Sometimes my wife sees a curious child staring at me while we are out in public. Despite the child’s parent standing nearby, no doubt trying to avoid embarrassing me, my wife will stoop down and explain to the child, “This is my husband. Do you know why he walks like that?” The child is transfixed; the parent is usually horrified. “He was born with a little hole in his back. The doctor fixed it, but it left him walking kind of funny. His name is Michael.”
I was born with an underdeveloped and exposed spinal cord, otherwise known as spina bifida. Like autism, it occurs along a continuum and can range from mild to severe. My form is the latter, requiring around 15 surgeries since birth. Though much was corrected when I was younger — my parents, for instance, were told I would never walk — some medical challenges would stay with me through adulthood.