Monday, April 27, 2009

Firemans' Dinner Dance

Right after the dress got delivered on Saturday, Needlenoggin's friend and attendant, Miss Manhattan, came over. She helped him get ready and walked the dog while I fought with my hair, bathing the kiddos and all the usual big-event prep. My folks got ready at their hotel while Tuffy arranged the drop-off and pick-up of the kids with our babysitter, Ex-Floridian and his girlfriend Spice. At last we were dressed and ready to head out.

We arrived at the church and were greeted by Needlenoggin's work-buddy, whom I will call Crackdown. We presented our tickets and came inside to find a silent auction going on to support the random Acts program, as well as firefighters serving drinks behind the bar. We spoke to Larry Hendricks, one of the organizers* of this big shindig, and then got Needlenoggin comfortable at the table we'd be eating at, away from all the hustle and bustle of the crowd. My father got a few pictures before the program started, including one with Needlenoggin and our very proud Mama.

Then we got a few with Needle and Miss Manhattan.

And Miss Manhattan and Little Monkey

Then Needlenoggin's other ladies arrived. First, Dr. K-, and then Needlenoggin's ICU nurse. Dr. R- was willing to come out from her conference, and offered to drive the 4 hours, spend 3 with Needlenoggin, then drive back 4 hours to go back on shift, but we all told her that was crazy. So, Dr. K- asked Needlenoggin's favorite (and most frequent) ICU nurse to come instead. When she arrived, Needlenoggin and I realized that we had melded Dr. R- and this nurse into one person, and he vaguely remembers asking her where her glasses went back in July. We've affectionately named her thing 2. So, Thing 2 wasn't at work the day he showed up at the hospital a few weeks beck, so this was the first time she'd seen him since they wheeled him up to the 5th floor TCU full of tubes and flat on his back. She was, shall we say, pleasantly surprised to see how well he was doing.

Needlenoggin and his dates:

During dinner, Ex-Floridian and Spice brought Rorysaurus and Little Monkey to the church, and we seated them in comfy laps around the table:

Jealous, Little Monkey made a move for the doctor and nurse himself:

And Rorysaurus got to cuddle with our neighbor, friend and sometimes-nanny, Elfay:

Anyway, dinner went well and then they started the tribute to the Oncology ward at Children's hospital. If you want something to make you cry, that'll do it. I've said before how much the kindness of the Children's nurses meant to us, but those are such good, strong people that take care of cancer-kids day in and day out. While they were doing their presentation, Needlenoggin, Rorysaurus and I crept to the back of the hall. Then we waited while the guys from Engine 16 recounted their memories of the call that day, bringing us toys and a wheelchair and how touched they were by Needlenoggin's relationship with my daughter, and mine with him.

They showed pictures of the two of them before the accident, her visiting him in the hospital, and of the accident (including the one of them moving him from out from under the stairs) while they talked, and then called us down. Rorysaurus hopped onto his lap, and I pushed him down the center aisle with a spotlight on us.

The guys came down the stairs from the stage, surrounded Needlenoggin and thanked him again for his heroism. they re-presented him with the plaque he'd received in the hospital, and shook his hand.

Now, those of you who know Needlenoggin know that he was a very quiet, shy guy even before the accident. This has only become more apparent. However, somebody needed to talk and say thank you, so they asked me to speak. :) Hey, if they insisted, who am I to say no?

I thanked them the best I could, trying to put all that these people have done for us and meant to us into less than five minutes, and then I told them a secret.

When we'd come to the fire station in October, on Halloween day, they were the first outing we'd done since the fall. It was a TREMENDOUS amount of work, for both Needlenoggin and I, but we managed to wrestle his big electric wheelchair out of the car and tie on his firetruck "costume" to go see them. And they were SO happy for him, so happy to see him up and moving around in his chair. And they told him that next time he came to visit, they wanted him to walk through the front door. And you know what? They were the first people to use the word "walk" without the phrase "you'll never" in front of it. And they were so pleased with all of his progress, including his weight loss and transition to a manual chair. So, for the last 6 weeks, we'd worked on a chance to give something back to them, and we'd kept it a secret. My parents didn't know, his doctors didn't know, and none of the firefighters knew.

So, once the speech was over, I reached into his wheelchair bag, and removed his polio crutches...

...and he stood up.

Now, he's wearing leg-braces under his pants and we've done NO exercise for days because of how much this wears him out, and he can't really do more than get up and turn around, but there you go. He managed to turn his body towards the firefighter and say thank you, and was smothered in hugs for his trouble.

We'd wanted to give the firemen who saved him, who encouraged and helped him, a happy memory to go along with this story. I like to think we did.

Then, they introduced the band, and everybody got on the dance floor.

Rorysaurus got to dance with all the guys from Engine 16:

And even Needlenoggin got in some good moves:

Oh, and the Albuquerque Firefighter's Random Acts group (inspired by our Oakland group) gave him a shirt, so now he's got LOTS of firefighter paraphenalia.

The dinner was amazing, and I am humbled and touched by these wonderful people and all they have done for my brother. I mentioned it in my speech (will get a video of that at some point), but I'm amazed that these men, who do heroic acts and save lives on a daily basis, have gone so far out of their way to honor and encourage Needlenoggin. Truly, truly amazed. These men have been a source of inspiration and hope for both Needlenoggin and Rorysaurus since the day of the accident, and we are without a way to express our gratitude.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of the Random Acts people, all the volunteers, all the strangers who came up to my brother, in tears, and told him how moved they were.

We did forget to get pictures of Tuffy and I, Tuffy and the kids and I, or the five of us my mom and dad together. I don't think we got a single photo of Tuffy all decked out at all, since he was playing camera-man, but that's not too shabby, I think.

He prefers anonymity, but that's because he's a very sweet, humble guy who doesn't want the limelight taken away from the fire-fighters. I both get and appreciate that, but he and his co-organizer Cindy Chin make the whole Random Acts thing possible, so he'll have to pardon the shout-out