Six of one, Half a Dozen of the Other

There are certain things that make me nostalgic.

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Sheep were a fair project — probably the only one I was every actually prepared for

Driving the route that used to be my daily commute to high school, remembering the 7am jazz band practices or late nights following musical dress rehearsals. Going to the Outagamie County Fair and remembering the daily (and then some) runs to Walmart that occurred the week of entry day to finish those last minute 4-H projects that probably should have been done months ago. And today. Today, May 25, always makes me stop and remember.

Today marks six years, adding another tally mark to the side of my life lived in a wheelchair. They’re still drastically unbalanced sides, 21 years walking to a measly six years wheeling but still, that smaller side is growing. It’s like a slow dripping leak into a bucket — a drop here and a drop there doesn’t seem as though it amounts to much so you stop paying attention. Yet suddenly, as if by some dark magic, the bucket is overflowing and making its presence well known to anyone nearby.

Injury anniversaries mean different things to different people, and I’ve been surprised to notice how the meaning of my particular anniversary has changed in my own mind as the years continue to pass by. I’m older, although not necessarily wiser. I’ve done different things and latched on to related, but certainly different passions. I’ve asked a lot of questions and found some answers that were quickly replaced by even more questions. Looking from that frame of reference, I guess it isn’t much of a surprise that each year anniversary has a somewhat different vibe.

Right now I’m sitting outside on my patio, looking down 16 floors at the constantly bustling Chicago streets and sidewalks. As a silent observer watching the strangers moving about below, each at their own pace headed towards a unique destination, I can’t help but think about the times when these roles are reversed and I’m the one being observed. Crossing Michigan Avenue. Ordering a drink at Starbucks. Riding in an elevator. Getting out of my car.

At one point in time, that really bothered me — the feeling of always being watched. Yet, after six years, I usually (and finally) don’t notice the “few seconds to long” stares. But when I do, I no longer feel the need to look away or pretend that if I can’t see them, they can’t see me —- and that’s new.

We all go through life with so many different identities. I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, and more recently I’m an aunt. I’m a Christian. I’m an MD PhD student. And I’m a disabled woman.

I’ve known that last identity exists as a part of my “demographic information” for quite some time, but claiming it and being honestly and truthfully willing to claim, it has taken longer than I want to admit (*cough* 6 years *cough*).

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Happy Grapes

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile. What did I want to say? What combination of words could possibly represent just a few of my unstructured thoughts from the past four months? I know, four months — that was the last time I wrote something to share “publicly.” That long hiatus wasn’t necessarily intentional, but just kind of happened. The seemingly never ending addition of “need to get done NOW” tasks to my to do list had the unsurprising effect of pushing the “I’d like to do that sometime” tasks (like blogging) into the abyss better known as “maybe tomorrow.”

But anyway, here we are. Here I am. So, uh, hi?

These past four months have certainly been a bit, well, unique. I didn’t blog, but I was somewhat consistent with journaling. I just flipped through the pages dated 2019 and to be honest it amazes me how much I’ve experienced / been challenged by / celebrated / completed since the year started. To catch you up on the “big things,” I finished my second year of medical school, closing the chapter on my pre-clinical/didactic medical education. So that means when I return to school, I’ll be in the lab working towards my PhD in immunology for 3.5 – 5 years before returning to the hospital for a year and a half to complete my MD degree.

That also means I just took my first set of board exams, better known as Step 1.

Entering medical school with such a circuitous route, I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge of “boards” was ultimately nonexistent. I knew that you had to pass tests to prove your knowledge and be licensed, but beyond that, I considered the whole thing to be a problem for future Sam. Funny thing about the future, it does eventually become the present. The last official day of lecture at the beginning of March felt a bit like an out of body experience, realizing how much I knew now compared to my first day of class and recognizing how much I still needed to figure out before my 8-hour exam in April.

Between the end of classes and your exam date you enter into a period of time referred to as “dedicated.” You have no classes to go to, no external commitments besides the ones you make yourself, and are literally dedicated to studying for the exam. Eight, ten, twelve hour days of flashcards, practice questions, board review videos, and whatever other resources you decide to use to try and learn the mountain of knowledge that we currently claim to be truth.

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Ingrid was super helpful (*rolls eyes*) with studying…

I don’t know if there’s any way to truly describe what the experience of dedicated is like, or I guess, more specifically what my experience of dedicated was like.

