The Tiny Foot


Many doctors will say the most frightening decisions of their lives come when they must take “playing God” actions.  Such decisions are placed upon them when they are urged to break their Hippocratic oath, such as being asked to do so by some heartbroken person who is breaking under the strain of watching a loved one suffer agonizing pain with little or no hope of survival.

Some years ago, Dr. Frederic Loomis faced just such a terrible moment.  And the heartbroken person was himself.  It began routinely enough when he had to do something he had done many time before—deliver a baby.  The woman, a delicate little person, prepared to give birth for the first time.  However, the doctor discovered that this was going to be very different from any of the deliveries he had previously attended.  The infant lay in a breech position in the mother’s womb—a difficult and dangerous type of birth.  But Dr. Loomis in his attempts to assist the mother, found that the child was greatly deformed.  One of its feet reached only to the knee of the other leg because it had no thigh.

What should he do?  When his searching hands made the discovery—known only to himself—the doctor’s mind raced into the future.  How could such a horribly deformed child grow up in this world and expect to find any happiness?  Would it not be looked upon as a freak, a pitifully twisted burden to its already fragile and weak mother?  Just the thought of using his skills to assist in the birth of such an infant turned the doctor’s blood cold.  Would this child ruin the lives of the parents, even destroy their marriage?  After all, less traumatic experiences have often done so.

Dr. Loomis closed his eyes.  At his fingertips was the pitiable creature yet unborn.  He had in his power the absolute ability to decide its fate.  He could detain the birth quite easily—long enough to cause the child to be stillborn.  Wouldn’t that be the most merciful thing to do, everything considered?

During these moments of painful decision-making, the doctor felt the baby’s heartbeat through its umbilical cord. The pulsation told him that he needed only to hold off a little longer and the infant would be stillborn.  But as he felt the beat, he also heard the thumping of his own heart.  The two were almost in time with one another.  This child whom he didn’t want to be born, was ready to arrive.  Dr. Loomis wrestled with his conscience and continued to prevent the birth.

But suddenly, he realized he could no longer play God.  The infant’s normal foot was pressing against his hand, seemingly calling for permission to pass.  Dr. Loomis could almost hear the message, the call for birth.  At that instant he discarded his line of action and helped the deformed baby into the world, which, he feared would be unfriendly.

In the years that followed, Dr. Loomis learned to regret that action.  He watched the family go through mental anguish as the mother and father desperately sought, in vain for some correction of their child’s deformity.  While the doctor continued with his practice, his mind could never forget the sad result of the birth he had allowed that day.  Even after the family moved away from the area, he was unable to put his mind at ease.  Their grief, he often told himself, was his fault.

Eventually, though, Dr. Loomis did find peace.  It came during a Christmas party held by the members of the hospital in which he did most of his work.  On this particular evening, while the nurses came down the aisle of the auditorium carrying lighted candles and singing “Silent Night,” the room was filled with the most touching and beautiful music he had ever heard.

The musicians were violinist, a cellist, and a harpist—all volunteers.  As Dr. Loomis stared at the lovely Christmas tree, the music flooded his ears and his heart.  The sadness that seemed to have taken a permanent place within him ever since the birth of that unfortunate child always intensified during the Christmas season.  It was during this time of the year—the celebration of the world’s greatest birth—that the saddest birth he had ever known flooded his memory.

On this occasion, the doctor sat silently, almost somberly, affected only by the loveliness of the music.  How wonderful it would be, he thought, to have such wonderful talent.  He sat enthralled by the sound.

When it ended, a woman came along side of him and touched his arm.  “Doctor,” she said excitedly, “you saw her!”

He stared without recognition at the woman.  She looked vaguely familiar, but he could not bring her to memory.

“Don’t you remember me, Doctor?” she asked,  “Don’t you remember the little girl with only one good leg, seventeen years ago?”

Remember?  Why that was the only thing in his life that he could never truly forget!  He stood and stared at her as she continued, “That baby was my daughter, Doctor.  And I saw you watching her play the harp here tonight.

Dr. Loomis heart jumped as the woman went on.  “Now she has an artificial leg.  She can swim, walk, almost dance!  Best of all she has learned to use her hands beautifully, and now she is very happy!”

“At her mother’s calling, the lovely young harpist walked steadily toward them and the mother introduced her to the doctor who had brought her into the world.  With his eyes brimming, Dr. Loomis threw his arms around the girl whose tiny foot had changed his mind some 17 years before and had lingered ever since in his memory.

“Please,” he said with tightening throat, “please play “Silent Night” again for me won’t you?”

The young lady went immediately to the harp and played his request with beauty and brilliant skill.  Dr. Loomis watched and listened, making no attempt to hide the emotion that flooded through him.  The past gloomy years were now washed away, and there was no longer any doubt in his mind.  He had done the right thing that day in the delivery room when he obeyed the tiny kick of an infant’s foot.



Tom Dowling