Her steps echoed down the cold corridor as they neared the hallway's final door. She was with a group of student nurses on a field trip to the local state-run developmental center -- a place for the disabled with nowhere else to go. The last room was called the sunroom, a light airy place where children could be wheeled to get a taste, however brief, of the outside world. The group streamed into the room, and then stopped, struck by the sight before them.
The sunporch was where they took the hydrocephalic children. Excessive brain fluid had pooled inside their crania, causing their heads to balloon to startling proportions. They lay in separate beds, silent, trapped in their own small world.
The student nurses gazed at the motionless children for a few seconds. Then they began to leave, ready to put the visit behind them. But one nurse hesitated, a young woman of only 18. Instead of leaving, she moved closer to the nearest bed, and that is when she noticed the eyes. The child was looking at her. His swollen head and tiny limbs made his age hard to guess, but he wasn't more than six or seven. His dark, unblinking eyes stared at the young nurse. She rocked back, heart pounding, and turned away. And that's when she realized the others were watching too.
The solitary nurse stood transfixed as the children held her in their gaze. Some of the eyes were blank and disinterested, as if looking out from some great distance. But others watched her intensely, almost urgently. One, a young girl whose head seemed nearly the size of the rest of her body, blinked her large wide eyes repeatedly, struggling to communicate but not knowing how. There was a message in those big eyes, but it was forever locked away.
The young woman's back hit the open door. Her sweaty palms gripped the cool wall. An instructor told her to hurry, the bus was leaving.
I know this story because that young nurse became a mother to myself and 15 other children -- all but one adopted, and 14 of whom were disabled, including one just like those hydrocephalic children whose eyes spoke words she chose never to forget.
With a Perspective, I'm Jonathan Nelson.
Jonathan Nelson lives in Sacramento where he works for a consulting firm and is active in several nonprofits.