This book is about a journey. Every one of us is on a journey that leads us into a labyrinth. The roads we travel on are not always straight; they have curves, bumps, and cracks, and travel is not easy. Even so, we continue on that road, trusting that it will lead us to someplace that answers the questions we hold. Once we get there, we understand why the path was not straight. The detours that we took were our greatest learning lessons.
My journey is one of self-love. Once I started to appreciate who I was, my life began to change. I stopped pushing against my brick wall, which was, in my case, being born with cerebral palsy and fighting it for as long as I can remember. Accepting that I have cerebral palsy has enabled my life to evolve; I became humble and empowered and began to understand love.
What is your journey? Has it been a straight road or a meandering one? Reflect on that for a moment. See your truth as you read through the pages of this book, and find your "aha" moment to lead you to your own empowerment.
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Read an Excerpt
The Little Engine That Did It
By Richard John Tscherne, Anita Misra-Press
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Dr. Richard John Tscherne
All rights reserved.
I Just Couldn't Wait ...
When I think back on my life, truly it can be said that miracles do happen. I was born 3 months premature on April 8th, 1962. I guess I was impatient to get started. I was in an incubator for six weeks before I could breathe on my own, and then in the premature nursery for an additional three months. Years later when I was old enough to understand, my mother would describe the events of that day to me. At 9:30 pm on every birthday she would say, "When you were born, you were so small, the priests gave you last rites twice. You were in an incubator for 3 months and finally baptized at 6 months". If you were to talk to my parents they would say my survival was due to medical science. However, if you were to talk to my grandparents who are very religious, they would say it is because I am a Sunday child and I am a miracle of God.
My childhood was happy, my mother did her utmost to see that my needs were met and that I grew up as well adjusted as any other child. At around the age of two my parents realized that physically I was not developing as quickly as my peers. When most children were crawling, climbing, standing, and getting into things, I had difficulty just sitting. They decided to have me evaluated to find out if there were any problems and determine if anything could be done. I remember being taken to many specialists who poked and prodded me without any explanation of my symptoms. Undaunted, my parents continued having me evaluated until I was finally diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development, usually due to premature birth. In my case my coordination, balance, and walking were affected. A man of science for the first time gave my parents hope for the future and became a pivotal figure for me. His name was Dr. Monroe Schneider.
First, Dr. Schneider got me fitted for braces to assist me in walking. I remember them very well. They were brown, went up to my ankles and squeaked when I walked. I was four years old when I first walked. My father and I went to visit my Nana in Queens. My father put me on his shoulders as we went up the stairs to her apartment that always smelled of moth balls. My father asked if she wanted to see something that I could do, he then asked me if I wanted to walk for her, and I said yes. At this point she left the kitchen for a few minutes and came back and sat down on a chair. She had in her hand a gold coin and she said to me, "Richard, if you walk to me, I will give this coin to you". My father was behind me, he didn't hold my hand but I could feel him. My eyes were fixed on my grandmother and all I wanted to do was show her what I could do. This walk started tentatively, my first steps were unsure, but as I continued, my confidence got better and I could see my Nana's smile, she was so happy. I remember the hug she gave me; I felt so much love from her. I still have that gold coin.
I have many such pleasant memories of my childhood. I remember my father's Pontiac Sky Chief four-door car. I loved that car; it was brown and white with a beige interior. It had leather seats and I can remember being with my father, playing with the radio and the leather buttons on the seats. He used to let me sit on his lap and let me steer the car. I thought I was driving, but my legs were too short to touch the pedals. My father and I spent a lot of time driving in this car, particularly when I began physical therapy. I would have to go to Brooklyn weekly to learn how to sit up and then walk. On one such excursion, my father looked at the car next to ours and told me that it was Sandy Kofax, the pitcher for the Dodgers. I remember waving and smiling at him. Of course my favorite baseball player was Mickey Mantle who played for the New York Yankees. My father liked the Yankees so, of course, I liked them too.
