Friday, June 20, 2014

Having Compassion

This is a self portrait I recently painted

Yes I know it has been a long time. I have no excuse for not having written sooner.

Something disillusioning happened yesterday at the RIC gym where I workout a couple of times a week. There is a guy there, I will call him Tom. Tom has be afflicted with multiple schelorsis and is in pretty bad shape. I have so much admiration for him and his tenacity. He tries so hard and despite all that has befallen him, his attitude is one of positivity and hope.

For about the last 6-9 months I have been helping him in whatever way I can, giving him workout tips, helping him grip weights in his uncooperative hands and just generally encouraging him in whatever capacity seems appropriate at the time. After a while we became gym friends.

Tom is in an electric wheelchair because his condition is such that he cannot operate a manual chair. At one point in time he felt comfortable enough to ask me to help him in the bathroom. Tom's hands are so debilitated he cannot undo his belt nor can he unzip his zipper. What I do is move his legs off the foot rest of his wheelchair, this is something he needs to have done to help him to urinate. I also undo his belt and unzip his pants for him.

I must admit I felt a little uncomfortable at first, but that pales in comparison to how he must feel having to ask for my help. Tom pees into a styrofoam cup, he cannot use the urinal and I am unable help him get onto the toilet. The simplest thing to do is to do what he does. After urinating into the cup he pours it down the sink, rinses the sink and rinses his hands.

While he is taking care of business, I look the other way and make small talk, easing the situation and making both he and I more comfortable. When he is finished, I zip up his pants, refasten his belt and put his legs back on the footrest of the wheelchair, then we get back to the business of working out.

We have been doing this for months and often times other men come into and out of the restroom without incident. Yesterday we did what we always do and there were a lot of guys in and out of the bathroom. There was an older man with some type of leg brace and when he saw Tom pour the urine down the sink, he said in a very loud voice, "Don't pour that down the sink, pour it in the urinal. People use that sink to wash their hands."

This was quite embarrassing for Tom and I knew it. I looked up at the rude insensitive man and I said in none too friendly a tone, "Leave him alone, he is doing the best he can do." I was furious, I could feel my blood boiling over and I wanted him to say something more about it because had he persued it further, I was really going to let him have it. Fortunately for him he dropped it.

It didn't make sense to me that a man who was somewhat incapacitated himself could be so insensitive to another's plight. Where is the understanding and sympathy? It seemed to me that this man was angry and bitter about his own situation and his bitterness would not allow him to see past his own situation. One look at Tom's poor mangled body should have evoked feelings of compassion, a willingness to want to help or some small grain of understanding,  but oviously  it did not.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, one of things I find most rewarding about working out at the RIC gym is the comradery between gym patrons. The lack of judgment and the total acceptance of everyone toward the other is what makes this gym so unique. I guess this man didn't get the memo.

Even though I have lost both of my legs, I realize there are scenarios that are worse. At RIC I am able to help others, and it gives me great pleasure to do so. I am thankful I have full use of my arms and hands and if I can put them to use to help another I am going to do it, without hesitation and with gratefulness.

My aunt, Lynda, who has been stricken with Parkinson's Disease, told me in a conversation we had that when someone else helps you, they are not only helping you, they are also helping themselves, both have been blessed. It is a mutual benefication. I try to remember that when I myself feel burdensome to others.

We are all in this together, but by God's grace anyone could find themselves in any of a myriad of unfortunate circumstances, and we owe it to each other to make life easier and happier in whatever way we can.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Biloxi Trip Part 2

Marguerite and myself at MacElroy's Restaurant having lunch.

Outside the restaurant, notice the shrimping boats behind me.
Ok it looks like the website is cooperating so I can continue writing about my trip. What made my trip so special was that my friends went out of their way to make things as easy and comfortable as possible for me. Paul made some makeshift ramps to help me get from the garage into the house and from the house to the screened in porch. They even went so far as to give me their master bedroom and bath to make it more comfortable and easier to use the bathroom not to speak of more privacy.

