All posts by joel

Access is a way of life for me. http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/Americans-with-Disabilities-Act-Celebrates-20-Years-99691979.html Publications: I am the author of the following 3 books: · Learning to Live Again; My Triumph Over Cancer, published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston · The Politics of Food, published by Sierra Club Books and distributed by Random House· Handbook for Commissioners, Housing and Redevelopment Officials, published by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials I have published dozens of articles in my own name for such publications as The New York Times, The New Republic, The International Herald Tribune, and Information Week (http://www.informationweek.​com/534/34uwfw.htm) and have contributed to the Time-Life Books series on computers.

MY CHOICE TO HEAD MEDICARE a.k.a. Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

[The following is my March, 2010 column for Voices of Central Pennsylvania see http://voicesweb.org/archive/10mar/10mar-community-lifestyles.pdf (end of pdf.) or visit a newstand in Centre County.]

Strangers, snow and rehabilitation

From where I sit

Thanks to a failure to act in January, the Obama administration has made a serious
mistake in allowing competitive bidding for durable medical equipment such as oxygen
canisters, wheelchairs, power chairs and other devices.


I believe that if President Obama had a Medicare adviser of stature to explain the
consequences, Obama would not have made this mistake that will continue to hurt
people with disabilities—including me.


As a result of this competitive bidding process, T&B Medical and Dick’s Homecare—the only two companies providing power chairs, scooters and other equipment in State College—are in danger of losing to outside competitors, including
competitors outside the state. What they are at greatest risk of losing are contracts to provide Medicare recipients such as myself with equipment and maintenance reimbursements.


Maintenance is the issue I worry about most. Some legislators have put together a plan, supported by a sizeable non-partisan group in the House, that would end the bidding process.

One of the authors of the legislation is Rep. Glenn (“GT”) Thompson, who represents Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional district, of which Centre County (his home)
is one of 18 counties in a huge, 11,000 square mile district.


I asked Tina Kreisher, Thompson’s press secretary, for a 20-minute exclusive telephone interview because I thought we could cover the details on Thompson’s health care background so readers can see the link between what our congressman knows and
the unsolved problems he is equipped to solve.


Thompson and I spoke by telephone for over an hour on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. I did not realize the degree of detail we would get involved in, especially since Thompson is himself the father of a disabled Iraqi war veteran. Thompson does not make a practice of talking in public about 22-year-old Logan, who was wounded when shrapnel and explosives caught him by surprise.


Thompson called me from Tucson, Ariz. where he was attending Logan’s graduation from Army intelligence training, an experience that filled him with the special gratitude we in the disability community feel when someone we love makes progress toward
independence. The two feet of snow in Washington had left him stranded in Tucson and he observed, “There are worse places to be stranded.”


Thompson’s advancement in health care followed two tracks. Academically, he received a bachelor’ degree from Penn State in Therapeutic Rehabilitation, a master’s degree from Temple for Health Science Recreation and a certification from M a r y w o o d
University in Nursing Home Administration.


M e a n w h i l e , Th o m p s o n ’s career involved working in central Pennsylvania a a residential services aid, a recreation therapist and a rehabilitation services manger at Susquehanna Halth Services in Williamsport.


Thompson was at one time an orderly at Centre Crest Nursing Home, and for three years cleaned out bed pans, changed patients out of soiled clothes and changed bedding. He worked with his wife Penny, who did similar work as a nursing assistant.
At the same time, Thompson’s mother was a patient at Centre Crest’s Alzheimer’s facility.


Glenn Thompson [everyone calls him (“GT“)] developed a reputation for good work and excellent managerial abilities, including people skills. When GT visited State
College on Labor Day weekend, his charm was evident. He talked about health care in the social hall and bingo parlor (across the hallway from where I am keyboarding this
column) of Addison Court, which is an apartment house for senior citizens and those with disabilities. The Congressman arrived for the 8 a.m event just as the Webster’s coffee and goodies arrived. (It helps turnout for these events when food is present and Elaine Madder-Wilgus has been most obliging in providing the coffee
Thompson was so grateful to drink.) The 10 additional members of the audience were mostly men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s.


GT charmed everybody—83-year-old Lilian Huffman, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I like that fellow” and Lilian is very influential at Addison Court. Win Lilian Huffman and you have won votes at Addison Court. Lilian is a registered
Republican who voted for Obama.


