One Woman, One Leg, No Job
What is social acceptance? Why is it so important? What can we do to overcome it? This inspirational story may change your attitude toward society and its evil un-acceptance and discriminations. Follow along as I give a detailed account of my experience with a life changing disability and the battle I continue to fight to gain acceptance and employment"
I guess you can call me an average Jane. I grew up in a small rural town in Florida better known 'round' here as "Shady Hills". I went to a small Baptist school that I am pleased to say I loved. My parents, although now retired, were hard working and devoted to me and my siblings. I guess you could say that I had it all. What more could a kid want. I was a cheerleader for my small little school and I guess somewhat popular in my 'click" of friends. I had a knack for being involved in every social, academic, and sport I could get involved with. Yep, that was me socially accepted and life was good. My active lifestyle and my popularity gave way to a very happy child's life.
As a fairy tale and happy life story would render, I must tell you that I married my high school sweetheart. We had 3 beautiful children. We struggled but, were very happy with our little lives in our little community.
They say that every good thing must come to end. Boy, was that an understatement. My life, starting with a separation with my husband, started to un- ravel in ways I could never imagine. At this point, I was in my mid- twenties and my now happy life a mess. My happy home was broken, my children were confused and I was left holding the bag so to speak.
Looking for a way to reclaim my life and to support my children on my own, I found work at a local collection agency. Yes, I was one of those,you know the people that call you all hours of the day and night to get your money that you just don't seem have. Quaint little job. I didn't get paid much but it paid the bills.
One weekend when I was picking my daughter up from her father's house, my life seemed to undergo yet another set-back. I remember as I was driving down this curvy road at about dusk thinking to myself "what happened to my life", "will I ever be happy again?' "GOD, please show me the way to a better, happy life". All of a sudden, much to my chagrin, I hit a curve (not speeding mind you) and my car did a 380 degree turn into a ditch. I remember as I laid there thrown into the back seat (no my seat belt was not on) in shock," GOD, this is not my idea of a better, happier life could you please work with me here." As I lay there, I can't even imagine what had happened to me so all of a sudden. I couldn't move, I couldn't speak, I couldn't see if my little girl in the back seat was injured. "What did I do to anyone to deserve this penance" I thought to myself. The next thing I knew I was being removed from my car that, by the way, held up to this accident better than I did. And, off I went in a Life flight helicopter to the nearest trauma center in St. Petersburg, Florida. I remember when I was in the ER the immense pain I was having and begging someone to please knock me out. "Knock me out and put a cast on this leg. I have to get to work tomorrow," I grumbled to the ER doctor and his staff. The ER doctor firmly replies to me "young lady, I would be more concerned about saving that right leg of yours than going back to work!" What? How could this be? My leg? My right leg? Ok, I thought to myself gather your sanity and find out what's going on here. "Doctor" I said with all do respect, what is wrong that I may lose my right leg? He replied in an educated and very matter of fact tone that I had indeed damaged a main artery in my right leg namely, the popliteal artery". You see my leg was neither broken nor fractured. I didn't even have a cut or bruise on me anywhere to speak of. My knee was dislocated severely and crushed the main artery cutting off the blood supply to the rest of my leg and foot. WOW, imagine that I'm facing losing my leg. Here we go again. "GOD, where are you? Help me!" I can't lose my leg. I have three kids and a job. I have to get back to work.' Ok, Doc, lets get this show on the road', I say without a worry on my mind.
Following that very thought I was on my way to a vascular surgery. Half knocked out and half awake I can see the bright lights of the Emergency Room and all the movements of the ER staff scuttling around me. NO! It was not St. Peter and the angels. It was real. It was happening. It was an OPERATION. Yes, before I knew it I was undergoing vascular surgery to repair my damaged artery. The next morning I was awaken by the sounds of beeping noises and people talking at a low whisper and most of all too unbearable pain. "What did they do to me last night?" "My GOD above PLEASE this time hear my cry" and "take this pain from me!" That smell I will never forget that smell. The smell of the hospital and I can't even describe it. The smell of blood, fear, pain, and death is my best analogy. Spooky, scarred for life I am. I had awakened enough for a nurse to tell me that I had been repaired and that as long as I kept a pulse in my foot that the vascular surgery was a success. My right leg was gutted like a fish. I was filleted on each side of my leg and the wound stuffed with gauze. The bandage changes were horrible. There is not enough morphine in Gods green earth to suffice the pain of those bandage changes especially at a rate of four times a day. Well, as a day turned into a week and weeks into months I wondered if I was ever going to get out of that ICU. When will I get out of here? I wanted so badly for this to just go away and" GOD, I'm sorry for complaining. I will gladly go back to my life being a single mother and working for the collection agency." and "No more complaining- pinky swears!" My never ending bargaining with my maker did not stop my suffering.
