Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Thank You

There are people in your life who will tear you down. If you're lucky, someone will come along and build you back up.

I was lucky.

I had the same math teacher for grades six through eight. She didn't like me. She didn't hide the fact that she didn't like me. Frankly, I'm sure I was an annoying know-it-all. And math was not my favorite subject. Not that it will come as a shock to anyone who knows me now, but I used to rush through to get it done. In doing so, I tended to make careless mistakes. So, I was not a favorite of my math teacher. But it was, on a day I remember with so much clarity, that she sort of ruined me. She said to me, in front of my whole class that I "would never accomplish anything and would never amount to anything."

Nice thing to tell your student.

Not surprisingly, I lost all confidence in my math ability. Like one needs a reason to be insecure in those early teen years.

Going into high school, after attending the same school from nursery school through eighth grade was intimidating. There were all these other kids. I was no longer a big fish in a little pond. I was a little fish, and totally overwhelmed. I was fortunate though, as my two older brothers had traversed the way a bit. I knew some of the teachers, and they knew of me. That was sort of good and sort of bad (especially when the oldest brother is a class clown and doesn't make the best impression on a humorless teacher). But my brothers were good kids, strong students, and I did have the benefit of the same last name.

I was also a pleaser. I wanted people to think well of me.

Course I Math was intimidating. The teacher was an older gentleman, Mr. Corbeil. He had a reputation for favoring the boys and not the girls. Not what I needed after my previous experience. Especially not when most of my peers in the honors classes had the advantage of taking Course I in eighth grade. I was already behind. Did I mention that I was a bit anal and driven, and had my sights set on being valedictorian, as my brother would be that year? Yeah, my brothers set the bar high, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it. Especially not in math.

But, Mr. Corbeil liked me. Despite the fact that I was a girl. Maybe it's because he liked my brothers. Maybe it was just me.

I did well in math that year. And throughout high school.

I was a four year member of Math Club, which, ironically did not really involve math at all. I don't remember what we did, despite being president. Mr. Corbeil was the moderator, which was why I did it.

Early on in our Freshman year, Mr. Corbeil announced that we were his last class and he'd be retiring when we graduated. He and his wife never had kids, but treated us like their kids. Mrs. Corbeil passed away a number of years ago.

Scrolling through Facebook a little while ago, a classmate posted Mr. Corbeil's obituary. I'd often wondered if he was still alive. I should have looked him up. I should have thanked him for believing in me. For giving me back some confidence. For realizing that my other teacher was not correct, and that I would amount to something.

I have a lot of people to thank along my journey. Mr. Corbeil was just one of them.

So, take a moment to thank the people who build you up. To let their words and encouragement be the ones to echo in your brain instead of the negativity. And then, take another moment to do that for someone else. Be someone's Mr. Corbeil.

Mr. Corbeil's Obituary

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Don't Need a Day #worldautismday

Today is April 2nd. It's World Autism Day.

I shared this on Facebook yesterday:

Facebook was also so kind to remind me that on this day, in years past, I've shared the following:
 And this one too:

I don't need a day to remind me to think about Autism. I don't need to wear blue to be aware of Autism. I live Autism every single day.

Somedays, it's so hard. Other days, it's the easiest thing I've ever done. And I know how very lucky we are. My son is autistic. But he's so much more. Trying to sum him up with that one word is like saying he has blue eyes and expecting you to know everything about him from that one fact. He's entering adolescence, which is going to bring a whole new set of challenges. Especially considering that his body is losing control to hormonal fluctuations while his emotions are still about 3 years behind his chronological age, and he lacks the pragmatic skills to express himself without a whole lot of work on my part.

But he can express himself. And we're working on it. Every day we work on it. Some days are good. Some days are not. Some days the stress of the outside world is almost too much for him.

And we're so lucky. So very lucky. My son is one of the lucky ones. Because yes, he's autistic. But, like I said, he's so much more. He has friends (typical ones). Okay, maybe just one or two friends, but someone he can call for a playdate and they will say yes. He's well liked. He's not thought of as odd. He's in a regular class and is no longer on an IEP. College is in his future. He'll have a career. We have every reason to expect that he'll have a family, if he so desires.

At work, many of my students are not so lucky. Some are non-verbal, or are very limited in their verbal skills. Some are so locked in their own worlds that it's a privilege to be granted entry, even if for a moment. God, what a gift that is to receive, when they let you in. How crushing it is when you see the curtain fall and know you're back on the outside.