In my interview with Thompson, I asked about each portion of his 31-year career, which ended when he was supervising 25 rehabilitation specialists and coming up
with strategies for improving ongoing rehabilitation.


For me, sitting in a power chair right now, Thompson is the guy to know. I am at a point where I can now go back to rehabilitation to Dr. Colin McCaul, a brilliant rehabilitation physician at Healthcare South, because I recently passed a cardiac stress test. Since I cannot walk, cannot stand without holding on to something and can dislocate my shoulder if I throw my right arm straight in the air, I need a specialist to adapt special exercising tools so I can get the cardiovascular exercise I need. In my considerable experience with physical rehabilitation in three states, the people who do
the hands-on work, the people who touch my body to show me how to do special exercises, when touching is appropriate (a pat on the back is always useful)—these people are uniformly kind and helpful.


I am impressed by the kind of work Glenn Thompson did and taught other rehabilitationspecialists how to do. Based on his experience, his testimonials, his conversation and his education, I feel sufficiently trusting to put my exercise program in his hands if he has time.


Obama, the president I helped elect, is doing some truly bad things to Medicare that will have severely negative effects on the disabled. They have potentially disastrous affects on me. I use my power chair frequently; I require battery replacements every six months. What if the competitive bidding process the Obama administration
is implementing results in requiring me to get batteries from an out-of-area supplier and I have to wait too long?


Right now, Travis would be right over with the batteries. With competitive bidding, I have to depend on some anonymous supplier. During that wait, if my batteries won’t take a charge and I soil my bed repeatedly, I might have to move to Centre Crest, which would severely limit my opportunities.


The failure of the Obama administration to reach across the aisle, as it promised to do, is shocking when Glenn Thompson’s special knowledge is going to waste. At the time of my interview with Rep. Thompson on Feb. 6, the President had yet to announce
an Administrator for Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare is the largest health insurance company in the United States. Medicare needs an administrator who can be confirmed by the Senate. Thompson would be confirmed by the Senate.

Or, President Obama, please find him a better job. Or wake up the Republican House Leadership and have him put on the Ways and Means Committee where he will have oversight over Medicare. Given the overwhelming Republican composition of the Fifth Congressional District, Thompson will eventually gain the seniority he needs.

I don’t want to wait. I want Thompson‘s special skills available to me now because I believe he can assure me a more secure future.


—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food ,can be reached at his Voices of Central Pennsylvania blog http://voicesweb.org/blog/1242

Strangers and Snow

From where I sit stuck in the February snow on the Allen Street hill facing home after breakfast at Webster’s Café and Bookstore, the words come to mind like a mantra that has governed the last 15 years of my life as a man who cannot walk, “…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

The words were originally made famous by Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ emotionally charged “Streetcar Named Desire.” The words evoked a spirit of hopeless dependence.

For me they convey very much the opposite. For me (a paraplegic with a bad right arm) the kindness of strangers is a remarkable blessing. In the past 15 years since I became unable to walk, I am no longer surprised by incidents, such as today’s:

A woman driving north on Allen Street:

• She quickly parks.

• Gets out of her car.

• Pushes my power chair out of the snow.

Unasked people open doors for me and will offer to perform helpful tasks which they do, such as going to the grocery store for one needed item (only to be presented with a week’s groceries paid for by my benefactor).

This Kindness is especially intense in Central Pennsylvania because of the strength of family-ties, clearly observable in local nursing home reception areas. This kindness has been extended to me throughout the United States. My 1993 Buick with its wheelchair lift has taken me to California and back twice. Strangers who helped me along the way. I realize that some individuals have experienced bad behavior as a consequence of being disabled. For me strangers are my guardian angels.

As I see it, one of the unwritten rules of the kindness I have experienced is to try not being in the position of having to ask for help again. For example, if the batteries in my power chair are low [which they are, hey, Travis] I can call Travis at T&B Medical and before the batteries are totally exhausted they have been replaced by new ones. Without replacement, there is considerable danger involved in leaving me without power.

