by Willie Lagarde
Many hirsute or hairy men live their entire lives unaware of a congenital condition unless there is trauma to the tail bone area. For me it was a fall from a ladder to Mt 5 on Yorktown in ‘44. I never considered the problem service related because it could have happened anywhere and this was 1952. However it gave me access to a VA hospital and experiences I would have otherwise never known.
Corrective surgery is not considered serious or dangerous but procedures of the fifties and perhaps now used a controlled healing process to prevent recurrence. This meant daily visits to the OR where nurses changed the wedge and dressing.
After the third day I was ambulatory and had the run of the hospital including a dining room and all the recreation facilities.
An ex-army tank driver in my multi-bed ward with the same problem and on the same schedule became my dinner table mate as well as pool and ping pong opponent.
The hospital (McGuire General in Richmond VA) was a huge complex with all the buildings connected by enclosed and ramped walkways allowing access to men who were not bedridden but with various levels of disability.
To the best of my knowledge everyone in the hospital was a WW2 veteran.
Many were paraplegics; some who were paralyzed from the chest down but had the use of their arms and able to breath without a respirator. They were classified as 80% physically disabled.
They were unable to sit up on their own and would be completely immobile except they had learned to use canes to propel themselves laying face down on gurneys.
If you saw one coming down the hall make way because they moved fast with no brakes except the tips of those canes.
The tanker and I were playing eight ball pool when two of these men wheeled in and one asked if they could play. They rarely spoke or socialized with any other than those in the same predicament so we readily agreed. I was very curious to know how, when and where they were wounded but dare not ask. He would only speak one more time and I will never forget the words.
Moving around the table for shots they maneuvered those gurneys with such skill we found ourselves overlooking their handicap and took note of what excellent pool players they were.
After they won every one of several games I thought we may finally have a chance to win because one of them was facing a nearly impossible shot on the eight ball.
Damn if he don’t make the shot and not thinking I said, “you lucky sunnavabich.” Without a trace of bitterness or resentment in his voice he replied:
“If I was lucky I would be standing up playing this game.”