There’s something profoundly awesome about that feeling when you finally start to put the pieces together. We learn about the various organ systems in somewhat disparate sections referred to as modules, but obviously that’s not how the body operates. A concept introduced to me way back in December 2018 finally making sense when I could fit it under a larger umbrella that was given to me in February 2019. At the same time, it can also be humbling if not a tad humiliating as you answer question after question wrong on a topic you were once convinced you understood. Continue reading

Stalled

Word of warning: This is a tad different than my “usual” post. But than again,  I guess that’s the cool thing about a blog. It can be whatever I want it to be. This happens to be more of a “day in the life” kind of post. A bit more of a what-is-it-REALLY-like-to-be-you kind of writing. So, here goes 😀

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“And that about wrap’s up this lecture. Why don’t we take a little break and start back up at 10.”

Perfect, that should be just enough time for a bathroom break. I back my wheelchair out from my front row spot – the only place I can sit in the lecture hall – and roll out into the hallway. I brace my footplate against the bathroom door and with a swift press of the handle and a bit of rapid finesse to get my chair moving, the door opens with ease and I’m inside.

I choose this particular hospital bathroom for a few well-thought out reasons. First, its close proximity to the lecture hall where I hear the majority of lecturers teach their part of the second-year medical student curriculum. My “process” for performing this seemingly simple and vital bodily function takes a bit longer than it used to, so cutting out any unnecessary travel time is imperative.

Second, it’s size. It’s a six-stall bathroom, one of which my wheelchair and I are grateful we can use. Lecture breaks are for the entire class and I certainly don’t want to take up a stall in a location where there aren’t many extras to go around. Just inside the door, I check my watch.

9:52am.

I round the corner and let out a breath, simultaneously reminding myself to relax and stay calm. Five empty stalls, doors wide open – a clear invitation for entry. One stall, closed for business. It’s the only stall I can use.

My class is in a hospital building, plenty of patients with disabilities are seen here on a daily basis. I have no issue waiting while one of my disabled-peers performs their own “process.” After all, everyone has to wait in a public restroom once in a while.

There’s a rustle of a coat or some other form of clothing. Oh good, they’re almost done. And I see two high heeled shoes walk across the stall under the door. 

Breathe, I remind myself. Maybe they have another reason to use the only accessible stall in this bathroom when all the other stalls are vacant.

I have a relatively new opinion of and relationship with bathrooms, of both the public and private variety. Having had a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis in 2013 and now identifying as a paraplegic, simply going to the bathroom is no longer simple. I don’t even want to admit the amount of time I spend thinking about or planning when and where I will go on a daily basis. Plus, it just takes longer.

9:54am

A friend from class walks in, looks at me and shakes her head, a mutual acknowledgement of how frequently this happens and how unnecessary it is. She walks into one of those five empty stalls and closes the door. Continue reading

Number 2

It’s always exciting to get a new pair of shoes. I should know, I only buy shoes once every 3 years (and that’s not even exaggerating…). Although, just for the record, when I was walking I was one of those people that would go through a pair of tennis shoes ridiculously quickly — I tend to be pretty hard on most objects/clothing, something that didn’t exactly thrill my mother, but anyways back to new shoes.

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Yea, my poor chair has been through the ringer. Sorry bearings…

You slip your foot into that brand new shoe, feeling the unworn sole and stiffness of the heel yet to be broken down or molded to the shape of your foot. You lace up those crisp and bright laces, noticing the total absence of scuff marks on the shoe toe from the occasional stumble. I’m pretty sure it’s hard to not feel a little extra special the first time you “go out into the world” with those shiny new shoes, all sharp and pristine. It’s like they add something different to whatever you decided to wear that day. But then again, they are different. And they take a bit of adjusting to. After all, they haven’t yet reached good ole faithful status.

Okay. so what’s the deal with the shoe talk? Well, I’m attempting to make this relatable — at least in some small way — so that was an attempt to quote “frame your thoughts.” Why am I bothering with that? Well, I got a new wheelchair. Yea. Brand new. No scratches. No handle bars (I upgraded :D). Higher side guards (so maybe I’ll be a tiny less filthy when it rains/snows). Fresh paint. Brand new wheelchair.

It’s a pretty big deal to finally have these new wheels in my possession, and I guess that’s for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s been a bit of an adventure going from getting fit/measured for a chair to the chair actually being order to then finally receiving the chair. To make a really long story short, I started the process in October and here we are quite a few months later. Now I have no intention of bad mouthing the company I was working with. Actually, through a unique combination of personal connections, phone calls, and letter writing, I ended up having lunch with the CEO and sharing my experience and discussing opportunities for improvement. It’s really cool when companies are actively seeking and truly trying to be better, and it’s pretty awesome to have the opportunity to be apart of that process (even if there may have been a lot of frustration within a rather busy med school life along the way…).

