KEEPING IT REAL: A Powerful Doctor-Patient Team

Wed 29 Mar 2023

Keeping It Real: A Powerful Doctor-Patient Team
By Jocelyn Cohen*

To commemorate National Doctors Day, I’m sharing a piece I wrote in 2015 in honor and in memory of Dr. Leon Root, who treated my cerebral palsy and cared for me from the age of four. He set the bar high for every medical relationship I have, and I’m fortunate to still have several great doctors caring for me. 

There are many fantastic medical professionals focused on cerebral palsy, and I’m thankful for their dedication and expertise. 

It’s my hope that every person with cerebral palsy — and every person with a disability — has someone like Dr. Root in their corner and on their team.

*
*

Teammate
As I got dressed for Dr. Root’s funeral, I sat on my bed
and ran my fingers along the perfect white-pink lines.

Eight inches long, running down the outside of each leg,
uniform in width all the way from the top of each hip
to the middle of each thigh.
Straight along the curves.

They were numb, but I wasn’t.
I said something aloud to myself, my voice quivering as I willed tears away.

I will never look at you the same way again.

For decades, they’d reminded me of pain, trauma, spasms, difference, and ugliness.
Of triumph, power, perseverance, grit, and change.

They’d been red, purple, and dark pink. Cut, recut, cut again, and again.
I thought they’d never lighten up.

They’d reminded me of every hospital stay, every hour of therapy, every spastic step, every grimace, every fall.

Every time I got back up, every time I caught myself and stayed on my feet with a rush of adrenaline, every success.

That’s a lot for two lines,
but they’re different now.

They remind me of the person who made them for me.
The man whose medical expertise was equaled by his kindness,
empathy, and his magical way of making me feel like I was his only patient.
And like each appointment was a family reunion.
They remind me of the man who carried balloons in his pocket,
just in case his beaming smile and bear hug weren’t enough to cheer me up.

They remind me of the man who let me cry on the exam table as an adult,
frustrated by my decreased balance and strength. 

He knew me.

He kept a book I made when I was four and gave it back to me when I was 27. It’s yours, he said with a wide grin. You should have it.

He kept a photo of my college graduation at the front of my file. He kept a letter I wrote to him from camp. 

He called to congratulate me when I got into law school. He consoled me through a breakup and my dad’s health crises. He asked about my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, and my nephew.

His presence was a safe place to let go. He understood like no one else could.
You’re so close to not having a problem, he said.
You’ve mastered dealing with it, so when something changes,
it upsets you. 

At the end of many appointments, after the hugs and I-love-yous,
I told him he was my hero.

And he responded by telling me I was his —
that all he did was perform the surgery and I did the hard work.
The recovery, the rehab, the maintenance —
it was all my effort.

But really, we were a team.
For almost thirty years. Sixteen incisions.
Suture removals while he distracted me with funny questions.
Countless walks down hallways — runs, if we were being adventurous.
Updates dictated onto tape to be typed, saved, and compared. 

He always started by describing me. 

Jocelyn is now five years of age. She loves kindergarten.
Jocelyn is now ten years of age. She dislikes her teacher.
Jocelyn is now twenty years of age. She majors in creative writing and loves college in Atlanta.
Jocelyn is now twenty-three years of age. She’s moved to the city and commutes on the subway, climbing all the stairs. She’s finishing law school but doesn’t want to practice law. She’s not sure what she wants to do.
Jocelyn is now twenty-nine years of age. She goes to a lot of concerts. She’s an aunt. She hopes to write for a living.
Jocelyn is now thirty-two years of age. She still goes to a lot of concerts. She’s working on her memoir.

Before Dr. Root measured what my legs could do,
he measured my life.

I couldn’t have taken a single awkward step without him.


*Jocelyn's story is part of KEEPING IT REAL — a series of personal stories that will take you deeper into the lives of people with CP. Each person makes different choices based on what works for them, and we’ll showcase that — highlighting what life is like for them on a daily basis, what they care about, and the ways CP impacts them. 

The KEEPING IT REAL blog is intended solely to raise awareness about the varied human experience with cerebral palsy and shouldn't be read or construed to contain any medical advice or medical endorsement by Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation. Only you and your doctor know what's best for you. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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