I don't need a day to remind me of all the work that parents and teachers and therapists do on behalf of individuals with autism. That is my everyday.

And I don't need a day to remind me of how lucky and how honored I am to know these individuals. I know every single day. Somedays I'm frustrated, and somedays I feel inadequate. But every day I feel and every day I know.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Fighting an Epidemic One Back at a Time

It seems to me that stories of the heroin epidemic are all over the news. From the allowance of every pharmacy in New York state to carry Narcan over the counter to the proposal of a heroin clinic in Ithaca that is staffed by licensed medical personnel (so that addicts can receive medical attention so they don't die while shooting up), the war on heroin is dominating the news coverage. 20/20 is running a special on it tonight, and a few weeks ago, I watched PBS's Frontline special, Chasing Heroin, about the measures being taken in Seattle to combat heroin.

I've never been addicted to drugs. I cannot speak to that. But here's what I keep gleaning from the coverage. Once someone is addicted to heroin, it is very difficult to come clean and stay clean. I'm not convinced that daily methadone is any better.

The other fact I keep hearing. Four out of five heroin addicts started with prescription narcotics. Let me say that again. FOUR OUT OF FIVE started with prescription pills.

Our medical system is broken, and this heroin crisis is a by-product of it. Fragmented, sequestered medical care that looks only at body systems and not the whole person. Physicians who won't refer to other fields, lest they be cut out of the loop financially. Big pharma pushing, encouraging, bribing. Patients get trapped in a downward spiral of doctor's visits, medications, diagnostic imaging.

This post may be biased. I am a physical therapist. I have eight years of college education and passed a state board exam in the field of treating dysfunction. That's what physical therapists do. We treat dysfunction. What is the largest symptom of dysfunction? Pain.

Why do people take narcotics? Pain

What leads to heroin use in 4 out of 5 heroin addicts? Pain pills.

Do we see a correlation here?

Studies have shown that early referral to physical therapy reduces medical costs in terms of follow up diagnostic imaging, spinal injections, and surgeries. If people are feeling better quicker, they will not need to take narcotics. If people are feeling better and do not have to have surgery, they will not need to take narcotics.

I know there is a time and place for prescription pain pills. There are some cases that narcotics are needed, like in post-surgical cases. However, I firmly believe that both the patients and the physicians are to blame in the growing crisis of narcotic addiction. The patients who want a quick fix, that magic pill. Physicians who are too eager to write that script for the quick fix.

What would happen if we shift our thinking when we hurt our backs (or shoulders or knees)? What if instead of visit upon visit to physicians and specialists, we went right to PT? Only 17 states have unrestricted direct access to physical therapy (meaning there is no physician referral/prescription needed). The other 33 states have limited or provisional access. Here's the catch: even though your state may have direct access to physical therapy, your insurance company most likely will still require you to have a physician referral otherwise they won't cover it. Additionally, in many states, physical therapy services are charged as a Specialist fee, which often means higher co-pays, and can be cost prohibitive for patients.

What if instead of relying on a little pill, we took a look at our lifestyles and made changes to make our bodies function better?

You know, going to the physical therapist a few times a week and making lifestyle modifications may seem like a pain in the neck, but as compared to life as a heroin addict, it seems like a no brainer.

I'm not naive enough to think that physical therapy is the cure for the heroin epidemic. It's not that simple. But we have to start somewhere, doing something. Allowing children to buy Narcan OTC so they can save their friends from overdosing is not the answer. We need to look at the root causes, and start there.

So, the next time you are hurting, instead of asking your physician for a prescription for pills, ask him or her if a referral to PT might be a better plan.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Good Timing for #International Women's Day

Sometimes, things work out for a reason. Today, is not only release day for my latest novel, Live For This, but it's International Women's Day. (It's also #NationalPancakeDay, but that has nothing to do with either issue)

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, and will continue to say that I'd be nowhere without the women in my life. From my mother to my daughter to my best friend Michele (you may notice her name makes it into every book) to the mom's at school to my co-workers to my author friends, I've got a fantastic support system.

It's from these women that I draw inspiration to write my female characters. My resilient women. My characters are flawed, realistic. They're not perfect. Sometimes, they make terrible mistakes. But they get up, put their big girl panties on, and carry on. Much like the women in my real life do. The women that struggle with the balance of career and family and responsibilities, often putting not only their personal lives aside, but their health as well in order to take care of everyone else.

