If you could only walk (or roll) a mile in her shoes
For someone who believes in the essential goodness of mankind, I nonetheless observe that we all have character flaws of varying degrees and severity. Even the best among us can, at times, be incredibly thoughtless, lazy, self-centered and stupid.
Especially when it comes to the handicapped.
Unless you deal with it on a daily basis, you have no idea ‘— no idea ‘— of the struggles disabled people go through in order to maintain some small semblance of a normal life. Unless you are an empath, you cannot even imagine the concessions people with debilitating diseases make just to get through the day with some shred of dignity. If you read last week’s cover story by my brilliant young colleague, Jordan Green, on Teresa Staley’s battle with not only muscular dystrophy but also the state government, you caught a glimpse of the life handicapped folks lead. This week I’ll expand on that theme, from a caregiver’s vantage point.
Some of you may be aware that my precious wife, Janet, is afflicted with multiple sclerosis. While not as tragic as Teresa’s disease of MD, it’s not exactly a day at the beach. Most MS patients have a form called relapsing-remitting, which is somewhat manageable and treatable, but hers is called chronic-progressive, meaning it only gets worse. Since her diagnosis in 1991, she has gone from numbness and tingling in the extremities, to a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair. Her legs can no longer support her weight, even for one step, which means her wheelchair is basically her home.
Many times I truly don’t understand how she manages to get through each day with such grace and courage. Self-pity and bitterness seem not to be a part of her demeanor. Even as her physical self withers, her spiritual and emotional self grows stronger.
Not so with me. People occasionally tell me how even-tempered I am, but they don’t see the rage that bubbles just beneath the surface. Sure, I may be disguised as a mild-mannered reporter but, trust me, I’m no Superman. I have reached the station in life where I don’t suffer fools lightly and I don’t suffer indignities well.
The way I see it, normal people fall into two categories: those who mean well and those who simply don’t care. The vast majority of folk fall into the first category. They’re the types who say, ‘“But you look so good,’” and make small talk with comments like, ‘“I’m gonna have to get me one of those chairs,’” or, ‘“It must be nice being able to park so close to the store.’” How Janet manages to ignore the unintended insults and reply with a smile is beyond me.
To be fair, unless you are confronted with it constantly, you wouldn’t be expected to understand that a one-inch difference between a street and a curb can be insurmountable to a motorized wheelchair; that one step between porch and sidewalk might as well be 10 feet; that parking on the yellow line of the handicapped space means that the person cannot maneuver out of the van. It’s the little things that the rest of us take for granted that cause the most exasperation for the wheelchair bound.
I hate to say this to my well-meaning friends, but I wish you wouldn’t ask me, ‘“How’s Janet?’” unless you really want to know. Because ‘“Fine’” is an inappropriate response. Truth is, she’s not fine and she’s not going to be fine, barring a miracle or a president who will allow stem-cell research to become a top priority. (Don’t get me started.) No offense, but I would rather you just say, ‘“I’m keeping Janet in my prayers’” or ‘“Tell that lovely wife of yours that we love her’” or something of that nature.
Now, as for the other category, the ones who are too important to be bothered, the ones whose time is more valuable than ours, the ones who live by a different set of rules ‘… I have some bad news. A couple of weeks ago the News & Record ran a story about a group of volunteers who are empowered by the Greensboro Police Department to give tickets to cars illegally parked in handicapped spaces. Well, the next training class is going to be held in July, and guess who signed up? Yup, as of next month, just call me the Handicap Nazi. Oh, by the way, the fine has gone up from $100 to $250.
If you care to join me, call Sgt. Kevin Moore of the Greensboro PD at 336.373.2648.
And as for the yuppie owner of the burgundy Jag who thinks he owns the handicapped spot in front of the Guilford College Harris Teeter, you in a heap o’ trouble, boy.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard each Tuesday from 9:30- 10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.