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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Kalish: Accepting Help

According to the American Chiropractic Association, “back pain is the single leading cause of disability” worldwide. And like many, I’d “thrown out my back” before and knew back pain could be bad. But at the end of October, I became a real part of the statistic. As someone who’s had fibromyalgia for years, I thought I knew what pain was – until I found myself nearly passing out from it. I’m finally beginning to improve, but progress is slow and I’ve been learning what it’s like to move through the world with a disability.

And I have to say that as much as we’ve progressed, current accessibility designs still assume a lot. Just from my own experience, I’ve learned that it’s deeply wrong to assume that if someone can’t walk easily, they must be able to sit – because with a herniated disc, there is no sitting. Wheelchair ramps and elevators are of minimal help if there’s still a hike to get to or from them. And it’s nearly impossible to be anywhere people are expected to sit, which is … everywhere.

I’ve also learned that it's sometimes impossible to make it without help. Asking for and accepting help are not things I’m good at. But there’s been no choice. For weeks I had almost daily doctors appointments, but couldn’t drive. I couldn’t lift pans to cook. I still can’t bend to scoop the cat litter. And it’s not been easy to feel so … “needy.” But I've also learned another lesson.

Recently, my partner’s mother died. His is a large, loving family and they were able to care for her at home, just as they had all done for her mother. His mom had been a caretaker herself, and she too had a hard time being cared for. But, it’s also unmistakable how important and meaningful it was to every one of the siblings to have been able to do it. How it made them feel closer to her … and to one another. How it allowed them to live out their love for her.

I still hope to regain full independence, but when I do, I know I’ll see it with a fresh perspective. And a deep feeling of gratitude.

Julie Kalish is a Vermont attorney and Lecturer at Dartmouth College in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. She is a board member for Vermont ACLU. She lives in Norwich.
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