FOR the first time ever (in my forty plus years of life), I found myself laid up in bed beyond the occasional 24 hour man-flu.
An unlucky combination of an ear-infection and a pig farming back-injury essentially had me bed-ridden for nearly a full week in the last days of 2017 which left me disoriented and writhing in pain for what felt like an eternity.
It is possible, of course, that my personal threshold for pain is not as high as some and maybe a stronger man would have endured far better, but the point is that for me (in that week) life as I knew it was completely transformed. Even the simplest of tasks like rolling over in my bed became an excruciating exercise in will-power to make my body do what the brain was telling it not to do. And, let’s just say that my nearly perfected routine of using the restroom and shower was not the neat, comforting affair I had come to know. I was on the verge of calling for help…to use the bathroom.
And then there was work including the work of my job which for that time, I very simply could not perform. I missed a few critical meetings, the lawn didn’t get cut and my pigs got pretty hungry. It became painfully apparent how people (often through no fault of their own) can fall on hard times. For many of us, if we can’t work, the paychecks will stop. Fortunately for me, there are good people in my life to fill the gaps such as they were and my job administers a fair and reasonable sick leave policy…no doubt I am one of the lucky ones.
To say I felt humbled and practically defeated would be an understatement (even after only a week), but now a mere week or so since I find myself nearly fully recovered and getting cockier by the minute as if I could so easily forget that “but for the grace of God (go I).”
I’ve watched far greater men than I go from solid, healthy bodies one day to needing a wheelchair the next or from near perfect speech one day to having to relearn their ABCs. And so, with each passing day spent in bed, a real fear descended over me like a dank, thick shadow of my deepest fears crawling to the surface: “What if I never recover from this…? How will I work? How will I feed my family or myself? Who will help me shower? What will I do with the rest of my life?”
A significant portion of my life to date has been dedicated to advocating for and championing the rights of people with disabilities and it has long been a familiar battle cry to remind people that disabilities do not discriminate on basis of age, gender, color, socio-economic status, etc., etc. In an instant at any given point, even for the healthiest among us, the course of our lives can be significantly altered by the onset of a disability. I’m not proud of this, but even after all these years it took this very direct, isolated experience for me to better comprehend the full weight and meaning of this simple truth. So if there is a reason for everything, perhaps the reason I got taken down at the end of the year was three-fold as follows: (1) All of us need a healthy serving of humble-pie every now and again, (2) We could all stand to be a little more empathetic to people facing challenges unfamiliar to ourselves, and (3) Many of us would benefit greatly from a commitment to taking better care of our health (mind, body and soul).
This community (our island community) is no stranger to the realities and devastation many families have had to endure as a result of the sudden onset of life-altering disabilities. And no, not all disabilities are devastating, but the truth is that people with disabilities face a very real, unique set of societal challenges and remain among the most vulnerable to abuse, neglect and discrimination. More often than not, a person who becomes disabled is ultimately left to his own devices when it comes down to it. There is no magic entitlement button or golden parachute beyond the very minimal forms of welfare assistance absent any personal wealth and other independent resources.
Advocates at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc. or NMPASI often tread a fine line between helping people and helping them to help themselves. We take the position (because we believe it to be correct) that all people (disability or otherwise) have an absolute right to be free from abuse, neglect and discrimination. And, we also take the position that people have a responsibility to themselves and to the community to be productive, contributing members of society.
Our role is to clear their paths of any unwanted, discriminatory barriers that may get in the way or simply, perhaps, to remind people (in this and every New Year) about the value of empathy and all resolutions that start with concern for others above self.
For more on the rights of persons with disabilities, please feel free to contact the NMPASI office at (670 235-7273/4 [tel] / 235-7275 [fax] or via www.nmpasi.org
The author is executive director of NMPASI.