The Americans with Disabilities Act put the spotlight on a group of people in the USA. This group now has a voice; a constituency that has come of age. This community votes, works and pays taxes.This blog is based on a N.Y. newspaper column I wrote for the Rockland County Journal-News from 1990-92.
The surgery eventually would let me hold my head up without a neck brace. The operations stabilized my condition, but I remained paralyzed. I was flown home, and spent the next seven months in the New YorkUniversityMedicalCenter's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation. There I learned just how much my spinal cord injury would really change my life.
I was paralyzed from my chest to my feet. I had limited use of my arms and wrists, but I could not use my fingers. I had lost sensation below my chest and I had no control over my bowel or bladder functions. I could not walk. I couldn't even roll over in bed.
In rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapists taught me how to care for my paralyzed body. I was taught to look for red marks on my skin that could lead to skin ulcers. I learned to feed myself and how to accept care from others. I learned to use a wheelchair. And, I learned how to drive a specially-equipped van with hand controls.
Eat Like a Pig
I also learned about SCI from patients who also were paralyzed. I had my first "public" lunch with two other patients on the 4th floor wing of Rusk, about two months after being admitted. It was a big event for me. I usually ate alone in my room because eating was extremely difficult. I couldn't hold utensils with my fingers, so the nurses cut my food into bite-sized pieces for me. I then fed myself, usually dropping food all over.
Joe Mendez and Al Crespo were in the room when I got there. My nurse set up my tray and left the three of us alone. Joe was a police officer and became paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. Al was a laborer who became quadriplegic in a car accident while vacationing in Spain with his wife. Al's injury was similar to mine.
Al already had started eating, and he was holding a tuna sandwich in a lifeless-looking paralyzed hand. He couldn't use his fingers either. "I can't complain," he said, "I'm eating and breathing."
I tried to take the plastic wrap off my sandwich but couldn't. I tried using my teeth, but I kept dropping the sandwich on my wheelchair tray. I was getting frustrated and embarrassed. "Jim, let me help you," Joe said. "I don't know how you guys do it. Being a 'quad' has got to be tough." As Joe rolled his wheelchair toward me and began to remove the plastic wrap, Al took a bite out of his sandwich. Some tuna fell to his tray. Sandwich unwrapped, I tried to pick it up but couldn't without making a mess.
"Al," I said, "what's the best way to pick up and hold a sandwich without the food falling all over the place?" Al held up his sandwich. "Jim," he said, "there's one thing I've learned: Eat it any way you can. Sometimes you have to eat like a pig" -- his eyes watered -- "the food is always going to fall out."
After a struggle, I picked up my sandwich and some of my tuna fell out. But I took a bite anyway. "Not bad, Jim," Joe said. Al grinned.
That was a beginning. Being disabled was not going to be easy or glamourous. All the things I knew as an able-bodied person would have to change. My perception of myself, my eating and sleeping, my surviving -- everything had to change. And it would probably be messy.
My greatest lesson at Rusk came when I left the hospital in August, 1981. Unlike many who leave hospitals healthy, I was leaving as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. I didn't feel recovered, and I didn't feel good about myself. I even thought about suicide. What would my life be like as a handicapped person? Despite all the care and the help I received at the hospital, I realized I could not accept my disability. I could never be comfortable with it. However, I would have to learn to cope with it.
Part 3 will be posted on May 31, 2011 at noon EST.
I flew home on a business trip this week from Las Vegas, Nevada, to JFK airport in New York, and once again the trip was daunting and frustrating.
Airline travel is tough enough for all of us, however, when you have a disability and are traveling in a wheelchair, it becomes even more challenging. As a backdrop, I've been traveling for more than 35 years as a wheelchair rider and a C5-C6 quadriplegic. I basically travel when I must, especially when there is a business purpose involved.
I was returning from a disability inclusion conference with an organization called Disability:In, formally known as USBLN. My team and I had just been recognized on behalf of our firm, JPMorgan Chase, as one of the best companies to work for if you have a disability and are qualified to compete for employment opportunities.
A perfect landing, but no wheelchair I had already done four transfers to and from from my wheelchair by the time I arrived at JFK airport in New York on Delta flight 371. When membe…
On the evening of Thursday June 21, 2018, 19 talented high school students received their high school diplomas form the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, New York.
I was honored to be invited as the commencement speaker for this talented class of graduates, who completed a rigorous education curriculum despite their disabilities. The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Kindergarten through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses. View an overview video about The Viscardi Center.
The school was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. who himself wore prosthetic legs, served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Cart…
Stem Cell Treatment Comes to Life(Caution: This particular blog describes a wound on my hip, not an uncommon occurrence for folks paralyzed and without sensation on their bodies. Photos of the wound may be too graphic for some readers).
I knew the prospect of surgery was possible, as Dr. Gibbons asked that I have a consultation with Dr. Helm several months earlier during my traditional treatment for this wound. At the time, Dr. Helm basically told me that in some cases, skin is used from another part of the body, the buttocks for example, and used to close the wound in question.
The drawbacks are obvious, as you now have two wounds that have to heal. In my case, I'd be bed-ridden for the majority of the time because I'm paralyzed. And, it could take months for both wounds to heal, if they do heal. To me, it seemed risky, and debilitating. Frankly it scared me.
With that as background, in October of 2015 during a weekly
checkup, my wound was infected and decaying, accompanie…