Dr Judith Guedalia

'Capped And Then Handi-capped'

Co-written by Chaim K. and Dr. Judith Guedalia © 2007 (Written last Purim)

        Kail Maleh Rachamim, He Who lives in the uppermost levels of the heavens

         So begins the prayer for those who die; Beseeching G-d to help them find full peace under the wings of the Shechina.
         "On Ta'anit Esther, the fast of Esther, when we fast to show our empathy with the people of Persian Jews at the time of the Temple's destruction, and recount the miracle of Purim, I have a yahrzeit. My mourning for my 'before-self' is a daily occurrence. When the 'official date' arrives every year and is joined with the joy of Purim, I am able to mourn in a more public fashion. People may interpret my sadness as being for the Fast, but really it is the day I lost myself; the day my body was smashed by a car.
         "For my family, it might be the beginning of the miracle of Purim and Pesach combined, as I wasn't given a chance of survival. I went into cardiac arrest six times, meaning that I have died six times over. To my parents and doctors the fact that I am here at all and cognizant of everything around me is a miracle in itself. They see this day as a form of Techiyat Hametim. I see this day as the day I 'died'.
         "This sounds awful and Dr. G. is almost crying. I tell her that I am not mourning myself now, I'm really mourning who I might have been as a person, if only the car arrived at the spot, two minutes earlier or later.
         "Who do I feel I am today, and who might I have been otherwise?
        "Obviously I have changed. Before the accident I was hyperactive. I could never sit still- I was always active in martial arts, biking, and playing hooky from school and yeshiva regularly. But now I can't be hyperactive. Have you ever heard of a hyperactive person who is totally paralyzed and on a ventilator/respirator? 'I don't think so!' he says cynically.
         "My personality hasn't changed, but my perspective on the world has. Recently, The Jewish Press published my article: 'Seeing Life as It Can Be - Not Accepting Life as It Is.' This was a very upbeat article. I really feel that way most of the time. I smile a lot, make jokes, and enjoy going out and doing things - most of all being with 'regular' friends and people.
        "However, I can't lie, and say that there aren't times that I am 'blue' and sad. Baruch Hashem they are not the majority of my days, though my nights are particularly long.
         "I didn't want to write about this sadness, but the proximity to my ' Yharzeit' makes it impossible not to think about 'what-might-have-been.' Dr. G. convinces me that you who are reading this should not think of me as a 'plastic' person, but as a real, live man.
         "Sadness is also a part of life. Learning how to live with it is the Cochma, the clever way."
         "So how do I manage to do that?
         "I allow myself to feel. I sometimes ask someone nearby to cover my head, so that I can't see. The good news of being on a respirator is that I can't get smothered by the blanket. The bad news is I block out everything and everybody. I can't see, smell or taste anything around me. This is how I can 'be' on my own.
         "When I'm in this 'down' mode, my family understands and they let me have some 'space.' They're right, because after a few hours, I really begin to miss those around me, and my life, as I know it now.
         "Recently, when I met Jenny S., who is congenitally blind and was a member our two month-long Group Therapy Sessions at Dr. G's Neuropsychology Unit, I began to see my 'hiding' from life differently.
         "I could block out those around me, temporarily. The word 'temporarily' is the key. Knowing someone who can never turn the world 'on or off' at will changed my way of thinking. Ironically, Jenny says being blind is not a big deal, as she thinks seeing is highly over-rated by those who can see. I feel her attitude stems from the fact that she never could see, so that she doesn't know what she's missing! She has developed many ways of compensating and 'sees' those who come into the room with her ears. She 'hears' their image using language in a way that I never can. Meeting her was important.
         "But my situation is so different. I know what I lost, because until the age of 14, I was just like everyone else, I still remember every sense and feeling in my body, below my head and face, the feeling of walking and touching the ground, and that's why I think I am in a worse 'place' than she is!
         "So, the last time I felt 'down' and 'covered myself up' for hours, I was happy that I could get the blanket removed and see the world again. My world, which has obvious imperfections, is one that highlights what remains. People who are 'capped', as opposed to 'handi-capped,' may not be aware of the joys of their abilities.
         "When all is said and done, I guess I can't be ME without being optimistic."
Originally published in the Jewish Press on August 8, 2007.


Tags: Capped | Chaim K. | Handi-capped | Handicapped | Jewish Press