Lew was born in Lexington, Kentucky and we lived there for much of his childhood. From 1988 until Lew’s death in 1998, my husband, Bob, was on the faculty of the University of Kentucky Medical School. He worked in several departments assisting the faculty and the medical residents with their research and its publication.
One night we attended a formal dinner and were seated at a round table with eight residents. I heard one say, “I’m so glad I came to this school for my medical residency. There are so many zebras here. It’s just great.” Others at the table laughed and agreed. They started sharing stories about “zebras” they had seen in the ER and the OR and various clinics.
“What exactly is a zebra?” I asked.
“Oh, a zebra is an unusual case. I did some training at a city hospital in Chicago. All we saw there were plain old horses: motor vehicle accidents and gunshot wounds.” (He actually said “MVAs and GSWs.” More labels.) Here there is such diversity. Just yesterday I saw….” My mind numbed and wandered. I realized these bright young people would see Lew as a zebra. At times they would see him as “a CP” or “a corneal infection” or “a massive allergy reaction.” They would see his disability and his “presenting problem.” They would not see him as a child, a person.
As the desserts were being enjoyed, I spoke up, “I want to encourage you to realize that every ‘zebra’ is some mother’s beloved child. I am the mother of such a child.” And then I told them a little about Lew.