The One-legged Chicken That Wasn't

Okay, here goes. This is one of my all-time favorite stories from my job at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital – aka Vandy Children’s.
About three years ago I called a patient back for her echo. She was around fourteen and adorable. She had gone a little heavy on the eyeliner, but her Carhart jacket leveled out the black smudges around her eyes so early in the morning, and I could tell right away that she was going to be an interesting kid. And I was right, we were laughing before we ever made it into the echo room. Walking down the hall, she tripped over her own feet, causing me to run into the hand sanitizer on the wall almost hard enough to knock it off. When I turned to see if she was okay. She was giving me a look. “Dang, lady, you’re about as clumsy as me.” she said.
It is always a good sign when the patients are laughing before we even get started.
We made it to the exam room and I explained what we were going to do. Then I stepped out to let her change and waited for the knock on the door which is my signal to enter and get to work. I did cardiac ultrasounds, and while the study isn’t painful it’s kind of awkward for most preteen – teenage girls, so I would try to get their minds off the gel and hospital gown by asking questions.
My favorite question to ask was “Do you have pets?”
You want to get kids to open up? Have them tell you about their pets. So many times the study is over before the kids are finished talking about their dog, cat, lizard, fish, bird, horse, snake, snail, guinea pig, or sometimes (another favorite story) a goat. She was different – she had a chicken. Not a flock or bunch or brood, whatever you call it when you raise chickens.
Just one lone chicken.
And it wasn’t an ordinary chicken, it was, in her words “a one-legged chicken, but he wasn’t really one legged ’cause he had two legs but only one leg would go down so he could only stand on the other one – I think his knee is broke or something.”
I figured he stood on one leg and kept the other one bent up under like a lot of birds do, and asked her if that’s what she was talking about.
She said. “No! It’s like this!” and threw her arm up so that if she had been standing, instead of lying on the exam table, it would have gone straight up to the ceiling, pointing over her head.
I burst out laughing and she said, “I know right! He looks so stupid. I really figured he’d die, or something would eat him ’cause he’s kind of crippled but he’s still alive and I didn’t even want a chicken, my sister wanted a chicken and she wanted me to get one too, so I just picked him, and she picked another, but her chicken got eaten and mine is still alive.”
She was the queen of run on sentences – I loved listening to her. Listening to her was like riding  a roller coaster ride.
“I think the coons are scared of him – I think that’s why they haven’t eaten him ’cause he looks so weird.”
I couldn’t believe it when I found out she had had him for over two years.
Her mother and I laughed a lot while she told us stories about this poor little chicken. I asked what his name was and almost died when I heard her say Timothy.
“Like Tiny Tim?” I squealed.
“No, Timothy.” She missed my joke but her mom didn’t and we laughed until we cried.
She kept talking about this chicken that she hadn’t even wanted and it was obvious that she loved him. I thought he was pretty lucky – even if he looked like he was stuck in some crazy yoga position or a ballerina reincarnated, he was loved. And had been loved by the same girl for over two years. I thought the conversation had gotten as good as it could get until….
Out of the blue she asked, “If you get hit by lightin’ will it hurt you?”
I said “Hurt you? It can kill you.” and I noticed the look in her eyes as soon as the words left my mouth. She was terrified. I wondered how I’d put my foot in it and asked, “Why do you ask? Do you know someone who was hit by lighting?”
“Me.” she said and looked at her mama with worried expression.
“You? When? How bad were you hurt?”
“Well, it happened last week – it was raining and Timothy is scared of storms so I went outside to make sure he had gotten under the carport ’cause sometimes he gets stuck and cain’t get up on the concrete. I picked him up and wrapped him in a towel ’cause he was shaking and had gotten wet and it was thundering so I sat on the washing machine with him to dry him off ’cause mama don’t like for me to bring him inside and that’s when I got hit by lightning—”
“Did you go to the hospital?” I asked, cutting her off. Now mind you through this whole conversation I’m working. It can be difficult, some images you have to really focus on but in all honesty it helps me to talk and work at the same time. Blame that on ADHD I guess, but it helps me with the flow of the study. It keeps me on track if I have something to occupy part of my brain other than what I’m doing. Crazy, I know.
But in any case I knew that I’d missed something here. I stopped imaging for a second and looked at her to give her my full attention.
Her mama cut in, “I was at the grocery when it happened and she didn’t tell me until days later. By then I just figured if anything had happened she would be having some kind of trouble. But she wasn’t so I didn’t think she needed to go to the ER.”
So I’m thinking, she was sitting on the washing machine and lighting struck close by— you know the crashing loud kind that lights up everything and scares the crap out of you. So I said so, but she insisted it hit her.
I asked what did Timothy do when the lightening hit and she said he didn’t move or anything and she thought he was dead, but when she put him down he hopped over on his one foot to his nesting box like nothing had happened.
“Well, then I bet it just hit in your yard really close and the sound made you jump so it felt like you were hit.”
“No. It hit me ’cause I felt it and it did this…..” she raised her gown and I almost hit the floor when I saw the round burn mark at the very bottom of her lower back. “I felt it come up my legs and butt and shoot out here.”
And that my friends is the story of the one legged chicken that wasn’t and why you should always listen to the whole story. NEVER assume you know what the other person is saying, nine times out of ten you’ll be wrong, not to mention you could miss a heck of a story.
p.s. Her heart was perfectly normal and she was sent home with a clean bill of health – after a thorough exam and telling the story of how she was hit by lightning (minus Timothy) to the cardiologist. Of course, I filled them in on the rest.


  1. Ok….this is one of my favorites now. Wow! Kids are so funny and brave and also dumb. Lol. Sitting on a metal washing machine in a storm. But the one legged chicken…hahaha. I can picture him. Love it!

  2. Wow! I have a friend whose granddaughter has a pet chicken. I can’t remember the chicken’s name, but my friend makes it dresses and it walks on a leash. Who knew? The lightning story was captivating.

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