After the root beer floats had disappeared and hugs had been exchanged, the 10-year-old wheeled himself down the hallway of Children's Hospital Oakland, with his parents by his side, and out the door.
The sun shone through the clouds as Chris waited on the sidewalk, waiting for his dad to load the last of his belongings into the car. After 61 days in the hospital, recovering from a bullet wound that left him paralyzed, Chris was going home.
"I've been waiting to get out of here for a long time, like two months and a half, so I feel more free now," he said. "It feels good to also go back home and try to do what I usually did, before I was in the hospital."
Chris was taking an after-school piano lesson Jan. 10 when a stray bullet ripped through the wall of his North Oakland music school and hit him in the side. Police say 24year-old Jared Adams, who is
awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and robbery, fired the shots after robbing a gas station across the street.
Chris remembers waking up in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat. He has healed quickly in the weeks since, regaining much of his strength. He has also begun to learn how to go about life without the use of his legs. Already, he expertly maneuvers the arm-powered wheelchair, popping wheelies at every opportunity. On Tuesday, with some help from his mom, Jennifer Rodriguez, he moved quickly from the chair to the car.
By his doctor's account, Chris has made remarkable progress, physically. But it is his matter-of-fact, positive outlook that stands out to those who have worked with him. Despite the pain that shoots through his legs and the knowledge that he is unlikely to walk again Chris doesn't seem to feel sorry for himself, his father, Richard
Still, his dad worries about the transition from the hospital to home, without medical staff on hand in case of an emergency. Chris rarely complains about the pain he experiences, but he sometimes winces and rubs his legs. At night, he said, he often yells out in agony. At the hospital, Richard Rodriguez said, "You've got nurses and doctors readily available to attend to his needs. But we won't have that. So it's a little scary really scary."
Dr. Jacob Neufeld, director of the pediatric rehabilitation unit at Children's Hospital Oakland, said patients who have suffered spine injuries typically feel pain in the parts of their body they can no longer use. Sometimes it subsides on its own, he said, but not always.
In the meantime, Chris and his family will have to find a way to cope with it. Before heading to their new, wheelchair-accessible rental house Tuesday, they planned to visit a pain relief clinic.
But Chris didn't talk about his discomfort. He talked about going back to school at Crocker Highlands Elementary, seeing his friends, playing video games and watching movies at home.
"I'm not really worried about anything," he said. "I don't see anything to worry about, so I don't think I will."
Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.