Thus far, my adult life seems to have been divided into three quite distinct stages. As with so many others, the first stage encompassed those child-rearing, home-buying, shooting-for-the-top, too-busy-to breathe yuppie years.
However, at this juncture I differ from most, for I was to face an additional challenge for the remainder of my life. The words “multiple sclerosis” fell from my doctor’s lips one pleasant afternoon like the blade of a guillotine, marking the beginning of a truly arduous task. Give or take a few years, I spent the next decade juggling around family and career demands with a relentlessly advancing, debilitating condition.
Unfortunately, a point was reached at which my now old and familiar adversary appeared to be winning our long battle, and I was reluctantly hurtled into what looked like my quickly ebbing existence. When I entered the continuing care unit of the hospital, I believed I would remain until my maker called — and so began the second chapter of my life. My maker was a no-show, and I lived on there for 11 years.
One day I was given the opportunity to participate in something quite extraordinary ¾ an experience I’d like to share with readers of ABILITIES.
You see, after all those years, I’d left the hospital life behind, and on February 4, my family and friends moved me — lock, stock and barrel — into my own apartment. No, a hovering faith healer hadn’t swooped down as I slept, laid his hands on me and miraculously pronounced me whole. Rather, that was the day I became a resident in an apartment building where I am able to receive the services of the Ontario March of Dimes Supportive Housing Program.
Here, I’ve found self-respect and dignity once again. Their attendant services enable me to approach each day with a renewed sense of fulfilment and purpose. I’ve regained the status of a person, a human being with all my strengths and weaknesses. I cannot emphasize enough the patience and kindness shown me since my arrival, and constantly marvel at its sincerity and extent.
You’d be amazed at what I’m doing and enjoying these days — I certainly am. I didn’t realize just how isolated I was from some aspects of daily living within the hospital’s sterile confines, or how far technology had charged ahead in my long absence. My head often reels as old experiences flood my senses. Many of the same problems remain, and they are as frustrating as ever. Whereas something might have required three phone calls of fast talking to remedy in the past, to put things right today, we’ve “progressed” to placing half a dozen calls to automated pre-recorded messages, none of which seems applicable to the situation, only to learn that three different forms must also be completed — each in triplicate, of course.
And what’s happened to grocery shopping? The first list I compiled to be filled at a nearby market turned out about as inappropriate as a pamphlet about TV dinners to a gourmet chef. My cupboards abounded in glorious junk food, but nothing with which to cook a decent meal. Talk about overwhelmed! The variety and choices astounded me, and I needed to remind myself constantly that I hadn’t shopped in 11 years. So, now I’m playing catch-up, trying desperately to cram all those years into… how long did I say I’d been here?
I’m surprised by how quickly I’m falling into the slot designated “consumer,” and even more amazed to discover I’m enjoying the role again. Attendant service lends me a pair of hands and feet that work, making what once was impossible, possible. Why, just the other morning, before breakfast, I was able to finish a Sidney Sheldon novel I’d been reading, by the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. You might wonder at my reason for relating such a trivial occurrence, or why I would bother to also mention that, later that same day, I chose paint and wallpaper for my living room. I do so to demonstrate that in this place I’m urged and encouraged to be a part of an altered lifestyle and begin living once again. So, look out world — I’m back!
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Ontario March of Dimes, on behalf of all the men and women who benefit from this program, for their generous support. Without it we could not be all that we can be.
(Lynne Hildebrant lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and receives service from Ontario March of Dimes Supportive Housing Program.)