I've got a great support system around me, and out of it has come my sixth novel. Samirah, the main character in Live For This, is not quite as together as some of my other main characters. She's young--only 24, and has had a rough go of it. She puts up walls and defense mechanisms, which turns her into not a very nice person. There's not a lot there that makes her likable. Except, you know she's had a raw deal. Watching her grow, mature, and evolve is emotional, and heartbreaking at times. Like my other characters, she finds her resilience. Not necessarily by choice, but she embraces it none the less.

So, today, on my seventh publishing day, I ask you to celebrate the women in your life. May we all be resilient.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Somber Experience

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of chaperoning my son's field trip (which in and of itself is a long story, but I'll save that for another time, as it is not the point of this post). We had a group of about 48 11 and 12 year-olds (sixth graders), and part of the trip was a tour of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

One thing that stuck not only me, but the teachers and other chaperones as well is that none of the children were alive when 9/11 happened.

They've always existed in a post-9/11 world.

They don't know know what the NYC skyline looked like with the Twin Towers, and how once they were gone, it created a huge hole.

They don't know what it is like to say good-bye to someone at the airport gate, or greet them there the moment they deplane.

They don't remember the days when bags weren't searched and x-ray scanners weren't the norm. When you didn't have to remove your coat and belt and shoes just to enter a museum.

They've always known the term Al Qaeda. They've always known of Osama Bin Laden and Jihad.

They don't have the memories of that day, knowing exactly where they were and what they were doing. Watching the horrible events unfold, live on CNN.

They don't understand the gravity of the statement, "He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald."

They don't know how eerie it is to see a sky with no air traffic.

They don't know how frightening it is to see a low flying plane.

My personal recollections are in this post, but we all have those stories. The teacher who had a view of the Pentagon from his classroom. The teacher with a classroom full of kids who was summoned to the office because her principal knew her sister lived in the city. The mother who's youngest sister was late for work at her job in the South Tower, arriving just after the first plane crash (she grabbed a friend and high tailed it across the Brooklyn Bridge).

I had four boys with me yesterday. We didn't have time to read every exhibit, so I gave them the quick synopsis. I have to say, I'm proud at the respect and somberness they showed. I still don't know if they got the gravity of the situation. The steel beams, twisted and mangled, crumpled like paper. Seeing the steel arch and how massive it is, and how small it was compared to the rest of the building. The fire truck (Engine 3) with the front end melted off. All 11 members of the Company perished that day. How the phone lines to pretty much all of New York were jammed, so that loved ones could not be contacted. The missing flyers that grew in the days after. The horror of knowing all the emergency personnel mobilizing at the local hospitals would have no survivors to treat. Of knowing that there would be a high casualty count from the plane crashes themselves, but that no one expected the towers to fall.

Of watching people jump out the window.

I don't know if I said the right things yesterday. It's hard to believe it's been almost 15 years. It feels like yesterday.

I feel like I need to take my youngest to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, when she's a little older. And then I will have no need to go back. I will carry in my mind, and in my heart, the terrible losses of that day until the day I die.

And I will pray that my children will have no such defining event in their lives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Turning Pointe

Tonight was a turning pointe for me. No, that's not a typo. Well, it's more a pun than a typo.

I've done ballet since I was five years old. I am not a ballerina. I never have been, though it may have been my dream. Short, stocky legs and inflexible ligaments, as well as too many outside interests prevented serious pursuit. Not to mention I'd already injured by back by the age of 15, and done serious damage to my hip by the age of 20. A career on the stage was not in my future. But like the guys who play baseball well into their 50s and 60s for the mere enjoyment and camaraderie, I still dance.

I got my first pair of pointe shoes when I was in 7th grade. Twenty-seven years ago, for those of you counting at home. Disclaimer...it was 1989, so don't hate on the hair.

 Of course, we can comment that I was standing like this because I was en pointe, and no one took a picture of my feet. I had the starter pointe shoes, that had the suede piece that went all the way over the toe. They were Capezios. I don't know if they make them like that any more.

I had narrow feet as a teenager, and wore the Capezio Niccolini's for years. I saved a pair, and when I was decorating the nursery for my daughter, I decided to put them in her room. Yes, I decorated my baby's room with smelly old dirty shoes.