I really didn't like going to Brooklyn. Not only would I need to be evaluated for an extended period of time by the doctor, but my legs would be stretched in positions that hurt. I remember being examined by numerous doctors who would give their opinions on what the most appropriate treatment would be. I felt very popular and special as I sat on a table wearing a hospital gown and Dr. Schneider would introduce me to the various physicians. We did this for about two years every couple of months, and after that time, Dr. Schneider met with my parents to discuss my first set of corrective surgeries. I remember it was around Halloween in October, the leaves were changing colors. My mother explained to me that one day I would be going to the hospital for a little while because I would be having an operation to help me walk. Dr. Schneider would be there and he would be the one who would help me. I felt good about this, because I liked Dr. Schneider and I knew he cared and wouldn't hurt me. I used to love to go and see him. He would come into the examining room always with a smile, dressed in a white lab coat and always had on a bow tie.
The night before my surgery, an orderly came to shave my legs. I thought this was very strange and wondered why he was doing this. The following morning Miss Bailey came to me and said I was going to have a wonderful journey. First they would take me to a room and put a mask on my face and ask me to breathe in and out. This would take me to a magical place, I would have wonderful dreams, then I would wake up and be back in my bed again, and the surgery would be over. She said when I was allowed to eat again she would bring me Captain Crunch cereal because I told her it was my favorite. Next, they put me on a stretcher with squeaky wheels. I couldn't see anyone but I remember looking at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling as they passed over my head. I remember counting to myself, I think I got to 25. Then suddenly, these big doors opened and there was a strong antiseptic smell in a huge room. The people around me were dressed in funny green uniforms and looked like Martian's. I then heard Dr. Schneider's familiar voice. I couldn't see his face because it was covered with a green mask but I could see his big eyes. I was a little frightened but remember being reassured because Dr. Schneider was there.
I asked if I could hold his hand and remember squeezing it tight as they placed the mask over my face. I drifted off to sleep and recall having a dream. I felt as if I was floating in the air and as I looked down, I saw a group of people standing over a body. I felt as if my back was pressing against the ceiling of the room and at a closer look I saw to my amazement that the person lying on the operating table was me! I remember passing through the ceiling and floating in the clouds. Next I was in a boat, it was hot and humid, I could hear wild animals (birds and monkeys), and also the sound of drums. The boat started moving, straight down the river, with no oars to steer it. I was heading toward a brilliant white light. I became engulfed in this white light. I met this large figure that I had seen in dreams before. He was at least seven feet tall, dressed in a black silk robe with diamond buttons down the front. I noticed that he had long fingers and delicate hands. I couldn't see his face but I knew he was wearing some type of headdress because there was a huge diamond in the middle of it. The only thing I could see were his warm eyes. We had become acquainted years before when I was about 2 years of age and would wake up in the middle of the night to see this figure standing at the foot of my bed, looking straight at me. I knew he was a safe presence and he was there to assist me. I can't explain it, not even out loud to myself, but he brought on a sense of peace that was undeniable. There were other times when I would awake and the same regal native American would be sitting on my bed in full headdress stroking the nape of my neck. I remember reflecting on the dream and wondering what it meant. It was around the time that I turned 6, coincidentally, when I began grade school that the visions had ceased. It may sound strange, but when I realized I was no longer going to see him, I had felt a sense of loss. It wasn't until later on in my adult life, when I had begun studying metaphysics that I started to learn the importance of these dreams, which I will explore a little later.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the experience in the hospital, although lonely, was the beginning of my assimilation into society. With Dr. Schneider's assistance, I would be given the ambulatory skills that would be essential for me to survive and experience my environment through my senses. Up until this time, my parents, specifically my mother, were my link to the outside world. I couldn't venture forth and experience the world on my own, so my mother brought the world to me. Most of the time I looked out the window and listened to WABC on a transistor radio my mother had given me. I remember waking up in the morning and thinking "I can't wait till mommy gets here." My mother would usually arrive at the hospital around 11am. She would bring food with her from home. Sometimes fried chicken or homemade soup from my Oma. If I was really lucky, she would get me a hamburger from the diner across the street from the hospital. The other fringe benefit of being at the hospital was that I became quite popular. All my relatives came to see me, and I usually got a small gift everyday—it felt like Christmas! However, I hated being in that bed, it was too hard, made my rear end numb, and I was unable to sleep at night. When I couldn't sleep, I would try to amuse myself with a flashlight gun my father bought me. I would shine it across the room over the other kids heads in the children's ward where I was staying. Too bad I didn't understand that I was waking everyone up each night I became bored.
