Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Importance of Being Independent

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Importance of Being Independent

Article excerpt

Every Christmas season, I am sure to watch Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The two scenes that always make me cry are when the evil magician traps Frosty in the poinsettia greenhouse, causing him to turn into a puddle, and in Rudolf when Yukon Cornelius falls over a cliff with the Abominable Snowman and is thought to be dead. However, the character that touches me the most is not the star of either show. His name is Herby, and he is an elf who wants to be a dentist. He, like Rudolph, is ridiculed for being different, and because of the similarities in their circumstances, they become good friends. Herby declares himself "in-dee-pen-dent," and Rudolf follows suit. They embark on a journey seeking fame and fortune, and not only do they save Christmas Day, but they are celebrated for their unique independence by the same people who had once mocked them.

While I was brought up in an extremely self-governing household, I didn't fully appreciate the importance of independence until I broke my neck in a car accident when I was 21. Having initially lost all of my ability to move or feel anything below my neck, I had to be assisted with every single aspect of personal care--showering, dressing, emptying my bladder or bowels, being transferred from my bed to my wheelchair, scratching any itch, and even feeding myself. Once I was living on my own, the list of things I needed help with grew: doing my laundry, running errands, washing dishes, doing light housekeeping, being driven to physical therapy or to meet a friend for lunch or to get my hair done, etc. In the present day, when someone comes to me for a job interview as a potential personal care aide and they ask me what their duties will be, I always tell them anything they do for themselves once they've opened their eyes in the morning may be something they do for me.

Personally, the element of having to constantly ask for what I needed was one of the hardest aspects of living with a disability. I was determined to be as independent as I could possibly be, and I did it in all the wrong ways. When at work, I would sit for eight or ten hours straight at my desk and not once ask my aide to help me stretch or shift my weight; as a result, I developed dangerous pressure sores that more than once landed me in the hospital for weeks at a time. This only added to my frustration because in a hospital you are much more dependent on people than in your own home environment. …

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