Another reason my new wheels are a big deal — this is my first wheelchair order outside of the hospital back when I was in my acute, inpatient, super clueless stage. I’m a lot more familiar with how my body works and doesn’t work, things that I like and don’t like in a chair, and what chair features can make my life easier or harder. So yea, there are a lot of perks to being “not in the hospital” and this being chair #2. But at the same time, this is chair #2 and that carries with it a bit of extra baggage. Continue reading

Cross It Off

It’s official. I can cross something else off my bucket list. It’s not a big thing, but then again…it IS a big thing.

The now completed item: I have lived in my own apartment (not a sublet), on my lonesome (it’s just me and my butler Leonard — the roomba), for longer than a week without something traumatic and life altering (like a spinal cord injury) happening.

Yes, I know, that even being an item on the list probably says something about the quality and adventurousness (which is actually a word, I checked…) of said bucket list. Oh well, I’m not ashamed.

Sure I’ve been “independent” for quite some time since my injury, but after returning home from my inpatient rehab hospital stay in 2013, it didn’t make much sense logically to move out of the family home once and then shortly have to move again when I was accepted and ready to start medical school. PLUS, it gave me more time that I could spend making memories with (read: bothering) Mom, Dad, and the siblings.

It’s been exciting being “off on my own,” finally doing what I have worked so hard to even be able to think about doing. I think I’ve mostly adjusted to my current state of affairs. I’m not shocked when I open my eyes in the morning and no longer have to remind myself where in the world I am. Yea, it probably took me longer to get to that point than it should have…

You know, when you start something new, there are always so many little things to learn. So many little things one has to work through and figure out and integrate into your “normal.” And well in my world, there happen to be a couple extra things to work through relative to the average person. Continue reading

At Least

Everyone has habits.

I20151204_135433‘ve got a really bad coffee habit (or a really good one depending on your perspective). If I have a question to ask, I’ll raise my hand without even thinking as if you were my second grade teacher. When I set alarms, they rarely ever end in a 0 or a 5 — instead my radio alarm starts playing at 5:01am or my phone goes off at 5:06am (alright alright, that’s just on work mornings, I normally sleep in a bit later than that…)

I also have this habit where if someone’s walking towards me and we make eye contact, I smile at them and continue on my way. Nothing wrong with a smile right? Sometimes situations allow the exchange of a few words, like in an elevator or something.  You know, those times when you use one of those simple inquiry phrases that show someone you see them and you wish them well in whatever path their life is on.

A few weeks back I had engaged in one of those “simple word exchanges” that I guess was really anything but simple.

ME
“Talk about a great weather huh! How’s your day going today?”

           RANDOM STRANGER:
“Yea. Uh, it’s alright.”  — Pause—
“You know, I’ve got problems, but at least I’m not in a wheelchair.”   — Pause—
“Oh, I don’t mean that in a rude way.”

You know, you hear about moments or situations where people get the wind knocked out of them. Someone got tackled in football, a dude fell over backwards on the ice, all these obvious situations that result in the literal wind being taken from your sails.  Yes, I’ve had said “wind knocking” happen to me in a physical sense during my life but I had never realized how similar the sensation would be as the result of a verbal statement. Continue reading

Ready

If you’ve read almost any of my past posts you’ve probably realized that on occasion, I like to give my Mom a hard time. She has this remarkable obsession with Costco toilet paper that I find simply hilarious–in our extended family, she’s like the tooth fairy but with toilet paper. I also may or may not have almost gotten her arrested in the airport this one time. I’m also convinced that she doesn’t actually know I’m paralyzed because of some of the things she says and does (Example #1: Tapping my leg to get my attention–yea, that doesn’t work).

With all that being said, my Mom is an extremely perceptive individual. She’s good at planning things and she can read between the lines better than most people can actually read. Needless to say, there isn’t much that gets past Mom (excluding the fact that I’m paralyzed and use a wheelchair–that hasn’t sunk in).

What am I getting at? Well October 18th was my Mom and Dad’s 30th Wedding Anniversary and my sisters and I decided to plan them a surprise anniversary party. The last time someone tried to pull off some sort of “surprise party” on Mom was her 40th birthday (I can say she’s over 40 right?)  and if I recall correctly, that wasn’t the most appreciated celebration. Granted, that could have been because of the whole turning 40 thing but I digress…

The day of the party Dad knew what was going on (it was the only way to get him there and out of the fields from harvest), but Mom was still clueless. Meaning Mom had no idea that she had a place that she needed to be at at a very particular time. Fittingly, it was my job to get her there.

