Allie’s speech therapist, Dr. Deb, had the most impact on our lives in those days. Dr. Deb was an Anat Baniel Method (ABM) practitioner. She used a method of therapy incorporating touch and movement. This creates new neural pathway providing Allie’s brain with new information to realign motor functions. Brain injured patients are typically the focus of ABM therapy. Dr. Deb held an opinion that ran counter to the majority of Allie’s doctors. Allie was taking food through g-tube, but Dr. Deb was confident that Allie had the potential to take food orally. She set goals and applied techniques to develop this ability. Within a month, Allie was drinking from a bottle. In another month, she was eating solid food from a spoon.
Drinking from a bottle totally changed life for Allie, Susan, and me. Humans get comfort and pleasure from eating food. But not Allie. We eat every day so we don’t really think about it (but we do think quite a bit about eating — at least I do). Thanks to Dr. Deb, Allie had something pleasurable added to her life, and it had the most calming effect on her and, in turn, our entire household. We had one doctor to thank for that. That’s why we call Dr. Deb “The Magician.”
Dr. Deb introduced “play” into Allie’s therapy. Cause and effect toys were a major part of Allie’s activity while in Dr. Deb’s office. We watched Allie’s face while she played, and could see the wheels turning. She was thinking and processing what was happening in her environment. She was rewarded with light and sound as she took control over things in her world. She laughed when she was happy and shouted when frustrated. She communicated with us. This is behavior no one expected from Allie. Her neurologist in San Francisco set very low expectations for us. He expected Allie to be non-cognitive. Dr. Deb defied that diagnosis and was determined to set and achieve much higher goals.
Dr. Deb’s work on Allie’s neck and shoulders loosened her movements enough to discover thumb sucking and hair twirling. When Allie left the hospital, she was so stiff she couldn’t get her fingers to her mouth. Susan and I spotted Allie twirling her hair while she lay on the floor playing and listening to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Channel. We were thrilled. We were told to expect so much less from Allie.
Every three months we had to drive Allie to San Francisco for doctors’ appointments, meetings with social workers, and with lawyers in the District Attorney’s Office. The trip took six hours one way and Allie didn’t travel well. As difficult as the drive to San Francisco was, it was usually very rewarding. Doctors, especially Allie’s neurologist, were very surprised by Allie’s progress. We were so pleased that her doctors agreed with Dr. Deb’s approach and decided to remove Allie’s g-tube so she could eat food orally. Everyday we look at the little scar on Allie’s belly — it looks like a second belly button — and think of the Dr. Deb’s early intervention in Allie’s life. She is another one of Allie’s angels. Dr. Deb is an archangel.
Trying to find a place to land
While we were in San Francisco on these trips, we tried to connect with Charity but she had no permanent residence at the time. She stayed in hostels when she could, but she also stayed on the street. We sent her money when we could, but it was never enough to “fix” her situation. We could only get her off the street for a few days at a time.
It was difficult for Charity and me to talk to each other during that time in our lives. Day-to-day life was like pushing a cement truck uphill. All you could do was push hard and hope it didn’t roll over you. I broke my fatherly advice down into two daily tasks. I said, “This is your job today: 1) Get food in your belly. 2) Get a roof over your head. These are your priorities. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow.”
I don’t think I’ll be “Father of the Year” anytime soon. But that was the best that could be done at the time. This is a place no dad wants to be.
Charity ended up across the Bay in Berkeley. She started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for young adults and made friends. One friend made room for Charity in her dorm style accommodations. Charity was sleeping on the floor but she was off the street. Life for Charity began to change. She met a hospitable angel.
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