It's easy for me to forget that my husband is disabled. Despite the wheelchair and his language disorders, in many ways Don is the same man I've known since 1970----good-natured, compassionate, kind, smart, and out-going. It's the out-going part that gets him in trouble once in a great while, now that he appears severely disabled to strangers. Okay, I admit it. He IS physically disabled but not mentally impaired. Why do some people assume if you're in a wheelchair you lack a few too many IQ points?
Sometime happened tonight at puppy socialization class. As we were getting ready to leave, Don wanted to roll towards to a woman in her mid-thirties. He's never met a stranger he didn't like or want to talk with. It's how he was pre-stroke and still is post-stroke. He got within eight feet of the woman as she was walking towards the door. He tried to get her attention with his voice. I don't remember what he said but it was something like, "Ah…" and he raised his hand. Mind you they were still a good eight feet apart. In a loud voice she sternly said, "You will NOT grab me!" and she walked off leaving me stunned and Don wondering what happened. His hearing is not good but he saw the hostile look on her face and the startled looks of a few others who overheard her harsh words. I've been with Don every single second of every single one of these classes. I know she wasn't reacting to anything he had done tonight or in the previous classes. That was the closest in proximity they'd ever gotten to each other. In fact, it was the closest in proximity he's gotten to anyone in the class. We all sort of spread out to keep our dogs apart while they are on their leashes.
We talked about what happened on the way home or I should say I talked and Don listened. The best I could come up with is that she had had a bad experience with an old person in a wheelchair in her past and she felt sufficiently fearful of all old men in wheelchairs that she over reacted to a perceived advance on her personal space---despite being in a room full of people. Whatever the case, I'm glad that 99 people out of 100 react differently to Don than this woman did. Most people are kind and accepting but, of course, it's the ones who aren't that can bring you down. They take up entirely too much time in your thoughts. Look at me; I'm blogging about the split second it took for a woman to say five words!
I was telling a stroke survivor friend of mind about this incident. She doesn't use a wheelchair but has the 'stroke gait' of someone who's recovered from one-sided paralysis plus she has no use of one arm. She says she occasionally gets the treatment that says you're-physically-disabled-so-you-must-be-mentally-impaired-too. If you knew my friend, you'd know she's anything but. As a spouse and a friend to people who are hurt by that kind of unfair judgment it makes me sad. It makes me mad. It makes me reaffirm my belief that it really IS important to keep taking my Ambassador from the Planet Aphasia out in the community. When people take the time to get to know post-stroke Don he leaves a wake of friendly acquaintances behind. Just yesterday a waitress where we go often told him he's her sweetest customer. Another waitress where we go for pizza once a month never fails to give Don a couple of hugs before we leave. Most people like him or, at least, are compassionate in their dealing with him. He may not be able to help educate everyone about stroke survivors with language disorders---like the woman from the class tonight---but on the chalk board of life Don's got more marks in the 'win' column than in 'lost causes' column. ©
P.S. A friend of my wrote a review/article about a newly released computer game, AudiOdyssey, that is accessible to visually impaired, blind and mainstream gamers. I thought I'd share a link to the article here since so many stroke survivors have visual problems. I've read posts from a few survivors on support sites saying that an old Wii game (which is similar) has helped them with cognitive issues and motor skills. Click here to read the review.