USED TO BE ONLY THE GOP TRIED TO DESTROY MEDICARE

[MY FEBRUARY 2010 COLUMN FROM VOICES OF CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA]
From Where I Sit

“…Dr. [Margaret] Pfanstiehl…said her goal was to engage the sight-deprived to‘live a 20/20 existence without 20/20 vision.’”

                            –from The Washington Post.

Dr. Pfanstiehl, mourned last month in a Maryland ceremony, was blind and promoted audio description technology to the point where a blind patron can hear audio description of dance.

From where I sit on my $5,000 power chair, two issues come to mind immediately. First, President Obama, the man I supported to be president, plans to reduce the Medicare budget by nearly half a trillion dollars. These cuts, intended to help pay for health care reform, have come on top of procedures that hurt me and others who are elderly or disabled. The argument is that current and future cuts will reduce “fraud
and abuse.” Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.’s fraud and abuse prosecutions are notable for their relative insignificance.

The second issue that comes to mind is when elderly and disabled voters are organized,
they constitute an effective voting bloc. As I write this column in Addison Court in State College, I note that Addison Court has about 90 residents who are 55 or older or who have disabilities or impairments.

Most of us are registered and vote even in low-turnout elections. Addison Court now has a tradition of iinviting candidates to inform our residents about the issues. To date, residents (eating
Elaine Mede-Wilgusr donated food from Webster’s Café) have heard R e p r e s e n t a t i v e
Glenn (GW) Thompson, his challenger Mark C. McCracken (currently a Clearfield County commissioner),
Assemblyman Scott Conklin, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, and four State
College Borough Council candidates representing both major parties.

When George Bush was president, he attacked Medicare, creating barriers that
made it more difficult for eligible citizens to obtain medical oxygen for homecare,
wheelchairs, power chairs and scooters.

To take me as an example, in March 2008 a power chair was prescribed for me after (in-patient
hospitalization at Health South). I received a thorough evaluation from physical and
occupational therapy. My physician, Dr Colin McCaul, a specialist in rehabilitation,
prescribed the chair because he said it would be useful for me to have more support
for my right arm, helping to avoid surgery.

It would also be useful teaching my left arm how to perform functions previously
done by my right. The chair’s controls are on my left causing much trouble
before I finally learned how to drive lefthanded.

Medicare required that I go through an hour-and-a-half test with a rehabilitation
specialist. After passing the test, I saw Dr. McCaul in the hallway. The rehabilitation specialist
emphasized the importance of the doctor scheduling a one-on-one appointment devoted strictly to why I need a power chair and to be followed by a paper prescription with the magic words on top “after a one-on-one appointment.”
Since I had seen Dr. McCaul immediately before the test, he said it wasn’t necessary
to meet again. He would take care of it.  Medicare, which has been consistently negligent in explaining the rules to physicians rejected the prescription and would not pay. The prescription was not written in keeping with Medicare regulations. [How I obtained payment from an agency other than Medicare
 is a story for another time.]

When Obama became president I thought he would reverse those policies. He has
made things worse. Especially distressing is that while Obama has been busy with health
care reform in which Medicare was a significant factor, he had not named a director of
Medicare, the largest health insurance company in the United States. Assistive technology
(which gets me from bed to the bathroom reliably) generally helps the disabled
avoid assistive living (which costs Medicare more than $40,000 extra per person
per year than independent living. Also, independent living
allows a greater sense of independence and helping to improve morale.

I said in my last column that I would discuss John Wayne’s comment that after
cancer surgery he did not feel sorry forhimself, despite the temptation. Wayne
proved it by getting back to work, filming a movie only two weeks after surgery.
For those of us who are disabled, not feeling sorry means having the equipment to
get a job, equipment suc as that listed above.

Assistive technology for the blind especially have resulted in
very exciting developments Disgracefully, technology that is very
useful to help individuals who are blind gain indepence
is not paid by Medicare. We also need technology for those who cannot
hear—only some of which is paid for, including controversial cochlear implants.

The most effective message to the Democratic Party is the creation of a bloc
within the party that will vote strictly on disability and aged concerns—a bloc which
will flirt with the Republicans if it does any good. [It should go without saying that this
bloc would include disabled veterans, but all too often veterans are neglected even
when intentions are best.]

—Joel Solkoff, author of “The Politics of
Food.” Contact him at [email protected]

Background Whimsy for February 2010 Voices Column above

MY NEW POWER CHAIR

Picture 1. It is nearly dawn here at my apartment in Addison Court.

