Wilson Thomas Wilson had two problems at birth. The first was his moniker; not too many people have the same first and last name. The other was that he came into this world with small stumps for arms and legs. But if you spoke to Wilson today, he’d say neither the name nor the limbs were problems.
Wilson, until recently, had remained true to his self-image as a natural-born optimist who saw only possibilities in life. For those who saw otherwise, well, they were the broken ones. Many would laud his accomplishments and the worldwide fame he earned pre-Internet. But W, as he was known long before the 43rd U.S. President became widely known by this letter of the alphabet, avoided detailing his achievements whenever possible. To do otherwise would be bragging. Wilson believed actions were what mattered. If people wanted to heap laurels on him, it was their business, not his. No need to toot his own horn. He preferred to doggedly press on doing the best he could each day—and that was usually better than most “normal” persons.
As for the fact he never knew his father, even a positive thinker like W might call this circumstance a problem. “But just a little one,” he once admitted with a smile and a wink of the eye in a rare moment of candor to a television interviewer.
That he would one day be called on to save his hometown city of Pittsburgh from an unspeakable horror while battling internal demons never would have occurred to him in his heady younger days.
Every story has a beginning. W’s was very memorable. It was probably a good thing he knew next to nothing about it.
CHAPTER 1—“YOU KNOW WHAT IT—I MEAN HE—LOOKS LIKE?”
Manhattan General Hospital
New York City
April 28, 1961
The extremely pregnant patient with WELFARE printed in bold red across the top of her chart hanging at the foot of the bed was as skittish as a novice bank robber on his first job.
“Never seen anyone as jumpy as the one in 3A,” said an orderly to an intern who’d just checked on to the floor.
Verna Thomas, the woman in bed 3A, had reasons to be on edge. She was all alone in the world with no family and no friends, an unmarried woman who’d just turned thirty-four, about to give birth to a child she had no way to support. As for the father of the child, that was a secret she’d promised to never reveal.
But the gnawing fear churning in Verna’s abdomen, right around where her baby was waiting to come into the world, was caused by the fact that she had not seen a doctor during the first three months of her pregnancy. And then, she only saw (sporadically) a rotating group of distant, overworked, inexperienced physicians in the bustling free clinic section of Manhattan General. Some spoke English with accents she found difficult to understand. Often, she barely had enough time with the staff to get answers to the many basic questions concerning what she needed to do as a pregnant woman.
The pregnancy was, of course, unplanned. If she’d planned to have a child, it certainly wouldn’t have been on the first and only time she’d ever had sex—and certainly not with the man with whom she did the dirty deed.
She’d never felt comfortable enough at the free clinic to ask the question burning within her for approximately the last six months, the only time she knew for sure she was pregnant. With the child possibly minutes from arriving, Verna had to get an answer to what was in her mind the Big Question. But before calling for a nurse, she almost reflexively, for the umpteenth time, chided herself for being in this situation. Besides getting pregnant by a man who had no desire to be a father and who couldn’t marry her even if he wanted to, she further screwed things up by leaving her job shortly after learning she was with child. It was the main reason for her bargain basement medical care situation.
She clutched the side of the bed with her right hand as a strong contraction rolled over her abdomen and mouthed a silent Damn! for getting herself into this mess. As the pain faded, she pulled her long brown hair back with both hands and exhaled loudly. After several deep breaths, she accepted that now was no time to obsess over past slip-ups. She reached for the nurses’ call button and pressed her right thumb on it for five full minutes before a nurse arrived.
Head nurse Norma McCarthy strode down the hall from the nurses’ station consumed by a strong desire to slap the crap out of the jumping bean in 3A. It was bad enough that she had to waste her time tending to a charity case on what she hoped would be a quiet early morning. But ten seconds before she heard the buzzer, WMCA, her favorite radio station, had begun playing her favorite song, Runaway by Del Shannon. (“Number One on the Good Guy Top Forty for the second week in a row!” screeched the deejay.) Further, the welfare woman in 3A had interrupted reading time with her gossip rag of choice, The National Marquee. The nurse had started reading a juicy story about a backstage fistfight between two well-known, inebriated actors at the ’61 Academy Awards just as Elizabeth Taylor was announced as Best Actress for Butterfield 8.
Norma thought, My God, lady, women have been having babies since the beginning of time. It ain’t that big a deal. At the doorway of 3A, Norma paused and did her best to compose herself. She had been a nurse long enough, twenty years, to know the drill. She wouldn’t perform physical violence on the nervous woman.