An interesting exchange happened between a physician and me earlier this week. I had seen him before but did not know his name, so I decided to say hi and introduce myself. After we greeted each other, the conversation went something like this:
“I’m here for a few weeks doing a rotation,” I tell him.
“What year are you in? Third year?” he asks.
“So you already applied for residency? What are your top places that you want to go to?”
I tell him my top three choices and expect him to congratulate me for getting those interviews or to tell me good luck or something like that.
He quickly responds, “Oh, okay. You had your accident when you were coming back home from Augusta, right?”
I did not expect that. I smile a little. “Yes,” I respond.
“So, you cannot walk at all? Can you move your legs at all?”
“No….” I am not sure where this conversation is going.
“So, is there any hope for you to walk again?”
“Well, I have been this way for almost five years and I have not gotten anything back. But it’s okay.” I give him a big smile.
“Well, I’m sure there is something out there, like something that stimulates the nerves to move the legs and allows you to walk again.”
“Yeah, I’m sure there is. Alright, I have to go see a patient right now. It was good seeing you,” I say to him and then go away.
How did that conversation make you feel?
There are a few things wrong with that exchange. I hope you noticed them.
I did not really know the guy. I recognized his face, but that is all. After we greeted each other, he asked and I told him about the prestigious places I interviewed at to complete my medical training and specialization. One would expect to receive a response with comments or questions related to what I had just said. Instead, the immediate next questions were about my disability and if there was any hope for me. I get asked why I am in a wheelchair nearly every day and I do not mind it at all. But I was not sure what that topic had to do with me completing medical school and starting a medical residency program.
This was a reminder.
It was a reminder to me that despite everything, some people will look at me and still only see my disability. I have and will always strive to be the best I can be in order to overcome this mentality, but it persists. The things I have accomplished and hope to accomplish do not mean much to a lot of people. They will always see my wheelchair before they see me.
Everything in my life may be going great but, for some, I will always be imperfect because of what they see when they look at me.
As I mentioned in my last talk, I am still looked down upon and pitied.
I will never be considered whole.
Another thing wrong with that conversation is what the physician said to me afterwards about how he is sure there will be some technological or medical breakthrough in the future that will help me.
Please do not get me wrong; I would give up my life savings and my salary for the next 10 years to walk and be able-bodied again.
But I do not need to be consoled. Well, at least not for the wrong reasons. The hidden, unconscious feelings that some have when saying those types of things to me is pity, gratitude that it is me and not them in this situation, and also bewilderment that life can go on despite these obstacles. All of these thoughts and feelings express a deep seated belief that the lives of others are better than mine and, essentially, that other people are better than me.
This is not an issue of pride for me.
People think that life would surely end if the ability to walk or to be “normal” was permanently taken away at such a young age. Life will always be imperfect. Life will be different and, obviously, there is clearly something wrong with being different.
The people closest to me and I would like to be appreciated for the things I have done and for who I am. Instead of giving off positive vibes, the feelings and vibes given off my others are often negative. That is what I am trying to express right now. The seemingly innocent pity when people say these things carries with it an implication that there is something wrong with me as a person and that I will never be complete. Yes, my life and the lives of those close to me may be a little different, but we are happy. I live an amazing life that is full of love. I am at peace and I am content.
These are feelings that people strive for and work towards their whole lives without attaining.
I of course know that people will always see my wheelchair when they look at me. That is obvious. I just hope that one day, people will measure my worth by my character and accomplishments, and not judge me by what they see as my imperfections.