Lately, I have been getting up early, drinking 5 cups of Ethiopian coffee and so ending my caffeine for the day. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Pictured here is the view from my kitchen/dining room/living room window. I look out East onto the parking lot and the “urban” scene of Beaver Avenue in downtown State College.

Picture 2. This is my new power chair; it arrived yesterday.

What you are seeing is the Jazzy Select 6 Ultra chair made by Pride Mobility Products Corporation. It cost over $5,000 and was paid for by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Picture 3. This is the joy stick, mounted at my request on the left side.

Since I am right handed mounting the joy stick on the left leaves me with the motor skills equivalent to signing my name with my left hand. (Lots of luck.) My idea, in keeping with the principles of occupational therapy, was to spare my right hand (and more importantly my right arm) unnecessary strain. The result is that I bump into walls, door sills, and furniture. Yesterday, before putting the thing away for the night, I turned the large living room table completely around.

To the far right of the joy stick, just barely visible, is a half moon showing that the power chair is full of electricity. The on-off button is to the left of that, then the horn, then the speed, the button on the top decreases the speed. Notice that the one light means I cannot go any slower. With practice, I can make the thing crawl. With proficiency it will go over 10 miles an hour, a seat belt protecting me against the world.

The two buttons to the far left control the elevator function. I can go up. I can come down.

The following is what up looks like:

Picture 4. High eggs.
Picture 5. Low eggs.

So far, I have had a great deal of fun using the joy stick to go up over the bathroom sink so I can brush my teeth, going up over the sink so I can wash my dishes, going up into cupboards I could not reach before.

Picture 6. Toggle wheels—the next frontier.

You will note that there are three wheels on each side. If I go forward all six wheels go in the same direction. If I go back, the toggle wheels (at the front and rear of the machine) turn around to go back. When they turn, there is a moment when I am not going straight back. Instead, I swerve and the way I am supposed to correct the swerve is by continuing to move back and correct the swerve.

Only walls and doorways get in the way. Instead of correcting by going back, I go forward, causing the wheels to turn around forward. After one of two maneuvers, I am in the corner of the room, unable to move in any direction.

Fortunately, about 62 percent of the time, I can make a sharp u-turn. Turning around in circles is easy and a lot of fun.

As I learned from yesterday, I am not yet ready to go outside. Practice is how to get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.

Joel Solkoff, trapped behind the desk in the second bedroom, May 15, 2008.

Firefighter Love: From Addison Court Report February, 2009

[Note: Addison Court is an independent living facility in Downtown State College for citizens aged 55 and older and individuals with disabilities. Many of its residents are aged 70, 80, and 90. Last year we had problems with faulty fire alarms which demonstrted residents did not know what to do when the alarm went off at 1:30 in the morning. The residents formed a fire safety committee with wardens to provide assistance on each of the building’s 8 floors. We were trained by Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration. A major part of the training consisted of what to do when the excellent Alpha Company, four blocks away, comes to help us in the event of fire. Alpha’s Chief is Keith Yocum]

Hug a Firefighter Two Days After Valentine’s
at Noon or 6:30; Get a Bowl of Chili

This invitation has 6 parts (some of which the author did not complete because he is too wordy):

  • Details of the Tuesday February 16th event at the Addison Court social hall. There will be two sittings; Noon and 6:30 PM. Feel free to go to one or the other and fill out the signup sheet. Be there or be square.
  • Why hug a firefighter (male or female) from the Alpha Fire Company’s Main Office on Beaver and Atherton. [No question mark required.]
  • What to do in the case of a fire.
  • Come spring you can bring your grandchildren to the fire house and see the pretty trucks. When 83 year-old Lillian Hutchison swings down the fire pole I want to take a photograph.
  • Participation as a fire warden—the Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee, Carol Ames co-chair, needs you to volunteer as a part time FIRE WARDEN so we can have back up wardens in case your floor’s regular fire warden decides to spend two days gambling in Harrisburg. Please give Sherry your name and I will get back to you.
  • As my maternal grandmother once told me (and she was a wild one) when it comes to hugging, be moderate.

