Sunday, October 16, 2011


I’m not sure how many know the extent of my paralysis, because I don’t go around telling everyone and complaining about it. I’m as grateful as I can be for everything I have.

I came across something the other day that made me once again count my blessings:
“Body Suit May Help Quadriplegics Walk, Use Hands and Sense Textures”
Forget about movement for a few minutes. If that is impaired in a person, we can see that and maybe even be empathetic.

What if you couldn’t feel? How often do we take the sense of touch for granted?

The warm summer sun.

The feeling of sand beneath our toes.

The touch of a loved one.

The warmth of a fireplace over cold fingers after playing in the snow.

The rush of cool water when we jump into a swimming pool.

The warmth and comfort of someone when we receive a hug.

I met a girl when I was in therapy who had been fully quadriplegic. She had to control her chair using her mouth. Over the span of seven years, she slowly regained movement and sensation of her arms. Her mother was helping her shave her legs once when this girl yelled, “Ouch!” The razor had nicked her leg and the girl had felt it. She had actually felt it. She and her mom were thrilled.

I read somewhere the joy one person felt when he was finally able to feel water. “It has to be really cold for me to feel it, but I can still feel it,” he said. Can you imagine how amazing that must feel?

I remember asking a few friends the hypothetical question: if you could only have one thing in your limbs, movement or sensation, what would you choose?

If you lose some sensation, maybe you become desensitized to other things, literally and figuratively speaking.

You may sometimes hear about those who are troubled doing things because they just want to feel—something, anything—to know that they are alive and still human. Maybe that’s what we’re all doing.

Imagine what not being able to feel would do to you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

See me

I sometimes have to shake myself back to reality.

Two years ago, when my scars were still fresh, I was pretty self conscious. I had become a new person, and I wasn’t sure if people would accept me. People who hadn’t seen me in a while were shocked.

One year ago, I was anxious to start medical school. I was unsure of how my classmates would treat me. I was scared about starting and eager to live on my own. I wanted to prove to people—especially the doubters, but perhaps even myself—that I could attend medical school and live alone.

These blog posts have shown how I have evolved, although they certainly do not paint the full picture at times. My more recent posts seem to show how I’m much more comfortable with who I am, with how things are, and with life in general.

The shake back to reality happens when I am doing the most random of things, like checking my mail. I will think to myself, “Man, Hammad: you’re not like other people; you’re different. You really are different.”

I have to remind myself that I’m not walking to check my mail or to my car; I’m rolling. I can’t quickly run out of places; I have to use the elevator. I can’t pace through the aisles of the library or in my room while trying to memorize facts; there isn’t enough room for that while in a wheelchair. I can’t see other people (peers, professors, patients, etc) eye-to-eye; I can only do that when they are sitting down.

Then I wonder: what do other people think when they see me?

I think my close friends hardly notice me as being different from anyone else now, but what do they think when they do notice? I feel like my classmates also stopped thinking I am different. Or maybe it’s just me: maybe I stopped thinking I am different so I just think they have. I mean, I know I’m different, but I don’t let it bother me. But what do they think?

Most importantly, what do people who meet me for the first time think? This is what I was always self conscious about.

People who are taller tend to get more respect. Just like animals in the wild, they tend to be seen as the alpha males who can more easily control a room, influence others, and dominate an argument. Now that I’m sitting in a chair all the time, it is as if I am as tall as a child. I’m sure this makes people inadvertently think they can overpower me. This should be frustrating, but there really isn’t much I can do.

If I’m half as tall, sometimes I think I have to work twice as hard to prove myself. And then sometimes I think I don’t have to prove myself.

I was again having a conversation the other day with a friend about “people with disabilities” versus “disabled people”. My speech therapist corrected me once when I said something about “disabled people” and she told me how I should say “people with disabilities” instead. Think about it.

People from countries outside the United States seem to have a harder time seeing past a handicap. Because for them, people back in the home country just stayed at home and did nothing once they had a debilitating accident or illness.

Although I see myself as a “person with a disability”, I know that people who see me for the first time, some parents, and perhaps some people who have known me for a while (but not comfortably) see me as a “disabled person”.

Everyone has a disability; mine’s just visible.