I did something I have not done before while in Biloxi, as you know I like to workout and I was a little concerned about missing an entire week of exercise while on vacation. I went to a regular gym, not a gym for persons with disabilities, but a regular gym,  not only did I go but I wore my short legs there also. You need to understand what an accomplishment this was for me. To go to a gym that is designed specifically for persons with disabilities and wearing short legs is not really a big deal because the other gym patrons have a whole host of problems from MS, paralysis, blindness, etc., however, in this case I was the only person with an obvious disability and then wearing those short legs also. 

I ended up going there three times with Paul and it was nice to be able to use some of the machines not offered at the gym I normally go to in Chicago. Not surprisingly I was able to master most of the machines I wanted to use with a few exceptions. I really enjoyed it. I remember Paul mentioned to me toward the end of my visit that it wasn't so bad going, he  did not notice anyone staring at me, I quickly interjected I did notice people staring although they do it on the sly. I guess you would have to be in my position to understand but nonetheless, I am glad I did it and the people at the desk in the gym were very nice and friendly.

A strange thing happened the last day Paul and I were at the gym, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this 2 part blog post, I had forgotten to bring my handicapped parking placard, that meant we could not park in any of the eight designated handicapped parking spaces. What I did was to stay in one of the handicapped spaces in my wheelchair donning my short legs and wait for Paul to pull the car around to pick me up, no problem right? Bear in mind that there were eight spaces provided for disabled persons, on this particular day as I was waiting for Paul to pick me up, all eight of the spaces were vacant. I am sitting in my chair waiting and a woman pulls up in her car and proceeds to pull into the space where I am. I had to move in order for her to park there, all the while there are seven other vacant spaces where she could have parked! I did notice she had a placard hanging on her rearview mirror, I was dismayed at what she had done.

I mentioned it to Paul and he immediately got out of the car and confronted her asking her why she had forced me to move when there were many other spaces available. She claimed I had moved when I saw her pulling in. Paul said of course he moved he didn't want you to hit him. She said it was just a misunderstanding, but you would expect more from a person who is allegedly disabled herself. After it was over, I told Paul he did not have to do that, he said yes Glenn I did, it needed to be addressed. I thanked him for addressing the situation and he said I would have addressed it regardless, but I was sure glad it wasn't a 6'2" bodybuilder. We both laughed. My point is that people are often just oblivious to what is going on around them, or they just don't care, either way I mention this because I want you, my readers, to be aware and realize things similar to this happen all the time.

On a much lighter note, Paul and Marguerite have this zero radius riding lawn mower that has hand controls and I ended up driving it around their three acre yard, it was a blast. After I figured out how to get on the thing, I was tooling around all over the place. It really gave me a sense of freedom. Actually the entire trip gave me a sense of freedom and accomplishment.

After we were a few days into my visit, Marguerite looked at me and said, "You know what we should do?" I asked, "What?" she replied, "We should make this an annual trip. What do you think?" I responded by telling her I would really like that a lot.

Although there were many more things we did and said to each other on my visit, suffice it to say it was a really fun and relaxing trip and I loved spending time with my dear friends and through it all, I experienced a lot of things that I might otherwise not have experienced. I am truly thankful that although I have suffered through a lot of losses in my life, I also have be blessed with really special friends. Friends I know I can always count on through thick and thin. It doesn't get any better than that.

This is that zero radius riding lawn mower, so much fun to drive.
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Biloxi Trip Part 1

I have been back from my trip to Biloxi Mississippi for about nine days. I had a wonderful time full of excitement, fun and relaxation. As planned, I flew into New Orleans, my friends Marguerite and Paul met me at the gate and we spent the afternoon in New Orleans.

As you recall this the first time I have flown alone since the loss of my second leg, as expected, and with precise planning everything went forth without a hitch. The airports, Chicago O'Hare and the Louis Armstrong in International Airport  in New Orleans, both were quite accommodating with respect to traveling while in a wheelchair.