Details:

  • One hundred bowls of Webster’s Bookstore and Café’s famous vegetarian chili will be served at the noon and 6:30 sittings.
  • That chili will be served to our frontline firefighters, you, Steve Bair, Council of Governments Director of the Office of Fire Administration, Alpha Chief Keith Yocum, Alpha’s Jackie Richardson, and government officials.
  • Residents are asked to provide additional food and cash donations.

In the event of a fire:

  1. Call 911 and report (even if you are not sure if someone else has reported). Addison Court is a safe building. It has an excellent sprinkler system. The biggest danger to residents is if we panic and do not rely on our fire wardens and most importantly the men and women of Alpha Fire Company to come and tell us what to do. Even on the 8th floor, Alpha firefighters will know how to get you and your power chair safely out of the building.
  2. Relax. Stay in your apartment and wait for your floor’s fire warden. It takes fewer than 10 minutes for Alpha firefighters to get in their trucks and come here.

During that time:

Do NOT take the elevator. Do NOT go downstairs. Do NOT evacuate the building. Listen to your fire warden who may decide to have you move to the stair well to wait for Alpha. If you move, be
sure to close your door. One reason it might be a good idea to move is because there might be smoke
and staying on your floor but moving to a stair well where there is no smoke will make your
breathing easier.

**Note well; Your February 16th hug will not save your life. It will make you feel better to know
you expressed appreciation before you needed help.

–Joel Solkoff, co-chair, Arnold Addison Court Fire Safety Committee.

Kvetzing in Centre County, December 2009 Version

Preparing for the next column–a columnist kvetches 1.
Submitted by jsolkoff on Sat, 2009-12-26

Dear Reader

I write a column for Voices which appears in the Community and Lifestyles section. The column “From Where I Sit” is about the disabled and elderly. [Please note that according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (frequently referred to by academics reverently as “the APA style manual”) terms such as “the disabled and elderly” and “the blind” are incorrect; if you want to be published in an academic journal that uses the APA manual, your article will be rejected because, for example, “the blind” assumes that the individual defines himself as blind as opposed to using the politically required phrase “individual who is blind” or better yet “individual who happens to be blind” so that one does not identify individuals by their disability; this is a distinction that does violence to the English language, a language for which I have a lot of loyalty; but a discussion of the language of the disability community must await another time and requires some care).]

For the current issue of Voices (now available at Webster’s and the Corner Room and so on), I describe a telephone interview with John Wayne (conducted before he died) in which he describes his cancer experience. [Expressions such as “cancer experience” should be forbidden by law.]. He counseled people to follow his example. Two weeks after surgery, he was back on the set making a movie and telling people not be weak and feel sorry for themselves.

My original plan was to segue to the next [February] column on tools people who cannot see, walk, or hear require in order to work; dividing the column into three sequential columns and making the next one assistive technology for the blind.

A genius in Boston named Raymond Kurzweil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Kurzweil
introduced in June 2005 the “Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader”, which Wikipedia describes as “a pocket-sized device consisting of a digital camera and computer unit. Like the Kurzweil Reading Machine of almost 30 years before, the K-NFB reader is designed to aid blind people by reading text aloud.”

The K-NFB reader gives a blind person at the grocery store the ability to pick up a box of cereal, click the scanner, the device reads the ingredients out loud [available in 13 languages, a concept I find outrageous; imagine hearing words “modified corn starch” in Portuguese; I would find it hard to leave the grocery store, justifying my behavior as saving money on Berlitz—and the Romanian word for avocado is…].

I am eager to describe in detail the voice simulation and generation technology that made it possible for my friend Suzanne Erb, chair of the Philadelphia Mayor’s task force on disabilities, to help me communicate helpful information to the Centre County Obama campaign headquarters, housed in the former Verizon offices across the street from Schlow Library, a headquarters where I convinced the staff to cause new concrete to be poured for the disability entrance so I could take my power chair from my apartment to headquarters.

Erb, who is blind, is also an expert on voting, especially voting machines, contributing regularly to a complicated, detail-filled blog on the subject. Suzanne explained to me the machines the Centre County Board of elections uses and the problems associated with the expensive disability machines (not designed by people with disabilities). [People with disabilities who must use equipment must use equipment without having input in its design.]

President Obama—the candidate for whom I voted in the primary and general election and worked to elect)–is in the process of taking away from those of us with disabilities access to the kind of assistive technology that we used to help get him elected.