Eventually my stay at the hospital came to an end, it was time to go home, and that made me very happy. While I was saying goodbye to the other kids, I started to feel bad as some of them weren't going to leave because they had no families. It turns out that some families would abandon their children to be cared for by the state because their families did not want to care for a child with CP. To this day, it still saddens me to think of those children. Thankfully I was not one of those statistics. After being in the hospital recovering for four weeks, my parents came to take me home. My father carried me out in his strong arms as I said goodbye to everyone who helped me. I remember hoping that I would never see that place again.
Once I came home I had to deal with a whole new set of problems. I was confined in a half body cast, I couldn't sit up, mostly laying flat on my back or on my stomach. For a young child, it was absolute torture! The cast itched terribly, but my mother came up with a creative remedy for this—she would take the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner, stick it down my cast, and the sucking action of the vacuum relieved my itch!
After weeks of being in the casts, my grandfather drove my mother and I to the hospital to get them removed. Dr. Schneider came into the room with an electric saw that he explained he would have to use to remove the casts. The saw was silver, had a small round circular blade, and made a loud noise when turned on. When he placed it on my cast, my entire leg started to vibrate. I heard and felt the saw cutting through the plaster and felt the warmth of the blade against my leg. I kept thinking he would make a mistake, slip and cut my leg off. Try explaining to a 4 year old that you won't cut his leg off as you saw off his leg cast! It made me very uncomfortable and I began to cry. He immediately stopped and reassured me that it wouldn't cut my leg. But, I was stubborn and wouldn't listen. After persuasion didn't work on me, Dr. Schneider removed the casts with a pair of pliers.
Dr. Schneider reassured me and said that once I started moving again my legs would feel better. My new challenge was to walk using crutches. I had only worn braces up until now but it was time to switch to crutches, how is this going to work? I was excited about this prospect because I hated the braces. First of all they were ugly, the shoes were brown, and were up to my ankle. Having had the surgery, I could now get different shoes; I had always wanted a pair of hush puppies. A physical therapist would come to the house once a week to teach me how to walk with the crutches. I remember her very well, her name was Mrs. Hanson, and she was very pretty with long straight dark brown hair that went down past her shoulders.
The first time she came over my house, she came directly from the hospital and was wearing a white uniform that made me somewhat shy. After spending so much time in a hospital, it was a little intimidating to have a nurse in my own home. Thankfully she must have caught on to my discomfort and gratefully understood my reservations, as she never wore her uniform again to the house. Mrs. Hanson taught me how to crawl, which I had never done before. She taught me how to sit up without using pillows to prop me. I remember the first time I kneeled down, it felt weird like I was going to fall over, and I didn't like it very much. The most important thing she taught me, however, was to fall. We used to practice this and she taught me that I should not be afraid. When I felt myself going down, I should put my hands out to protect me. By being relaxed, I would not hurt myself.
