We visited the monthly meeting of the Tulsa chapter of the Shriners. The building says "Akdar Temple," but I don't know if that makes them an "Akdar Chapter" or "Branch" or "Subdivision." I had enough trouble remembering what Webelos meant when I was in Cub Scouts. They've asked me to join, and although I think they were sort of kidding, I might just have to do it, if only to figure out why they carry those excellent fez hats around in plastic cases. I used something similar to haul my trombone around in high school, but the hats look more expensive. I've got to have one.
They meet in the fellowship hall of their building and eat, followed by a stage presentation where they go over monthly minutes and schedules. Melissa and I set up a PowerPoint presentation with 37 pictures of Elijah from over the past 21 months. It's alarming to see how small he was, literally gaunt, frail arms with no muscles, and he hardly ever smiled even when he was laughing. The pictures went in order from oldest to newest, and it's heartwarming to see how he's grown and improved. By the way, he weighs 15.94 pounds today!!! He's magnificent.
First the Shriners fed us, and I was leery at first of the pepper steak -- it's always iffy eating someone else's homemade recipe -- but I was stunned by how good it was. Mel keeps making fun of me for the yummy sounds I made. But it was great! Although I don't want you to get the impression that Melissa doesn't feed me. Because she does. Constantly.
After the meal, they invited Melissa up to tell the crowd about the impact the Shriners have had on our precious son. Without using notes (she's such a professional), Melissa started at the start, talking about how scared we were the night he was born. She talked about how a couple of doctors in Oklahoma, who seemed to know what they were talking about, turned out to be wrong and only the Shriners in Chicago and Shreveport had the expertise to figure out Elijah's entire story. At one point she told the story about how we went to Chicago to have Eli's cleft palate examined, and they told us, "But first we'll need to do something about his head." She put a bit of a comedic spin on the story, because there really is an element of slapstick to the whole thing, since there's always a new surprise and if you don't laugh you'll cry. I did laugh, like I was supposed to, and so did Melissa's friend Nellie Kelly who sat at our table. Nellie used to be the medical reporter for the Tulsa World, and she and the Shriners go way back. I believe she made the first call to them so they'd get Elijah's paperwork underway. So anyway, Nellie and I are snickering at the story, but no one else in the room is. It wasn't really until after Melissa was done that we remembered how horrifying it was to face some of that news the first time, especially about the fused sutures in the skull. So no laughter, but there were tons of smiles, and this is why. Melissa would describe something we recently had done to Elijah's wrist, and there he was sitting on the first table in the room with me playing peek-a-boo with him with a paper napkin (that was so cute). And everyone is watching Elijah play with his hands even as Melissa is describing them, and you could feel the outpouring of affection they had for him. He gets that a lot.
Here's the gist of Melissa's presentation: If it weren't for the Shriners Hospitals, we don't know where Elijah would be today. They have the experts, they have the facilities, they have a nursing staff that treats Elijah like a little boy and not a frightening puzzle, and when they send us a letter in the mail, we know for certain that it's not a bill. They are superheroes.
After the speech, about 40 people gathered around to say hello to Elijah. They wanted to see him laugh and clap and interact, and he didn't disappoint. A couple of Shriner big-wigs asked Melissa if she'd be willing to give her speech again for other Shriner groups, and I'm certain they weren't kidding. She really did a magnificent job. The woman just doesn't know how to do something half-way, whether it's advocating on behalf of Eli in front of a crowd or getting her hands on funds and resources that will improve his health and comfort. She's Queen of the Superheroes.
My job was to keep Elijah occupied and happy, and I did a great job as well. Women kept saying, "Oh look at how cute he is," and I'd say, "Why thank you. But what about my son?" I used that line about six times, and it worked every time. I'm able to sell it because I actually believe I'm cute.
Keep praying for Elijah, as he travels back to Shreveport on Oct. 21 to have an x-ray on the pin in his arm.