Both coming and going through both airports I did not have to wait to receive my own wheelchair upon landing. I touched upon the procedure of boarding a jet in my last blog post but now after having experienced it I feel I can elaborate more exactly what to expect. As I was told you have to transfer from your own wheelchair to what they call a "aisle chair." This aisle chair is a mini wheelchair of sorts, much more narrow than a standard wheelchair and you must be pushed in it as it does not have the large wheels that allow you to propel yourself.

Moreover, you transfer chair to chair on the jetway right before being wheeled into the plane. I was surprised about the number of belts they use to strap you in the aisle chair. They use four belts, one across your legs, one around your abdominal area and two that criss cross your chest. The toughest part of that for me was getting across that 3 or 4 inch gap between the jetway and the actual plane itself. I suppose this is  because I am so used to doing things myself and am not accustomed to being pushed or not being in control of the wheelchair. When I arrived at my seat, it was the very first seat in first class and I remarked to the flight attendant, I felt like I was strapped in for a trip to Mars.

The flight went well and I did have a couple of Mimosas in the last hour of my flight being conscious of the necessity of not having to use the bathroom by drinking too much of anything too soon. I am still unsure how a bilateral amputee would navigate using the bathroom. I know they have an aisle chair on the plane and would wheel you to the door of the restroom but the problem lies in the fact that even if you could (and I am not sure) fit through the doorway,  I don't think you could possibly turn around to position yourself to transfer to the toilet. I guess I will have to figure that one out when the actual opportunity presents itself, although that seems a little too late.

One of the many things I enjoyed on my trip was that I actually got in my wheelchair and rolled down the sidewalk in New Orleans and got a real feel for the area. God bless Paul for all the times he took the wheelchair in and out of the car for me. We went up on one of the levies and I looked at the mighty Mississippi River, a vast expanse of muddy water with beautiful bridges and various vessels.

Before I forget if you are embarking on such a trip, don't do what I did and forget to bring your handicapped parking placard. I could have kicked myself a dozen times for that faux pas.

We had lunch in New Orleans at a place called "Two Sisters of the Court" an old building that like so many in New Orleans have courtyards in the center of the building. Great food, beautiful outdoor ambience, typical of New Orleans and just the type of place I wanted to experience.

I took this pic right after I got out of the car in New Orleans, I knew I would use it in this blog.
One of the things I loved about New Orleans was of course its old world charm, many of the buildings are old and famous for their balconies decorated with ornate scrolled wrought iron railings.

This is typical of New Orleans architecture.

For some unknown reason I cannot get this to cooperate and go back to the font it is supposed to use to continue writing, I think this is a good opportunity to sign off and continue this at a later date. Stay tuned for the rest of my trip to Biloxi part 2.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Flying Solo

I had this photo taken at the RIC gym last week.
Ok, so I have already blown it with respect to the fact I was going to write more regularly than I did last year. I did not write anything last month,  however,  in my defense, or to offer up an excuse, I have been painting a lot lately. I guess it is all good and all a means of expressing myself, whether writing or painting.

Good news, I am going to visit my friends Marguerite and Paul in Biloxi next week. This will be the first time I have flown since the loss of my second leg over three years ago. In fact this will be the first time I have flown alone since the loss of either leg. Back in 2010 as you recall, I went on that cruise with my friend Shawn but we flew together from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. This time I will be entirely on my own.

Fortunately my dear friends M and P are giving me this trip as a belated Christmas gift and to make it even more wonderful, I will be flying first class. I have never flown first class, I think the main reason they opted for first class was to make this trip easier for me. I will have more room, it will be more comfortable and it is a direct flight. I am actually flying into New Orleans where they  will pick me up and we will spend an afternoon in New Orleans then afterward we will make the 90 minute drive back to Biloxi.

With the help and advice of some friends I think I have all my bases covered. I actually called American Airlines, spoke to someone in "Special Services" I explained about my being a wheelchair user and I wanted them to explain step by step what and how to do everything.

When I arrive at the airport, my assistant, Frank will let me off in front of American Airlines and I will do a curb side baggage check in. I am going to download my boarding pass from my computer before I leave home. I will ask the skycab person to get me an attendant who will take me to security and wait while I am checked through security and then the attendant will take me to my gate.