After about two months, I was able to walk fairly well with the crutches and felt a sense of freedom that I had never felt before. For the first time in my life, I was exploring my environment on my own. Now that I had mastered this, I was ready to return to Mrs. Levitt's class. I remember her as a very gentle person who always had a smile for me and taught me a few things that I will never forget. You see, I could never write my name. I always had problems writing the letter C. I used to make it like a capital E and leave the middle line out so it looked like a capital C with corners on it. Anyway, Mrs. Levitt noticed this and she would write the letters of my name in big dots and tell me to trace them with a pencil. Because I enjoyed doing this, I didn't realize that I was really learning how to shape the letters with my hand and control the pencil with my fingers. One day she gave me a piece of blank red construction paper (my favorite color at that time) and she asked me to write my name without the help of the dotted letters. I said I wasn't sure if I could but on her insistence, I tried, and really surprised myself because I was able to write my name with a round C. I was so proud of myself and so was she.
I could never put my jacket on by myself mainly because my arms were too stiff and I couldn't bend my elbows behind me. Because of this, someone always had to help me. One day, Mrs. Levitt brought my jacket and I thought she would assist me to put it on. Instead, she said "today you will learn how to put it on by yourself". First she told me to put my jacket on the table, place my hands in the sleeves, and flip it over my head. After I did this, she said, "you see Richard, you put your jacket on all by yourself, aren't you proud"? You know I still flip my jacket on the same way today! I will always remember Mrs. Levitt fondly. She was one of the first people in my life who assisted me in many small ways whenever I was afraid, and made me see what I could accomplish when I was gently encouraged.
Growing up, I was comfortable at the Cerebral Palsy (C.P.) center in Queens because I was just like everyone else although there were some kids that were physically less capable than I was. I remember playing house with Helen and Suzy, my first 'crushes'; Helen would always be my wife and Suzy would be my daughter. I remember being thrilled that I got to dress as a Russian cosmonaut for the Halloween costume party—Russian cosmonauts were on the nightly news then so it was pretty cool! There was also the time I was asked to play Chicken Little in the kindergarten play as I had the loudest voice. I had a good time and if I forgot my lines, the speech teacher was hiding behind the piano on stage ready to help me out.
Excerpted from The Little Engine That Did It by Richard John Tscherne, Anita Misra-Press. Copyright © 2013 Dr. Richard John Tscherne. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I Just Couldn't Wait, 1,
Where Am I Now? Is This the Place?, 9,
Look Mom, No Hands!, 22,
The First and Last Dance, 26,
Learning to Fly, 30,
Leaving my Cocoon, 40,
My Brain is Just a Little Slanted, 47,
My Home Away From Home and Other Adventures, 49,
Becoming a Master?, 54,
Working For a State of Confusion, 60,
Gonna Be a PHed, 67,
Women are Good Teachers and Other Lessons Learned, 75,
Miss Tina, 83,
Will I Ever Get Off of This Treadmill?, 98,
Woo-hoo, I Think?, 105,
A Feeling of Emptiness, Not a Magic Bullet, 111,
Is The Circle Complete and New Destinations To Explore?, 115,
Paint drying on the walls, 124,
About the Author, 131,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a candid and honest memoir about Dr. Tscherne's life. It is beautifully written in his own voice. You can practically feel his energy leap off the pages as he recounts his experiences living in the world with Cerebral Palsy. He leaves no stone unturned as he addresses his childhood, his family, his friends, his career aspirations and romantic failures. His writing sucks the reader right in as I couldn't put the book down and read it all in just a few days. I highly recommend this book.
this is an inspriring story of overcoming ones own roadblocks and achieving those goals in life that eventually get you where you want to be. Dr Richard got himself there with small steps. He proves that if you take too many large steps at once, you think you can get there faster...but sometimes these large steps can over-tire you, making you fall behind...even though at first you were ahead in the race. Dr Richards story proves that small steps can get you wherever you choose to go. You just gotta take it one step at a time and believe in yourself! Then you can achieve whatever goal you set. He proves that even with a physical disability you can overcome and suceed in caputuring your dreams. He also makes a point to not forget to enjoy the path that gets you to each finish line and to stop and smell the roses as you never know where the next beautiful bloom will be!