Letters to the Editor – October 2006

“Hey Rodney, Here’s Your Respect!” by Scott Schifsky, Saint Paul As a former Direct Support Professional I have concerns regarding […]

“Hey Rodney, Here’s Your Respect!”

by Scott Schifsky, Saint Paul

As a former Direct Support Professional I have concerns regarding the PCA who wrote about feeling like Rodney Dangerfield last month. [“Where’s the Respect?” —Sept. 10, 2006] I have a few ideas that may be of assistance to this “anonymous” clown.

Dear Rodney,

If your back, arms and legs hurt so damn bad, go back to Tires Plus and patch tires for the big bucks. I think the last thing the disability community needs is a whiny six-foot-six person who does nothing but complain about how hard it is to do direct care.

Please let me also point out I’m six-foot-one, 210 pounds and would be willing to slap you if that would help you come to your senses.

By the way, you don’t serve “clients,” you serve People. “Client” means “dependent” in the dictionary. I’m sure the folks you serve have learned not to depend on you!

 

Living with a Disability is No Tragedy

by John Tschida

Like Bradley Bakken, whose tragic story opened Aug. 31’s front-page article of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the increasing spinal injuries in Minnesota, I “lived and breathed the outdoors,” and I, too, broke my neck in an accident that sent my life careening in a horribly unplanned direction. At age 26 my hiking and biking days came to an abrupt end in a motionless heap just opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. My legs were dead, paralyzed for good.

My mother, upon hearing that I would live my remaining days as a quadriplegic, was devastated. As a teenager I sat beside her in the front seat of our ’77 family station wagon and refused to wear a seat belt. “Better dead than quad” was my motto. She was convinced I’d never want to live “like that,” confined to a wheelchair and dependent upon others for the most private of human functions.

She was wrong, as I was wrong in my teenage wisdom, having never dreamed I would need to fashion a life in a body that is nearly lifeless.

Spinal cord injuries are tragic and in many cases are life-altering, but living with a disability is no tragedy. The U.S. Census tells us that more than 679,000 Minnesotans have disabilities. We see it daily in the eyes, ears and limbs of our friends and elderly relatives. Many disabilities we can’t see, such as mental health and chronic pain, but these conditions can be just as crippling and profound as a shallow dive or, in my experience, a bicycle accident. In short, disability happens, and if we live long enough we’ll all experience it.

Make no mistake, a broken neck means a profound change in lifestyle and often life expectations. Grieving the loss of a life left behind is gut-wrenching. But living with a disability is something millions of Americans do each day. For most of us, this isn’t about overachieving or overcoming. It isn’t even inspirational or necessarily heroic. It is what it is. Whether by birth, accident or diagnosis, it’s a part of everyday life. For some it is a mere inconvenience. For others, often with severe disabilities, it can be a constant struggle with pain, both emotional and physical.

Today, I am literally surrounded at my place of employment by people whose limbs may be functionally useless, but whose lives are filled with meaning. Some require ventilators to breathe, many use wheelchairs, and still others carry disabilities that will never be seen. Each has a story, many of which are sad tales that involve diving, car wrecks or violence. All have found a welcome place to gather for help and support that helps define who they are and who they will become.

By opting to be disconnected from the respirator that kept him alive, Bradley Bakken made a choice for himself and his family that I would never say is the wrong choice, nor would I say that su! ch a choice be eliminated as a matter of law. I only hope that in the midst of such agonizing circumstances there is access to resources like those that surround me each day.

There is hope to be found, and happiness that repeatedly creeps in, often in the most unexpected and wonderful ways.

John Tschida is vice president of public affairs and research at Courage Center in Golden Valley. First Published September 09, 2006, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.