I am not sure, having never flown first class, whether or not I will preboard 30 minutes early because I am flying first class or because I am a wheelchair user. Nonetheless, I was told I will transfer from my wheelchair to a smaller wheelchair that will fit down the aisle, then I will transfer from that smaller wheelchair to my aisle seat.

Fortunately this is only a 2 1/2 hour flight so I am not that worried about having to go to the bathroom. If it were a longer flight I am not sure how I would handle the bathroom aspect of the flight. There are so many more things to take into consideration when you are in a wheelchair than when you can walk freely.

If you are in a wheelchair, my advise to you is to mentally play out the trip in your mind before you embark. Call the airlines in advance with any questions or concerns you may have and be prepared, taking time to make sure all aspects of your trip are taken care of in advance. As you may know most anything is possible even though you use a wheelchair, it just takes more time and more planning.

Most airlines make exceptions about friends and family meeting special needs individuals, allowing them to meet you at the gate  (like the old days) and take you to baggage claim. It is probably not a good idea to drink too much before and during your flight to eliminate the need to deal with having to use those cramped airplane bathrooms. My plan is to wait until about an hour before we land and then have a little something to drink.

I know all of this may sound almost childlike but sometimes we forget and have a couple of cups of coffee and that could turn into a real nightmare. Of course if you are an amputee like me, there are all those things to remember to bring, like in my case, I am taking my short legs and wearing my long legs, my long leg charger, walkers, canes etc it seems endless sometimes.

With a little forethought you can have a pleasant flight both coming and going. This will be quite an adventure and I am looking forward to sharing how it all went when I return...until then take care.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Grandmother

This is a photograph taken on my Grandparent's 50th Anniversary.
Ask yourself who is or was the most positive influential person in your life? For me, it was my Grandmother, Lucille Wheeler. On January 29, 2014 it will be twenty five years since her passing. When I look back on my childhood,  it was my Grandparents who were the "rock of stability" in my life as I grew up. Having gone through my parent's  divorces from each other twice, it was my Grandmother who was always there, never flinching, strong, loving, and dependable.

There are so many happy memories of Mom ( we called my Grandmother Mom, never Grandma). She would always welcome any and all of her ten grandchildren with open arms and a welcomed hug. She never shyed away from demonstrative love, it was she who taught me to show love to others.

Mom who worked hard all of her life, taught me how to be a good person, about honesty, truthfulness, living as good a life as possible. Words cannot adequately describe how much I attribute the kind of person I am today to my Grandmother. She lived her life by actions, not just by mere words, she demonstrated genuineness and goodness in all she did. In a childhood wrought with the usual fighting and arguing that comes along with divorce, it was at my Grandparent's home I found solace.

I think of  Mom often and in a way I am glad she never lived long enough to see me go through the loss of my legs; it would have broken her heart to see one of her grandchildren suffer such a devastating loss. I must credit some of the  strength I feel I have demonstrated, to my Grandmother, a very strong person in her own right and well deserving of the title, family Matriarch. Mom held her family together through many tragic events and we all surfaced stronger and better people for the experiences we endured and for having such a positive influence in our lives.

After I moved to Chicago in 1980, Mom would write a letter to me once a week, long before the days of emails, and at the close of each letter she would sign it, "May God bless you in a very special this week. Love, Mom." God did bless me, giving me such a wonderful Grandmother whose very words and actions shape my life even to this day.

After Mom retired at 62 years of age, she decided to take driving lessons and learn to drive a car for the first time in her life. Think about how much gumption that took, just a little insight into what kind of a person she was, unafraid, brave, and determined. I hope I have even a small percentage of her zest for life, goodness of heart, and strength of character.

A lot has happened in the twenty five years since  we lost my blessed Grandmother, and although she is not here physically, her spirit is with all of us now and forever. Thanks Mom, I know you are aware of what I am writing now and that you are just as proud of your grandson and I am of my Grandmother. I miss you so much!