Yesterday, I received an email from the President (the same email sent to all Obama supporters on his extensive e-mail list) expressing pleasure at the passage of the health care reform bill by the Senate. Now the House and Senate bills need to be reconciled. I mention this with a sense of urgency because my column must meet a deadline of January 15.

My column is limited to 800 words [fewer words than in this blog posting] which limits me to the expression of only one idea and its exposition. So the question nags: Which new to you idea do I want to write about for the FEBRUARY issue? As a columnist I am obliged to see in the future. Yes, I know that the New Year’s resolutions you have not yet made you WILL break before February.

A predictor of Congressional events told me that reconciliation will take about 3 weeks. But if it takes 6 weeks, then maybe it is time for me to address the effect on Medicare cuts—which the Administration has inserted as an essential element to health care reform—on the ability of low income people with disabilities to obtain power chairs so, for example, I can go from my bed to the kitchen and make my own breakfast or to Webster’s to have Seth make me breakfast. Or, as the cuts continue, I fear being forced by my disability to go to an assisted living place instead, where the cost to Medicare would be $60,000 a year when the cost of my rent is less than $20,000 a year. If I am forced to go to assistive living it will rob me of my ability to take care of myself and it would bum me out considerably.

I will keep you up to date I my quest for the right 800 words for the right time.

Joel

Interview with The Duke Taught Me a Lesson from Voices of Central Pennsylvania, December 2009-January 2010


From Where I Sit

John Wayne once granted me a telephone
interview on his experiences with cancer.
For those readers too young to remember [a
concept that defies imagination], John
Wayne (nicknamed The Duke) was an
Academy-Award winning actor who
appeared in 142 movies. His cowboy and
other macho roles served as an icon for my
generation on how a real man is supposed to
behave.

This is a column about fear. Miriam-
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines
fear as, “an unpleasant often strong emotion
caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”
Fear “implies…loss of courage.” I am
familiar with the fear that comes from:

Having an oncologist look up from my
pathology file and say, “There is no doubt
about it. You have cancer.”

Sitting for hours in radiation waiting
rooms as my fellow patients look at each
other and wonde who will live and who will
die.

Experiencing the side effects of radiation
slowly burning my spine and resulting in
the odd experience of standing at a jogging
track ready to run (forcing myself to run)
and being unable to do so.

Being unable to walk across a room without
falling—I once fell in front of a
prospective employer three times during a
job interview.

I cannot go from my bed to the bathroom
without transferring to a power chair. I
know about courage and my lack of it,
about appropriate and inappropriate anger
and the need to put my past behind me and
be human—not a cripple; human. Here in
my apartment in State College, I recognize
my New Year’s resolution must be to
behave (to excuse the sexist expression)
like a Man.

Twenty-one years ago I was an arrogant
journalist writing an article for The New
York Times on the emotional effects of surviving
cancer. At the time, society was still
pondering such questions as whether it was
a good idea to tell patients that they had
cancer. Doctors thought it prudent not to
disclose likely side-effects. The newspapers,
examining the statistics on cancer
mortality, featured headlines on the failure
of the War on Cancer. By doing so, the
media had masked the remarkable progress
being made especially among children and
young adults. At a time when my mother
refused superstitiously to say the word cancer
out loud, spelling it letter by letter, parents
of cancer survivors had trouble conveying
the reality that when a child has cancer
it need not be a sentence of death.

I was not sufficiently savvy to realize that
the vagaries of life were mirrored in the
familiar vagaries of journalism. As I later
learned, the chief editor of the Times’
Magazine made it a practice to reject the
first draft of every free-lancer. Wendy
Moonan, my immediate editor, wanted my
revision to include an interview with John
Wayne. Wayne had lung cancer and since
1964, despite the objections of his business
managers, he served as a spokesman for the
American Cancer Society. His commercials, which
featured a pitch for early detection,
were model John Wayne sounding
essentially like someone who
would shoot you without pause if you did
not immediately send a check, which many
viewers did. Wendy warned, “You cannot
tell him where you got this telephone number.”

I dialed. John Wayne [JOHN WAYNE!]
answers the phone and says, “Unless you
tell me where you got my phone number, I
am going to hang up on you.” I turned in my
editor without a moment’s thought.

