I’ve said this many times to many people, but I’ll say it once more,

“Disability is 1% being unable to do something and 99% people telling you that you can’t do something.”

Disability is not a medical or psychological pathology, but a social disease. Before the disease can be cured and that prejudice can be done away with, society has to change how it looks at people with handicaps. We are all handicapped in one way or another, some wounds are just more apparent than others. Some scars, just easier to see.

The chain is only as strong as the weakest link. We are only as great as the least among us. Until that moment when we look at each other and see only fellow human beings, equally deserving of respect and consideration, society will remain disabled.

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A Nightmare and a Dream

April 23, 2013

It was the summer of 2009. I had just graduated high school, much to the surprise of, well, everybody. I was on the verge of flunking out of school and life. Nonetheless, I graduated. But before I was to enjoy the harvest of my dismal efforts, I was to have a tumor removed from that special place where your spine kisses your brain. Apparently I still had a brain. This has been medically proven.

I was told the procedure would be fine. It’s an easy enough location to operate on. “Oh, sure. You’ll spend a couple days in the ICU (intermediate care unit) and be outta here,” the surgeon told me. What he didn’t tell me was that I might forever lose my ability to walk. What the surgeon failed to inform me was that I might not wake up after the anesthesia had worn off. No, that was just one of those lovely surprises life tends to throw your way.

I went under in the middle of July. I still remember counting backwards from one hundred as the surgeon put a large breathing tube through my nose and into my lungs. “See you soon,” the anesthesiologist whispered to me as she squeezed my hand for good luck. I closed my eye and wandered off into a faraway dreamland where life no longer hurt.

I woke up alright. A week after my surgery had ended, that is, but I woke up. I had lived trapped in a frightening nightmare for a week and no one of my family seemed to understand why I was acting so disturbed and dissociated from the real world. In my week-long nightmare, I had seen such horrors as a pitchfork being driven through my mother’s face. A trigger-happy drug dealer shoot my father down dead inches from me. An inferno engulf my best friend as I stood frozen and watched. No one understood why I couldn’t stop crying for weeks, months, years after the nightmare had ended.

I watched everyone I loved die horrible, gruesome deaths in a week-long nightmare while I lie comatose in a hospital bed, occasionally becoming alert enough to pull out my breathing tubes, intravenous lines and anything else my demonic possessed limbs could reach.

Only by the grace of God am I not in a wheelchair right now. I pushed myself and pushed myself until I could walk after that. Now I run and it’s a miracle.

All my life it has been just God and I. No one understands these nightmares I still have some nights. No one understands why I break down in tears in between violent sobs sometimes. Though, much more rarely than what used to be, never will I be completely healed.

I don’t mind being broken. I just wish others would stop trying to fix me and let me find my own way to God. Maybe put their arms around me, tell me, “God is just beyond the mountains,” and walk a bit of the beaten path beside me.

I had an amazing experience at OHSU. Far more extraordinary than I could have expected. I was given so many opportunities to participate in patient care and I lapped up each one like a camel quenching his thirst. I was thirsty for knowledge and experience which must have been apparent to the clinicians I was there to observe because there was no drought of knowledge to be shared by someone eager to learn.

I spent the week inside the operating room with children undergoing ear procedures, including a cochlear implant being placed. I spent some time in the audiology clinic where I observed hearing tests being administered and a cochlear implant (different patient) being programmed. The remainder of the time was spent in the clinic where patients were preparing for surgery, following up after surgery, having a procedure performed or visiting to diagnose a non-surgical issue using medical therapeutics. That’s one of the great things about otolaryngology and head and neck surgery. Unlike most surgical specialties, an ENT can diagnose and treat non-surgical conditions.

I had many special moments where I was able to interact with patients and their families. My ability to sign ASL even came in handy with one family. If I were to pick the highlight of my entire week long experience, it would be a no brainer. There was one moment that overshadowed every other up to that point. There was a child with a developmental delay of some kind who needed a rather invasive procedure performed, one I’ve had done on myself many times. Well, naturally she wasn’t going to have any of that nonsense. She fought everyone in the room; the attending, the resident, her mother and the visiting student trying to hide in the corner. Her mother held her down as the attending began his medically necessary invasion. She began to sob in defeat as tears rolled down her cheeks. Honestly, I was about ready to join her. It hurts to see a beautiful, innocent, little child like that. It reminded me too much of my own childhood because that was once me. I guess that’s still me, but I’m older now and my mother doesn’t have to hold me down anymore. Anyway, she had surrendered by now, but was still struggling a bit. I don’t know what lead me to do what I did next, but I moved in and took her hand in mine. She fought me at first, of course. It didn’t matter than I was just a college student, I had an ID badge with the OHSU logo on it. I was a member of the enemy’s army. I held on firmly, but gently and ran my thumb over the back of her hand. The struggle ended. She relaxed in my touch. Completely at ease in my hold. I became an ally to her army. I was on her side after all.

I’ll never forget all the feelings that raced through me at that moment. I, the puny college student who knew nothing and could do nothing, knew enough and could do enough to ease a little child’s suffering and assist the attending physician in performing his procedure. I was suddenly more powerful and more able than I had ever been before.

Maybe I could make a difference after all. Maybe.

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