Love, Little Glenn

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Fire 10 Years Later

This a statue on an angel Bill gave me for my birthday October 2013

Recently here in Chicago there was an apartment fire that ironically took place in the same building that I lived in when I first moved to Chicago in 1980. This caught my attention because it has been ten years since a mysterious fire devastated mine and Kevin's apartment in January 2004. In another twist of irony our apartment was right up the street from this other fire that just occurred a week ago.

I cannot begin to adequately express how all encompassing a fire can be to one's life, impacting not only where you were living but also relationships with other people either directly or indirectly. As a direct consequence of the fire that Kevin and I endured, our roommate arrangement came to an abrupt end and our friendship suffered greatly. Kevin ended up moving to Florida and living with one of his sisters.

Regretably year and a half after the fire, in June 2005, Kevin passed away from liver cancer. I never got to see Kevin again, this has troubled me for years. I take some comfort in knowing he did receive a card I sent to him while he was in the hospital and the card expressed my feelings of love for him as my best friend for twenty five years.

Immediately after the fire I was overwhelmed with the damage the fire had caused and how I was going to pick up the pieces and move forward. Bill was instrumental is so many ways in helping me not only physically move what belongings of mine were salvageable but also being a rock of stability on which I could lean for emotional support. I will never forget walking into that severely burnt apartment and immediately bursting into tears. I called Bill and he was beacon of hope armed with a plan about how to approach my situation systematically, allowing me to address specific tasks and accomplish  short term goals. The first of which was to move enough of my belongings into my new apartment to be able to sleep there that very night.

Within a week of moving into my new apartment I suffered a blood clot in my right leg. I was hospitalized for 10 days and fortunately the clot was able to be dissolved. I am simplifying this ordeal, it was still a very involved set of procedures in which I suffered a great deal of physical pain. It was probably the complete set of circumstances of helping move heavy furniture across the street and up the stairs, coupled with the emotional distress of the entire fire fiasco that led to the blot clot.

The beginning of 2004 was a very difficult time for me in a myriad of ways. I had lost a great deal of my belongings from the  fire, I had a huge fight and separation from my best friend of over twenty five years and ended up in the hospital with a blood clot.

One of the reasons I am recounting these events is to let my readers know that no matter how hopeless a series of events may seem to you as you are living them, there always remains the glimmer of hope for a brighter future. I have lived through many difficult times in my life; the loss of many close friends, the loss of my artwork through another person's act of violence, the loss of my artwork through a fire, many operations, and the loss of both of my legs, one at a time.

Ten years after this fire, I am here, I am well, and I am thankful. I am thankful I am here to share my story with you and to offer you sympathy, compassion, and understanding for whatever loss you may be suffering today or tomorrow. Even though circumstances in our lives change, it is our responsibility to change along with them. I found through my life experiences that when things seem to be overwhelming, it is best to address one issue at a time.

I have dealt with the loss of many close friends by remembering the good times and for me, remembering that although people are not here in a physical sense, they are here with us spiritually; that has brought me comfort through the years. I dealt with the fire by focusing on getting my life back on track, it helps if you have someone in your life to help direct you and assure you things will be ok. I had Bill and his being here for me has helped me immeasurably.

The loss of a limb or in my case both lower limbs has been by far the most life changing event of my life thus far. I made a conscious decision after the loss of my first leg that I was not going to let this occurrence ruin my life. I was not going to allow a terrible loss dictate my future happiness. I have stuck to my resolve and although it has been quite difficult, I always remain optimistic about my future.

Everyone deals with loss differently but that does not mean you cannot deal with it successfully. I feel the magnitude of my limb loss everyday, but it has, in it's own unique way, changed me for the better. It has made me a more aware and thankful person in many ways. Sometimes when change occurs, those changes that on the surface appear to be for the worse, can in other areas of your life, make you grow as a person.

If you find yourself going through a really difficult time, remember that it will, in most instances, not last forever. If it does last forever, every person has within themselves the capacity to overcome adversity. I send my love and hope for your future happiness no matter how devastating your situation may seem at the present moment.