Two weeks after the vascular repair surgery I was told that the surgery had failed and that I would need to get my right leg amputated just about four inches below the knee. The only thing that I can recall about that wretched information was the thoughts of "just get it over with". Needless to say I woke the next morning with this big white bandage wrapped around my leg. Whoa! Where did my leg go? Is this really happening? Someone wake me form this nightmare. I went through many more weeks of indescribable pain and agonizing bandage changes. But, most of all I went thru emotional torment. Will I ever walk again? How can I raise my children being maimed? Will any man ever want me again? I felt I was doomed for a lonely, depressing, unfulfilling life. I cried so much that I couldn't see straight. I wanted my "old" life back. I couldn't see past the ugliness of a woman with only one leg.
As the days went by, I had received all the bandage changes I could take and all the physical therapy one person could endure. It was time for m e to get off my pity party and start figuring out how to live life to the fullest. After all," many people with disabilities live full, happy and normal lives", so said the shrink. I fought my way out of that bed. I actually hopped to the sink on my one good leg to wash my hair, face and teeth that day. This was the day I was to be resurrected from my deathly depression and live again.
My determination was unstoppable and all I could think about was getting home to my family and my own bed. Hey, a little of moms home cooking would be great too. Oh yes, a job! I need a job! I was finally released and off and running I went. Well, off and hopping that is. I went home me, my wheelchair, crutches and walker. I learned to do everything as I did before but much more creatively this time around. I was stronger than I had ever been before. Its Funny how life's circumstances change people.
After all the healing the therapy both physical and mental, I was now back in the social loop again. Although in my wheelchair, I was out in the public limelight as I once was. So I thought. It was during this time that I had my first feeling of being an outcast, a freak, different, even a minority. Let me explain.
My first experience came one day when I was shopping in our local food market in my little home town. I was rolling right along in my chariot (wheelchair) and I noticed that no one would look at me. "Hello, down here" I would think to myself as the people just passed me by. Am I invisible, am I contagious? What a feeling of loneliness and hurt came over me. People in my very own town had trouble accepting me with only one leg. "I'm still the same person, I lost a leg not a brain" I would utter in my mind. My boyfriend "Frank" always made me hold my head up high no matter where we were. "Make them look at you he used to say". I often wondered if it was because they were uncomfortable, maybe they didn't know what to say to me now. So, if they ignored me. No one would have to deal with it. But, I dealt with it. The feeling of being a social outcast because of my missing limb was the single most awful feeling.
Now that all the doctor visits had slowed down and my leg was healed I learned how to walk on prosthesis. OUCH! That hurts. Every step I took was a reminder that I was indeed handicapped. But, oh how rewarding it was to be out of my chariot and walking again. Although with a severe limp, I started taking steps one foot in front of the other to rebuild my life. I managed to figure out how to use this mechanical leg and I used it. Every day I got up in the morning put on my leg just as most would put on socks and shoes and I went out into society to find employment. I spent many hours and days creating and compiling my resume'. I dressed for success as the professionals instructed me. I went business to business passing out my resume. I went online and found jobs that I was qualified for and probably killed many trees faxing my résumés' out. Eventually, the phone started ringing and job offers were pouring in. Was I finally getting back into the workforce? After all, I couldn't support three kids on Social Security Disability payments. And you know what? I didn't want to live off Social Security. I wanted to work. I didn't sustain brain damage in that car accident- I lost my leg. I still had my education my experience and my determination to be "normal". Now, with all the interview appointments I was getting surely there was a job out there for me. I started going to the interviews one by one. I would go into these offices and smile, introduce myself and offer a firm handshake. I spoke to these potential employers with confidence all the while shaking inside. I always left with a great feeling about the interview and went home to wait for the final invitational phone call. Unfortunately, these phone calls never came. I asked myself why I could not land these jobs. I am qualified, I am dressed professionally, I'm confident and I all but willing. My next step was to evaluate myself.
So, I retained a Job Consultant. She critiqued my resume', my attire, my interviewing skills. She even found job openings for me to apply for. She spent many hours and days taking me around our town and surrounding cities to look for employment. As I pounded the pavement, I continued to get interviews but, could never get the jobs. Talk about depressing. I was giving up. It must be me. I am surely doing something wrong or was I? Could it be that my intrusive limp made these employers feel I was a liability? Or that maybe I was contagious. I had some form of an airborne disease? Maybe they thought I would call in sick and take too many days off. What ever the reasons were I guess I will never know for sure. I do know that I was being turned down for jobs that I was perfectly capable of doing.
Here it is in a nutshell. I am still looking for employment. And I must say that even though my bank account is empty my life is full. I am determined not to give up. Society and all its evil presumptions and discriminations can't take me down. I'm a fighter and with my spirit and will. I know that something will eventually come along. What is social acceptance? It's how you accept yourself. Trust me! If you love yourself and keep smiling, society has no other choice but to accept you too. Why is social acceptance so important to us? Well again, that is all up to you. It's only important if you make it important. Who cares what people think? Are you honest? Do you work hard? Do you care for others as you do yourself? That's all that matters. You may be saying" what's the point of this long story you still don't have a job" and your right I don't. However, I have dignity, pride, happiness, love and determination. How do we overcome society? Keep our sights on our own happiness and don't put much thought into what the world expects or don't. Keep smiling, never give up and let this world of bigots' judge someone who cares!
Lori A. Berube
All Rights Reserved
Lori is a 37 year old single, disabled mother. She is currently working on her AA at her towns local community college.