That was an experience in itself where I convinced Mom we just HAD to go to the Farmer’s Market so I could get my last egg roll of the season and we could walk the ave just one more time. There may have been snow flurries that morning which made convincing a bit of a challenge. Thankfully I have a pretty convincing pout face. We slowly strolled the market,  I distracted Mom at a local coffee shop by teaching her how to use Instagram on her cell phone, and then made an excuse to go to the mall and get some tea.

instaMom’s first ever instagram post — a selfie

We get to the mall, I go the bathroom and am gone for maybe 5 minutes. I go back to mother dearest and find out that she had called the older sister to talk to her about something or other. Naturally, Danielle was well in the middle of preparing the hall–decorating and all that jazz –and Mom had decided to call her. Seriously, I left her alone for 5 minutes. Lesson learned: no potty breaks when you’re on Mom duty. From that moment on, I followed her around like a shadow. She may have commented after the fact how annoying she thought I was that morning… Oh well, I don’t think that’s too far gone from how annoying I can be on a normal day. Continue reading

What Once Was

Former. Alumni. Has-been. Prior. Emeritus.

You know, there are a lot of words out there to describe something you “once” did. Words that try to describe the occurrence of a particular moment in your personal history. Maybe it’s a college you attended, a job-title you held, or whatever else makes up the story of “you.”

Naturally, I’m an alumni of Hortonville High School, Class of 2010. Yea, we just had our 5-year class reunion and even saying that makes me feel a little old. I’m an alumni of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities after graduating with my degree in 2013. But now (as of a week ago), I can add another one of those “once” events to my life story–I’m a former Ms. Wheelchair America.

Yep, I have officially handed off what was once “my” title in Des Moines, IA to another very deserving woman as she enters into a year that is bound to be a pretty crazy adventure.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kumiyama

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kumiyama

Can you believe that? Its been a year since I was crowned (in my mind, shockingly) Ms. Wheelchair America 2015 and started off my year with a lot of nerves. Well, nerves and self-doubt. I mean seriously, who was I to travel around and advocate for the countless individuals who live in our country with a disability when I had only just recently become so passionate and intimately apart of this community?

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A New Sisterhood

It takes a lot to leave me speechless. It takes a lot for me to not be able to find something to say (I mean, just ask my family). But I’m sitting here, trying to figure out where in the world to even start. Where to start to describe the events of August 4-10th….

August 4-10th was the National Ms. Wheelchair America (MWA) 2015 competition held in Long Beach, California. So we (Mom, Dad, and I) packed our bags and headed out there. I guess I shouldn’t make it sound so easy. We had an early flight to catch so we (plus Danielle, our driver) spent the night in Milwaulkee to be ready in time. Now THAT was an experience. We happened to stay in a hotel that was booked out for the Midwest Latin Dance Festival. Sounds all well and good right? Well, as the walls rumbled at midnight from a live band, we started to get a bit concerned. A call to the front desk informed us the band was on till 3am. 3am rolls around and the band stops only for a DJ to start. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned how the rest of the trip was going to go.

Thankfully things turned around the following day when we had the greatest flight attendants. I wore my Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin sash on the plane and the attendant wanted to know where my crown was. I informed him only Ms. Wheelchair America wore her crown during the competition, but he thought that just wouldn’t do. He disappeared around the corner and a few minutes later produced my very own South West style crown.

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TAH DAHHH! Peanuts and stir sticks. How cool is that? I told him he wasn’t getting paid enough… Continue reading

Got Real?

So instead of writing this from my clubhouse as I normally tend to do, this post comes from the passenger seat of the van. Mom and I went road trippin’ to Minnesota this week (which was pretty awesome to say the least) and now we’re making the 4.5-hour drive back. Mom sure is a pretty comical creature to road trip with, we keep having to pass all the big semi’s so they don’t “block our view” when we come across the sheep farm with all the little lambs because then Mom (as she said) “would be one cranky lady.” I’d just like to point out its her who’s all obsessed and not me…for once…but I’m not complaining:D

So the road trip…

I did my undergrad degree in three years which means that a lot of my friends who are actually normal (well, besides being friends with me) are graduating from college this year. That being said, I took to the open roads to celebrate with/congratulate them and visit campus and see some of my awesome professors again. I forgot how gorgeous of a college I went to (and also how hilly of a campus I studied on) but mostly how gorgeous. I mean seriously, look at it.

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Being back was really special, but at moments a little hard. I mean, that place is littered with memories of what was and what was going to be in the life I was living. I was rolling through the vet school seeing vet students rush by in scrubs or leaving classrooms which caused a few, sad, that-was supposed-to-be-me feelings. But what really surprised me was how fast those feelings left. I couldn’t be happier pursuing medical school and I guess those moments just go to show how true that is. Continue reading