The picture posted at the beginning of this blog post has no real relevance to what I have written, but I like it and it is a beautiful statue and that is reason enough for me to share it with you.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

A New Year

This is a photo taken during my first Christmas in my condo in 2007, I am sitting in front of the Christmas tree with Bill's dog, Cyril.

Well another year has begun and I thought I would review some of the events that occurred during 2013 along with thoughts and hopes for 2014.

Probably one of the most constructive and beneficial accomplishments of 2013 was my joining the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's gym for persons with disabilities. It will be a year in February that I have been going to RIC and although I have mentioned it before, it warrants repeating. I have met a lot of interesting people at RIC and most importantly those people have taught me just how lucky I am. There are so many others whose  physical limitations are much more pronounced than are mine and it has made me rethink how unrestricted I actually am compared to some of the other patrons at RIC.

The above realizations coupled with being physically back in a gym, make me a happier person. There are a lot of exercises that I can do at RIC that I was not able to do at home because I lack the proper equipment and RIC offers a free personal assistant on the gym floor to assist patrons with all aspects of working out.

Another accomplishment I am proud to have completed was staining the rooftop deck of my condo building. This was a project that desperately needed to be done and I am happy to report I was able to do almost the entire  thing by myself. I did enlist the help of my friend Brian to do the areas I was not physically capable of reaching. This was an opportunity for me to make some money and at the same time show everyone including myself that there are jobs I am still capable of doing.

I had my balcony elevated so that I can now get out onto the balcony with a minimum of effort and enjoy weeding and watering my own flowers, something I had greatly missed doing for the past five years.

Through much trial, error and drama I finally managed to find a suitable roommate. One would think that finding a roommate would be a somewhat easy thing to do, however this did not prove to be the case. After my first roommate got ill and went back to live in his home state, I found another roommate who ended up being a drug addicted, alcoholic, mentally unstable individual. Upon his forced removal I finally managed to find a law student named Charles. He and I have been roommates for seven months and things are going well between he and I. Charles will continue to be my roommate until at least July, perhaps and hopefully longer.

Over the past year I have not driven my car very much, mostly because it is in need of repair and I have let the city sticker, license plates and insurance expire. I am going to rectify that situation this year, I feel I have become too dependent on my assistant for rides and such. The main reason is of course lack of sufficient funds, but I have a tentative plan.

If all goes according to my plan, I would like to paint the two hallways of my condo building this year. I have already spoken to the board president about this and am currently trying to figure out who can help me reach those areas that I cannot reach by myself. I have spoken to my nephew, Jeremiah about assisting me, however I do not know for sure if he will be able to help me.

I plan on using that money to get all the car stuff done so that instead of having my assistant drive me to the RIC gym in his car, I will drive my car and he will drive it back home. I miss driving and I particularly miss the independence that driving your own car gives a person. When you are disabled you already have had to give up many of the freedoms that able bodied persons take for granted. It is important to me to hang onto as many freedoms as I can and maintain as much autonomy as possible.

I am also going to investigate the possibility of doing some type of computer work at home to supplement my income. I completed four paintings in the last year and am currently working on a fifth, along with numerous personally painted greeting cards for friends and family.

I kind of got a little lazy with this blog this past  year, sometimes only writing one post in an entire month, I am going to be writing more this year than last. I guess one could say I ran into a writer's block or something, or perhaps that is just an excuse writers use because they were not motivated or were simply being lazy.

I read something recently that reminded me that we as individuals, whether disabled or able bodied, sometimes put ourselves down. This can come in many forms from making statements to others about ourselves or even thinking and saying negative things to ourselves about ourselves; this is something I am going make a conscientious effort to curtail and hopefully eliminate. We have all heard of self fulfilling prophecy and if we are not careful about what we say and think about ourselves we can inadvertently set ourselves up for failure and unhappiness.

On that note I will close by saying that last year was a good year with more accomplishments than failures and I am looking forward to a good year in 2014. I think as I push forward in my journey that I am growing as a person, ever closer to being the best person I can be.

I wish all of you, my readers, a smooth path on which to walk, roll or whatever, bringing you closer to your life mission, closer to God and closer to each other.

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