The Nerve of This Guy
Damian is officially disabled. You wouldn’t know it to see him, but he has the scars, and the pictures to prove it.
“The muscles in your legs are like sausages,” he tells me. “There are four major muscles in your calves and they are each surrounded by an outer casing that holds the tissues together. My leg muscles were like overstuffed sausages while I was in the Army and their doctors did surgery on both my legs to slice apart the outer casing so that the muscles had room to grow.”
We are sitting on a park bench while Damian is telling me his story but it is sort of hard to fully follow his surgery story because I’m daydreaming about Damian being the real Hulk – that he was an army experiment gone wrong with his ever expanding leg muscles. I think about teasing him about it, but I’m not sure I want to see him angry.
The operations actually did go awry. Unfortunately the doctors sliced into the saphenous nerve that runs the length of the calf. On both legs. The surgeries that should have brought relief to his muscles made things even worse. He developed drop foot in his right leg, a condition where a person’s muscles (and nerves) are no longer able to tilt the foot upward, making it very difficult to walk normally. Damian was even told he would probably end up in a wheelchair.
We always pray for God to guide the surgeon’s hands. Damian probably wondered where God had been.
Damian is kind of a radical guy. He doesn’t always choose the path most people have followed. He is African American, married cross culturally, lives in Idaho, and used to homeschool his kids. He fully believes in the work of all three members of the Trinity, but went to a Bible school that, some might say, elevates the Holy Scriptures over the Holy Spirit. He went to a Vineyard church while studying to become a Methodist minister.
He also didn’t have the normal “come to Jesus” salvation moment. He was sitting on the tailgate of a pickup in Hawaii when he threw down a challenge to God. “God if you are real I don’t ever want to smoke again.” That was his last cigarette, but it was just the beginning of a deep-seated transformation. Maybe God was even in Damian’s surgeries.
The Army told him he was disabled and couldn’t play soldier any longer for his country. They honored their commitment to him and sent him to school which covered his B.S. and half of his M.A.
Before Damian began school he found a sports therapy doctor in Idaho who thought he could help with Damian’s right calf, which was by far in the worse shape. When he opened him up he found a nerve that was trying desperately to do its job, but was no longer connected. The doc sliced, stretched, padded, and sewed. The picture Damian carries of his surgically repaired nerve is pretty interesting. It shouldn’t have worked. But when the doctor shoved a needle into Damian’s foot after the surgery to see if anything would happen, Damian didn’t tear off his shirt and turn green, but he could feel and move his foot again.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Damian normal now, but the leg that was supposed to confine him to a wheelchair has got him to the top of Mt. Borah, Idaho’s highest peak, a feat that many people chicken out on. More importantly it has affected the way he deals with others.
“I get to interact with a lot of kids that people label disabled,” Damian says. “I show them my leg and tell them not to let what other people say about you determine who you are or what you can do.” He has the track record to back up his story. And the scars.
“I don’t let anyone call me disabled,” he told me, “well, except for the U.S. military. They have paid enough for the right to call me whatever they would like.”
Really Damian reminds me more of the Apostle Paul than he does the Hulk. Consider that God rendered ‘Saul of Tarsus’ with a disability in order to get his attention. He was struck blind so that he could finally start to really see. Damian issued his challenge to God in the winter of 2000, and his leg surgeries were both botched by that following summer. Maybe Damian’s legs were temporarily short circuited so that God could get him walking down a different path.
Maybe we could view our disabilities are God-intended detours. Damian has certainly made the most of his.
What are you doing with yours?