Sunday, October 20, 2013

Experience a Disability

My class  participated in an assignment this past week called ”Experiencing a Disability” and this event has created a lot of reflection on my part. 
This major project required everyone in our class to pretend we had experienced a stroke that left our dominant side unusable. My class of 15, after dividing into teams of three or four, visited 7 different stations and we tried to carry out a variety of activities sometimes with further physical challenges attached.
Me in pink and two of my new friends.
I had a meltdown days before the event.  I couldn’t understand how this was all going to work for me.  Panic set in and my inner dialogue took off at top speed.
  •  I already have left side (non-dominant) weakness so if you take away my good dominant side will I wind up falling down a flight of stairs?
  •  If I have these extra disabilities it puts me facing more physical struggles than others in the class so No Fair!  
  • I already know what it is like to have a disability so why should I have to do this for marks? 
  • Will what has been an everyday reality for me and some of my friends turn out to be a joke or playing make-believe to my classmates? On the other hand, perhaps the class will get a better understanding about stroke as well as other disabilities which I am sure is the true intent of the exercise.

On reflection I realized that none of that was what my anxiety was really all about. In reality I am terrified that someday I will find myself right back in a hospital unable to talk or move again.  Having my movement or vision reduced, are the things my nightmares are made up of and that was exactly what was being asked of me with this assignment. I had to take a leap of faith and face some of my fears. I talked to the teacher and told him I needed to be sure that I would be safe and he reassured me that he would never let anyone be at risk but that I did need to participate and see how I could contribute.
 
On the day of the workshop my group of three started off at a station where we were to pretend to have had a dominant side stroke and that we needed to use a cane. We were told we also have vision issues so the other two got eye patches covering one eye each and I got glasses that clouded over one eye completely and left only the bottom 1/3 of one lens clear.  We were to place marshmallows in our cheek to mimic speaking difficulties. We had directions to go down to the lower level and go to the library, find a particular book and then find a video with a particular call number. Write down the name of the book and of the video using your non-dominant hand. Next go to the cafeteria and order a drink or snack.. still with marshmallows in cheek, eye patches on, using the cane and still not using one arm we had to get those drinks back upstairs.
Experience is a good teacher.  I aimed our little group straight at the elevator that is designated for disabled students, I got the librarian to help at one point and I asked for a cold drink in a plastic bottle with a lid because I know better than to carry a hot coffee in a paper cup. When we were  walking I kept my cane in my stronger hand because I wasn’t going to risk a fall while learning about disabilities.
Other activities done in the class room included putting on a shirt and doing up the buttons with the non-dominant hand. Picking up pennies with gloves that mimicked arthritis as well as playing some games like connect four and bingo wearing the gloves.  How about serving and eating Jello one handed and with an eye patch on then mixing up flour and water to make a batter? What about getting toothpaste out of its tube and onto a toothbrush or tying shoes with one hand?

 You know what? It turned out to be a good experience for the most part. All that occupational therapy and physiotherapy has paid off, because even with my weaker side I could do a lot of these activities simply because I already know many tricks of the trade for doing these things. Restricting my good hand and letting me use only my spastic left in therapy apparently has also paid off!
The final station was not as big a success for me. The goal of that one was to use a wheelchair to get to a bathroom and then without using the dominant arm and leg, transfer to the toilet and then get your pants back up and get back in the wheel chair and return to the classroom.  To begin with I did not have enough strength in my left hand to get the door open to get out of the classroom. Bad start. Trying to scoot an oversize wheel chair with my weaker, and I might add less coordinated, leg and arm was a huge issue. I got myself to the washroom stall eventually but I was unable to pull myself up to do a transfer with either hand. No pretending. I had hit my endurance limit.  I slowly worked my way back to the room wheeling using both arms and I was kind of glad to be sitting down. A guy in a wheelchair of his own gave me a  knowing and defiant glare and basically did a wheelie in front of me.. the show off. At another time I might have been embarrassed or perhaps irritated but I was too tired to give a darn at that point.

I must admit I liked hearing the other students saying it was so much harder than they expected it to be.  The next day several classmates said they had needed to nap when they got home after the workshop. Yup that is my normal daily reaction too.

My good stroke friend Dave D. likes to talk about The Lessons Learned so here we go.
  • I still have some emotional trauma issues lingering related to the brain injury but at lest I am aware of them and know I need to work on them
  • My fine motor skills on the left side are better than I thought. I’m so glad I really worked on it with guitar, typing, crochet and any other hand exercise I could find.
  • My gross motor on the left could be a whole lot better as could my stamina. I want to see what is possible so I just made an appointment with a new physiotherapist.
  • We should be willing to ask for and accept help when needed
  • I am willing to do stuff like wedge a plate of Jello against my chest in order to spoon it up one handed if that is what it takes. 
  • My class is really a great group of people.
  • I still have a lot to offer.

2 comments:

Jim Sparks said...

Hi Linda. Sounds like an interesting and worthwhile exercise. I do a lot of work with people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, and I've participated in an exercise where those without the disease experiece a taste of what it's like to have it by trying to carry on a conversation while others speak loudly into your ear. It was very disturbing, and enlightening.

Humpty Dumpty said...

Sounds like a trying experiment, but it was also a great learning opportunity for you, as well as all the others in the class. Working with special needs people, I am well aware of the difficulties these folk face every day. It's hard enough for me, a relatively able-bodied person, to PUSH their wheelchairs into bathroom stalls, let alone struggle be the one IN the wheelchairs & having to maneuver into those places.

Our close mutual friend with MS has often complained about the layout of certain washrooms in local public places that she visits using her scooter, which is slightly larger than a wheelchair. Some of the double-door entrances are next to impossible to access because of the limited space once stuck between the doors and the way the doors open INTO those cramped spaces. She is very involved in letting the local political offices know about such places in the hopes of building awareness and having city engineers re-think the term ACCESSIBLE.

I hope your classmates will now appreciate the difficulties you face every day and I know you have a better understanding of those who are less capable than you. :)

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