As Tough as the Dinosaurs
Today was the day. Ben was excited. They were going to the Natural History Museum and he had been waiting all week for this.
They’d been learning about dinosaurs for three weeks in class. All the other kids, including his friend Patrick, seemed to be amazed by the Tyrannosaurus rex. Fearsome and enormous, he was the king of the dinosaurs. Ben thought he looked like a big plucked chicken, the kind Mum brought back from the supermarket sometimes. Little useless arms and big chunky legs. Ben liked to think that somehow the Tyrannosaurus rex hadn’t been wiped out in the meteor strike that caused the dinosaur extinction. That he had survived in a little hole somewhere, hiding and shrinking and growing feathers, until he blended in with all the other animals that had made it through the explosion. Curled up in his little hole until – WOW – he had burst out of hiding! Chunky legs and useless arms, camouflaged in feathers, turned into a chicken. Maybe that’s why being called a chicken meant that you were afraid, because the T-rex had hidden away for so long and no one was scared of him anymore.
Ben’s favourite dinosaur was not the Tyrannosaurus rex. He liked the Pteranodon the best. Technically it wasn’t even a dinosaur, just a big flying lizard that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. It only had little tiny legs, but its legs weren’t the important bit. The Pteranodon had gigantic wings – bigger than any living bird’s wings! It was what most people called Pterodactyl, although this was not the proper name for them. (Even his teacher called them the wrong name). Ben knew the most about dinosaurs in his whole class and he was excited to show off at the Natural History Museum. He had not been able to go on the last school excursion. Not enough teachers to cope, his mum had said, and she couldn’t take the day off work to come along as an extra aide. That day his sickness had been particularly bad and she had had to take the day off anyway.
The school bus arrived and all the other kids piled off first in one excited group. The bus driver took a while getting out of his seat and organising the metal ramp so that his teacher could wheel him off the bus at last. Ben was in a wheelchair today. He didn’t always need a wheelchair, but on days like this, when they knew there was going to be lots of walking and standing, it was best. His disease had flared up a few weeks ago and Ben and his mum had decided to ‘take it easy’. Ben didn’t mind the wheelchair anyway, his legs were the weakest part of him and the chair let him show off his strong arms.
The ramp up to the Natural History Museum was long but not too steep. At the top of the ramp the security guard let Ben past without going through the scanner and he was the first in his class to get inside the big building. Sometimes being in a wheelchair made him feel important! It took forever for all the other kids to file through and then his teacher talked for a while about the importance of staying in pairs and sticking together as a group. Ben’s partner was Patrick. Patrick could walk really well, but he wasn’t very good at football. Ben couldn’t play football either, because of his legs, but he knew that he would be good if he did. Patrick liked dinosaurs, but he didn’t have a favourite.
Finally they were heading towards the dinosaur exhibition. Ben was right in the front with his teacher pushing the chair. As they entered the exhibit, Ben’s teacher gave him control of the wheelchair. He rolled forward using his strong arms to control the wheels, making little zigzags to show off to his class behind. They rounded a corner, and there! In front! Was a huge dinosaur! A giant robotic Tyrannosaurus rex was rearing his head and roaring at the crowd, swishing his enormous tail from side to side. All the kids in his class gasped and rushed in to see. The Tyrannosaurus leaned forward on his chunky legs and opened his mouth right near Patrick. Patrick was not very brave and stepped back behind Ben’s wheelchair. One of the girls in his class squealed. Ben rolled his eyes. The Tyrannosaurus stomped a meaty foot on the ground. Ben looked down at his own scrawny legs. His knees were a bit swollen today, but not as badly as they had been last week. His thighs were skinny
under his school pants. Ben thought that the Tyrannosaur’s muscled legs were overrated.
Ben had a medical condition called arthritis. Most of the time arthritis happened in older people when their joints got so well used that they became stiff and sore. Like a rusty old bike. Ben had a special type of arthritis called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. This type of arthritis affected children. Ben had had arthritis since before he could remember and it was always his knees that were the worst. Sometimes his ankles became swollen and sore too, but most of the time it was just his knees. On bad days they were so painful that he couldn’t bend them at all. It was on those days that he had to stay home from school. Some kids with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis had sore joints all over their bodies, so Ben counted himself lucky that really only his legs were affected. It did make school a bit tricky sometimes. He couldn’t run with the other kids in sport class or sit in the beanbags in the corner of the classroom during reading time. And he had never ridden a bike. But then the other kids never got to ride in a wheelchair.
Ben rolled away from the angry Tyrannosaurus rex, now roaring at two giggling girls. He and Patrick found the skull of a huge Triceratops, with its three horns pointing forwards and the beak of its mouth looking impressively strong. Ben was amazed at how big these ancient animals were! None of his dinosaur books at home could describe just how large these beasts were in real life. Ben spent so long looking at the Triceratops that Patrick got bored and moved on to the next display.
Patrick had skipped the fossilized dinosaur egg display and was staring at the bones of a dinosaur foot. (The dinosaur eggs were just like chicken eggs, only more oval in shape and much bigger!) Ben was about to tell Patrick about the dinosaur eggs, when Patrick pointed to a word on the little plaque near the dinosaur foot. It was the foot of an Iguanodon, although Ben couldn’t remember exactly what that type of dinosaur looked like right now. It was the last word on the little plaque that Patrick was pointing to. It said ‘arthritis’. Ben stared. He couldn’t believe it! Did dinosaurs get
arthritis too? He leaned forward, looking at the gigantic foot through the thick glass, and then read the words on the little sign again. It was true! Dinosaurs had also suffered from arthritis, the very same disease that made Ben’s knees creak in the morning. Ben thought about how this ancient dinosaur might have had sore toes, swollen and red and painful. He probably couldn’t run very fast either. He probably had trouble standing up after sitting down for too long, as well. There was no wheelchair for him rest in if his joints got tired! This dinosaur lived millions of years ago. No humans existed back then at all – no doctors with medications to make you feel better, no mum to tuck you into bed. Ben bent one of his knees, feeling it ache a little bit, and then looked at the dinosaur foot that must have also been sore millions of years ago. Suddenly, having arthritis didn’t seem so bad after all.
Ben’s teacher gathered all the class together and announced their next exhibition stop: Archaeopteryx. The little feathered dinosaur, the link between these giant ancient beasts and the birds that flew around outside nowadays. Ben’s teacher came over to help control the wheelchair, but Ben pushed forward using his strong arms.
Ben was excited. This was a good day.
Ben felt as tough as the dinosaurs.