Allyson Chavez Larkin

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Jesus Lopez Mows His Lawn

Jesus Lopez mows his own lawn. So do I of course. So do most of us; but Mr. Lopez is paraplegic. 

Twenty-five years ago, a bullet lodged in Jesus Lopez’s back severing the neurologic connection between his spine and legs. Now no signal reaches the muscles below his waist. Paralysis and deformity ensued. His feet are contracted and twisted upside down so that they look like curved bowls -- no good for walking or even standing for that matter. So, Mr. Lopez mows his yard in his wheelchair. 

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Mr. Lopez’s home health nurse keeps calling me, complaining that his dressings are dirty or have fallen off when she goes out to care for him three times a week. She can’t figure out why. So this visit I’ve got to have a “heart to heart” with him about his role in the healing process.

“Mr. Lopez, you won’t heal unless you are compliant with our wound care plan. If your dressings are dirty or wet when the home nurse sees you, you will never heal.”

“Sorry Doctora.” That is what he calls me. “I think it might be the mowing. I’ll tie a grocery bag on my foot from now on to keep the bandage clean.”

“Mowing? How do you manage that?”

“I pull my chair right up next to the mower so I can pull the crank at the same time I squeeze the start paddle on the handle.”

“It’s a push mower?” I cannot believe what I am hearing.

“You bet, self-propelled. Once I get it started, the mowing is easy.”

I shake my head.

“I pull my chair up behind the mower and push it with my left hand. I drive the wheelchair with my right.”

“That doesn’t sound safe,” I say as I inspect the horseshoe-shaped ulcer on top of his right foot, which due to his contractures, is actually resting on the footplate of his wheelchair. 

“I tie that belt around my legs to keep them from flopping if I hit a rut.” Mr. Lopez points to a frayed brown leather belt draped on the edge of his seat. A jagged tear in the cushion has been repaired with silver duct tape and a shopping bag chock full of gear -- a sack lunch, an umbrella, a blanket -- hangs off the handles. “I’ve never had a bit of trouble.”

The wound is pink and shallow. It looks like it should heal right up; but never does. It is maddening. “Dirt and debris getting into your dressing isn’t doing your foot much good either,” I say.

“I have to do it, Doctora. I have a big yard and if I don’t keep it cut, the city will fine me $75. I’m not made of money. ”

That’s true. He gets to my office by bus, but unlike a lot of my bus patients, he is never late. I should have Mr. Lopez give a class: “How to Master Public Transportation and Arrive On Time.” I didn’t even know he took the bus until one day I ran so late that I made him miss the last pick-up. He had to borrow the phone at the front desk to shift around for someone to pick him up. 

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“Jesus Lopez’s mother died,” my medical assistant warns me before I go in for our next visit. 

“I'm so sorry, Mr. Lopez,” I say as I look at his foot. 

“Thank you Doctora. I miss her. We were very close, but she was old. It was her time.” 

“You lived with her?” 

“Yes, just her and I. The house is very quiet now.”

“How are you managing? Have you had to move?”

“Doctora,” Mr. Lopez pauses waiting until I look up and give him my full attention. “My mother couldn’t get out of bed this last year. I managed to take care of her. I sure can take care of myself.”

I blush. This is the closest to an angry word I have ever had from Mr. Lopez, and I deserve every bit of it. I’ve been treating him for a year, but I don't understand a thing about his life.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean -- I just assumed.” I struggled for words. I did not want to offend this man, always so courteous and patient. “But how do you possibly manage? It’s not just your paralysis, but your feet. You can’t even -- ”

“Doctora. I got shot over twenty years ago -- and it was pretty much my own fault. For a few weeks I thought all about ‘I can’t.’ I couldn’t get out of my mind all the things I would never do. But then I decided, ‘Hey, I’m alive. The Lord is not done with me.’ So, every day I just do everything I can do.”

I am humbled and have no response. 

“So I took care of my mother. I owed her that. She gave me life and I wasn’t gonna put her in a nursing home.”

“You’re like MacGyver,” I say. 

“Oh Doctora,” Mr. Lopez laughs, “I love that show.”

I have an idea. “Do you think if I put home health on hold, you can figure out how to you reach down to your foot and dress the wound yourself everyday?”

“I’ll find a way if you tell me what I need to do.”

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“Jesus Lopez is healed.” My medical assistant moon walks in the hall outside Mr. Lopez’s room at his follow up appointment two weeks later. 

I walk into the room, hoping but not convinced. I shine the spotlight on his foot. Indeed there is a thin, translucent layer of pink tissue over the wound.

“Mr. Lopez, you are healed.” I can’t help but grin. 

“I thought you’d like that, Doctora. Thank you for healing me.”

“Mr. Lopez, are you kidding? You did it. I’m just sorry I didn’t have you change your own dressings months ago.”

“That’s OK, Doctora. You always did your best. Sometimes it takes trying different things before you get them right.”


Copyright Allyson Chavez Larkin

About Allyson Chavez Larkin

Allyson Chavez Larkin is a family physician specializing in wound care. She lives in Corpus Christi, Texas with her unfailingly patient husband, a Midwest transplant who still cannot get used to the heat, and three lovely children who are turning into amazing people right in front of her eyes. She reads and writes voraciously in her spare time. Middle grade and young adult fiction are her guilty pleasures.