Tag Archives: California

My first scooter: Originally published as a Valentine to the Durable Medical Equipment Industry

 [The following was originally published in the February, 2011 edition of HME News as a Valentine to the Durable Medical Equipment industry. The love continues.]

I was so angry, wild with fatigue, that I lifted my ugly drug store cane intending to destroy my employer’s computer printer. This was in California’s Silicon Valley. The printer was networked to nine computers. After a late night writing a portion of a manual on silicon wafer inspection, I commanded the computer to print.

After I weaved my way to the printer (seemingly miles away from the computer), there was no document. Five trips back and forth (nothing each time) and my level of frustration caught up to my level of exhaustion. My control was at the breaking point.

Six months previously, I had lost my ability to walk. The concepts I was writing about were hard to understand even when I had been healthy and well-rested. My ability to physically support my body was shaky. I fell several times a day. My right arm had been badly dislocated in a fall. What I needed was a fore-arm crutch with properly fitted prosthetics or a scooter. My doctors focused on understanding how I lost the ability to walk and little on how I could live without walking.

Mortgage payments were due. Home was North Carolina where a wife and two elementary-school-aged children waited. The local economy determined technical writers were not currently needed. At the same time (1996), California needed my skills as of yesterday and I was promptly hired for KLA-Tencor, a company paying large sums to do fascinating work.

I did not break the printer. I drove to my apartment, slept and thumbed the yellow pages praying for relief. I did not know what I was looking for. After a while, I left a voice mail with a dealer in wheelchairs and scooters (not knowing then what a scooter was). That is how I purchased my first mobility device.

Scott returned my call and listened to my situation. We talked price. He recommended a used front-wheel drive scooter. I was skeptical. “Let me show you how it works,” he said, crossed town quickly and lifted a scooter from his truck. I sat down and drove circles around the empty street. My able-bodied college friend David Phillips, in whose house I had an apartment, was fascinated. Keeping David from driving my scooter was hard.

I had discovered three important things about mobility devices:

    • They are fun.
    • They take away the drudgery of not being able to walk.
    • They remove the image that I am someone to be pitied.

I arrived at KLA-Tencor, having:

    • Given Scott a down payment (the beginning of many, mostly personal, expenditures, on equipment, including rear-wheel  drive scooters, power chairs, wheelchair lifts and ramps)
    • Taken the scooter apart myself and shakily inserted the parts into the trunk
    • Slid sidewise hugging the Pontiac’s body
    • Reversed the process

My colleagues applauded. I had solved a physical problem with a technical solution and in the Silicon Valley that was worthy of commendation.

As I look back on the past 14 years, especially worthy of commendation are you, the suppliers of DMEPOS. My time with you here is almost up. Traditionally a column is about 750 words. I have used most of them. A 750-word column can express effectively only one major idea. That idea is that you, the medical suppliers, and people like me, your customers, are a family.

We are a family surviving in a world where David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s former budget director, said in November on ABC News that the United States can no longer afford to provide its disabled citizens with “scooters.” As competitive bidding illustrates, clearly a bipartisan effort is underway to make it difficult for the disabled to receive mobility and other DMEPOS devices and for you, our local medical suppliers, to get paid for them or even to stay in business.

The pain is especially felt by indigent consumers and small suppliers. In this month where every day is Valentine’s Day, it is helpful to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin (an amorous man if ever there was one) on the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

–Joel Solkoff is a monthly columnist on disability and elderly related issues for Voices in State College, Pa. He is the author of three books, including The Politics of Food and Learning to Live Again: My Triumph Over Cancer. He served in the Carter Administration as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Labor. He has a bipartisan loathing of anyone trying to keep assistive technology from individuals with disabilities—a loathing he is trying to turn into corrective love.

Protect disabled, elderly from fires and disasters

From Where I Sit: My column in Voices of Central Pennsylvania, November 2010

My only experience with an earthquake was in the Silicon Valley of California.  I was staring at my broken computer when the earth moved beneath me. The following day The San Jose Mercury News put the earthquake on page one because of its intensity and also contained an editorial on the importance of being prepared.

My home (wife, two daughters, two cats) was back in North Carolina.  There I had worked in Research Triangle Park for two years (focusing on linking a computer to a telephone switch) had disappeared. Without warning jobs in documentation had become the moral equivalent of famine where two years previously had been feast. [At  a Northern Telecom job interview I had been told being a technical writer had secured me a guaranteed income for life (gold watch and all)] .

At the same time as my gold watch turned into costume jewelry, my ability to walk disappeared. I had gone from being able to jog on the beautifully wooded track on the corporate campus, to being unable to stand without holding onto something, to tripping on my toes and dislocating my right shoulder.

 

 An extensive search of databases showed San Jose, California, could not hire technical writers quickly enough. A longtime friend had extra room nearby and invited me to go west. I was hired immediately. I fell three times during a critical interview. My cane could not hold my weight. I had not yet acquired my first mobility device, a frontwheel drive scooter.

 

 After my third fall, directly in front of my prospective boss’ feet, Vicki, who was in charge of the corporate quality assurance team, said, “Don’t worry. We have to hire you.” The reason I had to be hired was that the company, a global leader in computer wafer inspection devices, needed a writer for its new product which could predict when a wafer in the production process would be faulty and remove it from its production line on a timely basis. What the company had not prepared for was any safety orientation for disabled workers.

***

 

 These details are relevant to the evolution of fire safety policies at Addison Court in downtown State College. They are relevant because first, until recently the idea of protecting the disabled and elderly from fire and other emergencies was low on our society’s consciousness. Second, limiting safety and access to one location and one building has long-term negative consequences to our country’s economy—an economy which to its detriment fails to make use of the talent of its disabled and elderly population.

 

 R e g a r d i n g safety at Addison Court, a residence for 90 elderly and disabled individuals, where as a result of faulty fire alarms about two years ago, we learned from Steve Bair, fire director of Centre County’s Council of Governments (COG) and head of Alpha Fire Company, the proper way of evacuating a building made of brick with adequate sprinklers:

Do not evacuate. Wait for the fire company to come. Evacuation of disabled and elderly residents (in a multi-story building), especially when they have power chairs, wheel chairs, and the like, can induce panic.

 

 More on this do not evacuate concept which the fire authorities refer to as “defend in place” later. It makes good economic sense to protect disabled and elderly individuals from dying or being hurt in a fire or in some other disaster. A larger question is whether this society has the will to pay for safety, the understanding of where safety belongs in our order of priorities, and the willingness to teach and implement concepts like “defend in place.”

The most recent available Census Department statistics for Centre County (based on a 2006-2008 estimate) shows a total population of a little more than 144,000; 45,000 residents are 45 years old and older. Nearly 16,000 residents range in age from 65 years to over 85. What is the cost to Centre County and society at large to keeping these 16,000 residents safe and productive if many of them require special safety procedures? Who should pick up the tab? IWe need to invest in quieter, gentler fire alarms so that residents stay in place until the fire trucks come.

Several subjects require elaboration on the voiceswepage.org webpage: direct your browser to future blogs on the following subects:

  • Administrative efforts to reduce panic.
  • The continuation of my meandering earthquake story and where it fits into a larger picture.
  • Plans to make Lady Gaga Fire Prevention Celebrity for Centre County.

—Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. For a continuation of themes raised in this column, see Joel;s blog at voicesweb.org.Tell me how you liked the photograph of Lady Gaga and an illustrated critique of her disability-related video Paparazzi.

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.