If I had to come up with the main thing my disability has taught me, I would have to say it is how to be resourceful. A mirror is tilted above my stove so I can see if a pot of water is boiling without having to stand up and lean on a hot surface. There are shoelaces tied to every doorknob in my house so that I can easily reach back and close the door behind me. Gradual ramps cover every threshold so that I don’t feel a significant bump and risk losing my balance every time I enter or exit my house.
Those are some of the physical things. What I am prouder of is my ability to look outside the box to get things done.
2007 was an interesting year for me. I had the honor of being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kansas, and that title enabled me to travel the state and speak to various groups about disability issues. It was a great time. Phenomenal people happened to be everywhere I went, and using my voice to speak for empowerment was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. There was only one thing I personally really wanted to do that year. The coolest thing that I could think of was to have a one on one meeting with then-governor Kathleen Sebelius. As Ms. Wheelchair Kansas, I thought that kind of meeting would be better than velcro shoes.
But something else was going on with me in 2007 as well. I was plagued with health problems. Severe unexplained pain dominated my days frequently, and countless tests could not determine the cause. As the months went by my symptoms got worse. I was hospitalized often and increasingly frustrated what seemed like all the time.
Part of the reason for my frustration was that I knew I only had my crown and my title for a year. It’s a one-time thing. Once a wheelchair user is crowned, she can never be so again, even in another state. That meant there was limited time to advocate and share the message and information that I wanted to. Being sick just was not part of the plan. My body had other ideas. Towards the end of my reign, it was decided that I needed exploratory surgery, in order to get to the bottom of what was going wrong.
My surgeon, Dr. Mark Praeger, was a kind and gentle man who offered to, in his words, “go into my belly and take a look around.” Before surgery, he made himself available numerous times for my questions. He also personally guided me through all the preparation for the procedure. He is a really nice guy. He also happens to be married to the woman who was the Kansas Insurance Commissioner at the time.
Surgery went well and the next day a whole lot of morphine had me sufficiently chill. Dr. Praeger casually came into my room and asked me if I needed anything. I saw my opportunity and in my drug induced state, I decided to go for all the marbles.
“As a matter of fact, Dr. Praeger, since you are asking, there is something I need. You see I have been Ms. Wheelchair Kansas for about nine months now, and I would love to meet the governor before my reign is over. Could you maybe talk to your wife and see if she might be able to help set up a meeting like that for me?”
His laughter continued for no less than five minutes. Then he said, “Gee, Lorraine. The next time I ask one of my patients if they need something, I am going to have to clarify that I meant medically. But let me see what I can do.” He was still chuckling as he left the room.
The morphine worked its magic. In more ways than one. Two days later I had an invitation to the Governor’s office. And about a week after that, I was able to personally thank Kathleen Sebelius for her ongoing support of people with disabilities and her commitment to those of us with disabilities living in our communities instead of nursing homes. Having that conversation was one of the best things I have ever done.
Who knew that the health problems I had in 2007 would lead me to a personal meeting with the governor?
When I tell that story these days, I usually end it with “the morphine made me do it.” I just don’t think I would have had the courage to ask Dr. Praeger for the favor if I had been stone cold sober.
When I saw him at the hospital recently, he smiled big and said, “How is Ms. Wheelchair Kansas?”
I returned his greeting with a grin and we made small talk for a minute. As I rolled away I could not help but think about how proud I am that I have learned to use all my resources.