Friday, September 17, 2010

Walking Papers

A friend of mine recently lent me a book. It was authored by his doctor’s son, Francesco Clark, and called Walking Papers—a memoir of a young man paralyzed from the neck down in a freak swimming pool accident seven years ago. He was only twenty-four-years-old when it happened. Flash forward to the present and Clark's defied the odds. Although, admittedly, he’s got a long, long way to go, he's made monumental progress far beyond the original doomsayer medical prognosis that he would never breathe without a respirator or ever move from his bed.

To make a very long story short, Clark’s dogged determination to skirt the health bureaucracy’s rock-bottom expectations and money-matters-most-of-all approach to medicine made all the difference in the world. With the help of his amazingly supportive family, he is in a far different place than his initial life sentence decreed. Clark had what would be considered real “good insurance,” too. Yet, there were various points in his convalescence when his physical therapy was no longer covered. And, as you can imagine, his grave circumstances necessitated intensive therapy for as far as the eye can see. Clark was told point-blank that he was deluding himself with any wild dreams of progress beyond wiggling the tips of his fingers. In other words, it was time for him to “get on with his life” and accept his sorry fate as final and irreversible.

While Francesco Clark is still paralyzed these many years later, he nonetheless is markedly less so than seven years ago. He has every intention, too, of walking again, and is living proof that the spinal chord can regenerate. With the help of his family’s wherewithal—which sadly is not available to majority of the population—he’s undergone an experimental stem cell operation. His unfailing efforts and utter unwillingness to accept the prevailing doom and gloom scenario of the medical consensus now finds him working a computer on his own. He's also started a skin-care business called Clark’s Botanicals. Not inconsiderable achievements!

My friend actually lent me Walking Papers because he thought I could identify with the book’s author. Sure, I had my medical moment, lost a part of my leg, but I’m hardly paralyzed. I have, by and large, fully returned to doing what I was doing before, albeit with the help of my trusty friend, the C-Leg. And, yes, I’ll concede that my life is a wee bit different from what it was. But, really, it’s not all that bad. And, I know, some people find that hard to believe. I’m not complaining and seek no sympathy. I certainly can identify with Clark in one respect—the very low expectations of the medical establishment. Upon my discharge from the hospital four years ago, the occupational therapist who visited my apartment was fixated on the fact that I had to climb a couple of stairs to get into it. I needed to move to a place with ramps accessible for a wheelchair—and fast!

Well, I am happy to report that a few months after this professional's grim harping about my future, I bid adieu to my wheelchair, which I hardly used anyway. In fact, when I first received my prosthetic (not the computerized C-Leg, by the way), I was informed that I would very soon be fitted with a pair of wrist canes. That is, after I felt comfortable enough to dispense with my training wheels—my walker.

No way was I going to be seen in public with those hideous devices. Heaven forbid! Almost immediately, I walked with my prosthetic and a simple cane. And I lived happily ever after. My prosthetist told me that walking on one is “all about confidence.” Permitting even a whiff of fear to wend its way into my subconscious could send me to the ground in a heartbeat. And so it is with life in general, I suspect.

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