by William L. Rush
I first met Mrs. George, the teacher for Dr. J. P. Lord's new high
school, in a small room designed for one teacher and one student.
The room had been converted into a classroom for four teenage boys.
Three of us were in wheelchairs and one walked with
a cane. Those of us in the class had a variety of medical problems.
The student with the cane was legally blind.
the three in wheelchairs, one was the victim of a gunshot wound in the head, one
had muscular dystrophy, and one had
was the one with cerebral palsy. When
I tried to vocalize, Mrs. George kidded me by saying that it sounded like the mating
call of a bull moose.
Each of us had different academic and emotional needs, ranging from
preparing for college to preparing for death.
did everything she could to help the first class of Dr. J. P. Lord High.
Mrs. George, in her fifties, was about five feet tall, had graying black
hair (which turned a lot more gray by the end of the school
year), olive skin and a high-pitched voice.
She had a habit of talking too fast, and she ended her explanations with,
"Do you see that?"
She greeted us the first day of school with a cheery, "Good morning,
you guys. This room was thrown
together at the last minute,
but I think we'll do okay. This
high school is the first of this kind in Nebraska, so we are pioneers.
Pioneers have to
put up with a few troubles. I
understand all of you know one another except Bill and David.
David, this is Bill. He has cerebral
palsy. He left school about the time you came, because this school
didn't offer high school then. Bill,
David is a Hawaiian
transplant, and he has muscular dystrophy.
He'll be nineteen on May 6. We'll
have a birthday party with dancing
I wondered if she knew what muscular dystrophy was.
I knew that David wouldn't last until his birthday.
He already had more
birthdays than most suffering from this disability.
Already his lungs were affected, which meant his breathing would require
effort all year.
"Now I'll get you started on what I want you to do.
I have expectations for all of you, do you see that?" the new,
When she came to me, I was classifying rocks to fulfill a requirement in
earth science. Sitting down beside me, she said, "I
hear you have been taking correspondence courses from the University of Nebraska
at Lincoln and haven't gotten very far
for the past three years. I know
these courses are bear-cats and take a lot of time.
But I will help you with them, and we
will shoot for graduation next spring. Also,
I'll feed you lunch if that's okay with you.
I know you would rather have one
of those young chicks that are just out of college, but you're stuck with the
old hen. Do you have any questions?"
"I don't think David will make it to his birthday.
His lungs are too weak, and these winters are hard on anybody," I spelled
out slowly on my letter board with a stylus attached to my head, commonly
referred to as a headstick.
"You and I know that, but he doesn't know that.
Just as you want that diploma, David wants his nineteenth birthday cake."
Mrs. George was true to her word. I
completed courses and started new ones at amazing speed.
However, David worsened
during the holiday season. He was
afraid to go to sleep at night for fear that he wouldn't wake up.
So Mrs. George
let him sleep in class saying, "We have hospitals across the street, and if
we have to visit them, we can be there in
five minutes. So, David, you are
safer here than anywhere else."
Once when David was having trouble breathing, she had to massage his
chest all afternoon. While she was
doing it, she said
to the physical-therapist aide standing by with oxygen, "David is helping
me build up my tennis arm, so if you see a five-foot
woman with bulging biceps on the tennis curt, it will be me.
This is fantastic exercise! Do
you see that?"
One day we were discussing some dull subject for my world-history course
when she said, "When I'm working with the other
two guys, I can't keep an eye on David's breathing so I'll leave it up to you,
Bill, okay? If he slumps over, make
of your bull-moose noises to get my attention.
He doesn't look good, does he? But
we'll keep him in school as long as
possible. At least his mother doesn't have to watch over him when he is
here. Now we should be able to
finish this damn
history course in March, if we are lucky. This
is a dry course, and I'm sure you're fed up with it, because I am!"
Frequently, when he was gasping for air, David would look at me and say,
"I'm all right, Bill. I'm all
right. Thanks for watching
Fortunately, my bull-moose yell was never needed.
The vigil, however, matured me greatly.
I watched David, and in doing
so, I became aware of his desire to live. Seeing
him fight for every breath he took, I suddenly knew the value of living.
So when I had to do some boring research, I didn't mind, because at least
I could do it without worrying about breathing. I think this was the lesson that Mrs. George was teaching me
by having me keep an eye on David.
April 10 was David's last day of school.
That night he took a turn for the worse.
He was rushed to the hospital, where life-support
machines could maintain his breathing.
On April 15, 1975, I had planned to visit him after school.
But that morning I found a handwritten note beside my typewriter
saying, "Don't go to the hospital tonight; David died in his sleep.
I didn't want to tell the other guys, because today
the school is going to the circus, and there's no reason to spoil that.
We will mourn him together. J.
Although Mrs. George couldn't make David's dream of a nineteenth birthday
come true (God knows she tried!), she made my
dream of a high-school graduation come true.
As I sat on the stage on a warm May evening in 1976, listening to the
commencement song, "The Impossible Dream," the
words seemed to fit the lady dressed in yellow, proudly watching me receive my
diploma, because she "dreamed the impossible
dream" and made it come true.