheerfulness. Though he was constantly falling and giving himself severe bumps he’d learned not to cry. He could not pick himself up, so Jean could never take her eyes off him. Sometimes she’d try to leave him in the garden and work near the kitchen window overlooking it, but hardly ever even five minutes went by without Peter needing her help at least a couple of times. Yet, even if she wasn’t immediately by him, he would sprawl in his awkward, hurting tumbles patiently until she came for him.

Junior Leaguers Had an Idea

The Pococks made a schedule to divide Peter’s care. In the morning Neil would get him up, wash, dress and feed him. He learned to shave with one hand, holding his son up with the other, while the small boy would concentrate in trying to imitate his dad’s movements.

Jean took over until lunch. Neil knew the nerve strain of the everysecond attendance and willingly relieved her at noon. Jean would have him throughout the long afternoon and then in the evening Neil took over.

When Peter was two his sister Ann was born, delivered by a Caesarean. Some months later Jean paid a visit, with Peter, to a specialist who did not know of the arrival of the second baby.

The elderly, conservative doctor gave no hope for Peter. “Not only that,” he warned, “but you’d better read this.” Then he handed Jean a book. It was the grievous story of a woman whose second baby also had cerebral palsy.

Jean, trembling with anger at the memory, recalls: “If I’d been given that book while I was still carrying Ann I know I would have committed suicide. I couldn’t have stood the suspense.”

Ann, now two, is lively, lovely and

Once a doctor friend took Neil Pocock aside. “Send that boy of yours to the Orillia mental hospital,” he said. “That’s where children like him should go. There is no future for him. And what’s the point of ruining your family’s life by having him always around the house.”

“No,” said Neil. “He’s my son. We are trying to find out how to help him. We’ll succeed.”

Jean says, “I’d no more put Peter into an institution than fly to the

It was the grit and patience of parents like the Pococks added to the accumulative work of progressive doctors that make the chances of a cerebral palsied child so much brighter in 1950. It had small beginnings.

When the Junior League of Toronto in the spring of 1948 started talking about opening a cerebral palsy children’s clinic a doctor who was to speak at their meeting asked Jean Pocock to bring down Peter to show the need for such a clinic.

You put yourself into Jean’s spot.

Here were girls she had gone to school with, whom she had known at dances and parties. Some of them didn’t even know she was married, much less that she had a cerebral palsy child. She hated exhibitionism, and more than that she hated subjecting Peter to the strain.

But she and Neil had agreed on one thing. Whatever they could ever do to try to get more interest and aid to other babies like Peter was a job they had

She drove from London to the Royal York in Toronto one hoon. The Roof Garden ballroom was crowded with well-dressed, smart young women. Jean slowly walked down the length of the hushed, long hall, her heart in the hand that supported shaking, stumbling, trembling little Peter.

The doctor demonstrated Peter’s disabilities, made him reach for a spoon, put it back. It was a painstaking, painful operation.

“There was no doubt in our minds after that,” one Junior Leaguer says. “The cerebral palsy clinic was a project we wanted to take on. I don’t suppose many of us were far from tears.”

The clinic opened on April 29, 1949, at 11 Carlton Street, Toronto, in an old church building. It is equipped with the latest aids, perfected in the States, to help cerebral palsy children and is staffed by an orthopedic surgeon and neuropsychiatrist who give their time screening the children who apply for treatment. There are a full-time occupational therapist and a full-time physiotherapist, whom the Junior League sent for six months’ training in the U. S. There is a nursery-school teacher who is also a trained nurse and a speech therapist who comes one afternoon a week.

Down in London two years ago Neil Pocock started to make contact with other parents with a similar problem. A group of five got together one night. Some of the children were school age but there were no special facilities for training them. The London parents began to promote. And when the Princess Elizabeth Public School was built and opened the best room went to the cerebral palsy children.

The parents association organized evenings and entertainments for grownups suffering from this injury. Pocock is today the president of the Ontario Federation for the Cerebral Palsied and

the vice-president of the Cerebral Palsied Parents Council of London.

When the Ontario Society for Crippled Children began its plans in 1947 for the establishment of a training centre for cerebral palsy cases the parents’ group in London attracted the Society’s attention. Seven miles from London there was the pleasant Woodeden estate which the society had used as summer camp for its children. There they opened Canada’s first allyear residential training centre for cerebral palsy children and Peter Pocock was among the first patients admitted.

Peter Set Out for School

The little patients are from three to six—the age when much can be done. At the moment there are 11 of them at Woodeden. In Ontario alone, in this age group, there are about 1,000 cases. But 11 is all Woodeden can accommodate.

Meanwhile, Peter’s parents work on preparing his future. They know that when, in two years, he comes home again, there will be much to do. They are training themselves with conferences with other parents, reading everything they can lay hands on about the care of such children, and shaping their future to help him.

Perhaps the heartbreak helps. There was the day last fall when all the small children started school. Peter had heard them talk about it for weeks— though he cannot speak he does understand what goes on and is able to tell his parents about it, from the story he

wants to have read to him, to the things that annoy him.

This day he had watched through the window the children he knew going to this new fascinating thing, “school.” And he told his mother he’d like to go out, certain of his mother’s understanding. (Someday a speech therapist may be able to help him speak.)

She let him out and went to get some of his toys. When she came back he was nowhere to be seen. She ran to the street. There, upon the hard pavement, making fast despite the thin cushion of overalls over his bare knees, Peter frog-hopped toward the corner, in the direction the other children had taken. Peter was going to school, too.

But Peter’s future is brighter today than it has ever been for children so afflicted. Even in the days when only the parents struggled blindly to help their sons and daughters many a cerebral palsy child grew up to be an engineer, a lawyer, teacher, research worker, journalist, typist. Today, a child blessed with loving parents who are willing to give much to his training in time and patience, may well take his place in the world.

As Dr. Kenneth Rogers, of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, speaking of Peter Pocock, said, “He will be able to take care of himself as he grows. There have been others before him, similarly handicapped, who have not even had the training Peter is getting, who have adjusted themselves, sometimes brilliantly, into normal life. For Peter’s mind will be trained to acuteness and strength and his courage will be his strong right hand.” if