Petey by Ben Mikaelsen

Petey by Ben Mikaelsen
May 22, 2021 Alexandra Adlawan

High School

In 1922, at the age of two, Petey’s distraught parents commit him to the state’s insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. Bound by his wheelchair and struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new “home.” Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.

That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time. Trevor, new to town and a bit of a loner, is at first weary of the old man in the wheelchair. But after hearing more of his story, Trevor learns that there is much more to Petey than meets the eye.

 

If you liked Melody from Out of My Mind, you’ll love Petey.

 

I can hardly imagine what it would be like having severe cerebral palsy in present day. It’s even harder to imagine what it would be like to have cerebral palsy in the 1920s, a time when no one knew what that was. It made me wonder what happened to the people in the 1700s, and even farther back, who had cerebral palsy or any other physical or mental illness. I have a theory but it’s too dark.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Cerebral palsy (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website) “is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles.” It is not a disease, nor is it inherited.

 

I am so glad so much has changed in the ways we help people with physical disabilities since the 1920s’. During the early 1900’s, many children such as Petey were incorrectly thought to be idiots, morons, or imbeciles (these were the actual diagnostic terms once used to describe levels of mental deficiency). I hated that Petey was constantly referred to as an ‘idiot’ and even worse, the ‘r’ word. This all took place before anyone knew about cerebral palsy but people to this day will still look at someone with this condition and can’t comprehend that there is a working mind in there. Just because someone can’t talk or move their muscles doesn’t mean they’re an idiot. The people who do that Tide Pod Challenge, those people are idiots.

 

I guess it’s understandable for anyone to be a little afraid of someone in Petey’s condition, people fear what they don’t understand. So, don’t teach your kids to be afraid of someone like Petey.

 

Petey spent over 50 years in an insane asylum, suffering from neglect and only able to speak garbled English, but somehow, he always stayed positive. How he managed to stay sane is beyond me. I guess when there is so much sadness in your life, the simple things can be a big deal.

 

I don’t want anyone reading this to think that Petey’s parents didn’t try because they did. They spent every last cent they had trying to find a way to help their son. In the end, there was nothing else they could do.

 

You might find it hard to believe but this whole story is based on someone’s actual life. The story was inspired by Clyde Cothern, an old man who was misdiagnosed as an idiot back in 1922, who the author befriended and eventually adopted as his grandfather. To learn more, click the web link below:

https://www.benmikaelsen.com/petey

 

This book should be required reading in high school. Petey’s story teaches empathy and to take the time to understand others.

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