Two weeks after the doctors removed
Wayne’s lung, he was back at work making
a movie. “I jumped into a river with handcuffs
on in January…and that was tough. It
kept me from developing a protection
which I thought I needed but which I didn’t
need.” I replied that my experiences with
cancer left me with unresolved feelings that
were getting in the way of living my life. He
dismissed the idea that I should, as he put it,
feel sorry for myself. John Wayne said,
“The thing to do is just try your damndest
without telling anyone else about it.”

For its own reasons, The Times published
my first draft which did not include the
Wayne interview (making this a Voices
exclusive). Less than a week later, I was on
Good Morning America feeling sorry for
myself for a brief moment of public
acclaim. Less than a year later, Wayne died
of stomach cancer. Today, I still remember
his advice with reverence, despite the fact
that I detested Wayne’s politics. In
February, I plan to discuss:

1. The wisdom of John Wayne

2. How to implement that wisdom here in
Centre Country to help reduce fear among
our disabled and aged population.

(Our community’s considerable private
and academic emotional counselors are
invited.)

Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of
Food
.

Why I came to State College: For the money from Voices of Central Pennsylvania, November, 2009

From Where I Sit:

I came to State College for the money.

In March 2002, I was sitting in the Office of Professor Elias Mpofu, program head for Penn State’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program, a program I was just invited to join.

Professor Mpofu asked, “Why did you decide to come to Penn State?”

“For the money,” I said. “No one would give me more money than Penn State.”

Professor Mpofu gave me a look of deep understanding. We spent the rest of the visit discussing Professor Mpofu’s specialty; primitive African beliefs on illness and disability. Professor Mpofu published a well-received paper about a Tanganyika ritual where the magic powers help a disabled person use secret forces to be liberated from the disability. (Yes, I did ask Professor Mpofu to perform the ritual on me and he is taking a long time getting back to me.)
By accepting Professor Mpofus’ academic offer I was agreeing to a career path ending in my becoming an Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) Counselor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My job as an OVR counselor would be to help people with disabilities get jobs. Walking was part of the job description for the job Penn State was training me. I do not walk.

Therefore, no matter how well trained I am there’s no way I can become an OVR counselor without being able to walk to people’s homes where the home is not
From Where I Sit accessible. Being able to walk is job critical. With a single stroke of the pen, I had signed up for a grant from the government to make me the moral equivalent of able-bodied when the government had determined just two years earlier (at great governmental expense) that I am permanently disabled.

The attraction for me of being an OVR counselor is best described in the recollections of Abraham Nemeth, a scientist who is blind and who has become a mentor to the still-trendy summer camps specializing in teaching science to low-vision students. Nemeth’s biographer Carol Castellano writes, “Dr. Nemeth says that he was discouraged from making mathematics his undergraduate major by vocational counselors because of his blindness and the lack of Braille materials. He acquiesced and switched to psychology instead. But take a look at the courses he chose for his electives at college—analytical geometry and differential and integral calculus….”

I wanted to be a successful vocational rehabilitation counselor. I believe I have a special calling based on my disability experiences to transform my experiences with assistive technology to make it easier for people with disabilities to use new technical equipment to get higher paying jobs leading to a career.

Now, I am on medical leave from the Rehabilitation Counseling Program. My health has not been good, but not as bad as it sounds. Last year, I was in the hospital three times, once for diabetes that nearly killed me; second for treating difficult pneumonia, and the third time to evaluate a badly damaged right shoulder that requires a shoulder replacement operation where the technology has not kept up with shoulders. The medical field has made great progress with knees and hips, but not with replacing an entire shoulder. The result, no shoulder surgery for at least 25 years and periods of pain.

In my last column, I promised to provide you with my personal financial information. Last year (2008), I earned a total income of $21,256.80. All my income came through my monthly Social Security check. Out of a monthly check of $1,688.00, Medicare, my only health insurance (helpful during the period when I was in the hospital last month) deducts $210 off the top. Rent and electricity costs $830 and $145 for phone and high speed computer (I have daughters in two different states).

I have hopes of economic redemption through…

I want out of poverty. And I want a job that will earn me a way out of poverty. [Insert Sylvester Stallone Rocky Theme Song here.]

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food.