The Speech Pathologist and the Man on a Mission

By Linda Dominguez-Gasson

Was it really so long ago when I was studying to be a speech-pathologist at the Brigham Young University Department of Communication Disorders?

I attended BYU from 1976 to 1979 and was enrolled in one of the smallest, least known, and most challenging fields of study offered at BYU at the time. The initial “Introduction to Speech Pathology and Audiology” class began with 63 hopeful students. Only 12 graduates remained by the time we completed our Master of Communication Disorders (now known as a Master of Speech-Language Pathology).

I was working on my practicum which required us to work with children diagnosed with various speech-language disorders. Dr. Gordon Low, the Dean of the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology always emphasized the impact of “real-life experiences” to increase children’s vocabulary and language. Several students, including myself, decided to take our kids on a field trip to a small market located near Heritage Halls. We gathered permission slips from the parents and prepared for the trip.

But how would we take the children to the market? A bus was too expensive. There were too many children and only a few student clinicians. We couldn’t trust the kids to hold hands and worried that they might run into the street. So we opted for a “real-life experience” by asking the market if we could use their shopping carts to transport the children. The market was only a few blocks away, what could possibly happen?

I was assigned to take three children. One child arrived late, so the group went on ahead and I followed. After placing the kids in the cart, we pushed off. We talked about the things we saw and sang songs. We were having a wonderful time when we came to the street next to the brand-new law school. The street was still under construction and had a dirt embankment with a rough coat of asphalt. The children laughed as they bounced in the cart.

A patch of gravel covering a hole interrupted our reverie. When the cart hit the gravel it pitched, listed, and began to tip over. Panicking, I grabbed the cart as hard as I could, but it was too heavy. As the cart leaned to one side, I threw my legs against the cart to slow the fall and cushion it as it went over. Once we were on the ground, I took stock.

Kids ok? Yes. No one crying? No. No one hurt? My hand and legs were bleeding but the kids were fine. In fact, they seemed to think it was quite interesting looking at the world sideways. Now, it was time to get up. My legs were trapped under the metal cart and held down by the weight of the children. I tried to lift the cart, but I had no leverage. Worse, my skirt had gotten caught in the metal and was hiked up to my hips while I sat in mud. I was never going to get out of this predicament without help. But there was no such thing as cell phones and no one was within sight. Everyone was in class.

Suddenly, along came a young, enthusiastic foreign-language missionary holding a Book of Mormon and a book on French. He glanced at us and quickly averted his eyes. “Help!” I screamed. He hesitated, probably thinking, “Maybe she didn’t see me.” “I need your help, please!” I begged.

“But I can’t..... I have to go...,” he blurted, looking at us like we were a four-headed monster with a metal exoskeleton. “You can’t leave us helpless,” I pleaded. “You... you’re a girl... I’m not supposed to... I can’t touch you,” he stammered, trying not to look at the odd wreckage. “Only at BYU,” I thought.

I didn’t know which of us was more afraid. Desperate, I suggested a compromise, “I have an idea,” I started, “Just pick up the cart and I’ll get up on my own.” He looked relieved, but I don’t think he trusted me, “OK,” he said, thinking maybe it’s a trick. He lifted the cart easily (I’m sure it was the adrenaline), while I gingerly stood, sorry I told him he didn’t have to help me. I readjusted my skirt and brushed off the dirt as best as I could. All the while, the kids were laughing and having a great time, thinking this was a wonderful adventure.

I turned back and the young missionary had disappeared. I have no idea where he went. I didn’t know anyone could walk (or run) so fast. Maybe he apparated? I didn’t even have time to say thank-you. I imagine he worked all day to get the vision of the four-headed monster purged from his mind. However, I hope the missionary didn’t forget us and still laughs at the thought. Looking back, I think this missionary was placed in our path to save us and to teach me that people’s lives are being placed in my hands and that I must always work to protect them.

I still have the scar on my hand from that shopping cart. Sometimes working with people is like that. You never know what will happen, but it will often leave a mark for better or worse. Hopefully my patient experiences will continue to make me humble and grateful for the opportunity to work in a field that I still love.