I danced my first year in college and then took a decade off from ballet. But it was my first love, and it called me back. Somehow, for some reason, after having two kids, I decided to give pointe another whirl. I bought new shoes (Suffolks) and hated them. They were agony. I'd been fitted and that's what was recommended, but those were not the shoes for my feet. Then, in 2011, I was asked to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy in my studio's Christmas show. I knew I couldn't do it with those shoes, and got a pair of Gaynor Mindens. They felt like heaven on my feet.

I was thirty-six years old the night I danced the Sugar Plum Fairy. Do I watch the video and cringe a little? Sure. In my head, I dance like a prima ballerina. In reality, my extension is not great, my knees aren't always straight and tight, and I certainly don't have the stamina I need. But, I did it.

I don't have a ballerina's body. But I have pretty feet. I'll take that.

In 2013, I was lucky enough to partake in a photo shoot with a local photographer, William LeBlanc. He was trying out a new technique and wanted dancers for it. I'm not a model, and I was unfortunately going through a blunt bang stage, but I've never felt so pretty or graceful.
Copyright William LeBlanc Studio. 2013.

 He did these photos of us individually. Normally I hate myself in profile, but he did such a great job.

Copyright William LeBlanc Studio, 2013.

Every so often, someone gets me actually dancing.

Tonight, it was with a tinge of bittersweetness that I said good-bye to those pointe shoes. Gaynor Mindens are meant to last, and I've gotten 4 1/2 years out of them. They've served me well.
And with anticipation and sadness, I started sewing the ribbons and elastics on what will most likely be my last pair of pointe shoes. If these last as long, I'll be about 45 the next time I'm in the market for a new pair. If the arthritis in my toes has it's way, I won't be getting a new pair.

If I sew another pair of pointe shoes, it will be for my daughter. Never again for me.

And that will be okay. For tonight, I danced. I lept and turned and marveled in the beauty of my shoes. The magic that they hold that for just a few moments each week let me feel beautiful and special. These shoes hold a gift, and I'm glad to be able to unwrap a little each week.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's Not Okay

There'a a big hub bub in Hollywood right now about the apparent exclusion of black actors in Oscar nominated roles. There are boycotts and hashtags and dialogue about the subject.

Dialogue is good. Silence is bad.

My disclosure: I am totally able-bodied.

My issue: The complete and utter lack of roles for people with disabilities in film and television.

I became utterly aware of this while doing research for my new novel, Live For This. The hero of my novel is this great guy, Michael Salinger. In addition to being smart, funny, and good-looking, he also happens to be a paraplegic. The story is not about him being paralyzed. Sure, there's a lot of that in there, as it colors how he navigates through life. His character was inspired by my next door neighbor growing up. He too had a spinal cord injury. His journey through rehabilitation is what made me want to be a physical therapist. You can read more about him here.

I'm a pretty visual thinker, and I use Pinterest to give me pictures of my characters, their clothing, settings, etc. so that I can describe them. I make Pinterest boards for my research and refer to it throughout the writing process. So, when I started Live For This, I needed to know what Michael Salinger looked like. So I started researching actors/models/athletes who have had spinal cord injuries. Do you know how FEW there are? Yeah, in terms of actors, about three. And no offense to those lovely men, they didn't fit my demographic (two were too old and the other had a different level of injury for what I needed). I was able to find an Irish actor, Peter Mitchell, who fit the bill, and Michael is based upon him (physically speaking, at least).

Not that Live For This is ever going to be made into a movie, but I felt VERY strongly that if I'm writing a character who is paralyzed, then the actor who should play him should also be paralyzed.

I'm guessing that there are more than three men out there who are in wheelchairs who consider themselves actors.

So, this brings me to my current rant. The movie trailer for Me Before You, based on the novel by JoJo Moyes was released yesterday. While I've been in my writing cave for the past two years, while I've certainly heard of the book, I've never read it. It was only about 2 weeks ago, seeing something about the movie, that I even realized it also featured a man with a spinal cord injury.

I just watched the movie trailer. Please watch also.

The tears are already flowing, right?

Except I'm pissed. The actor who plays the main male character is able-bodied. There is nothing accurate about his posture or wheelchair. It's Hollywood, coping out again.

When bodies are disabled, they are no longer perfect. When you are paralyzed, you lose muscle tone. Even if you are a good weight, your belly will seem to sag and pooch out because the inherent muscle tone that keeps your intestines in is gone. Limbs are skinny and scrawny as muscle tissue wastes away. Spines no longer able to stay upright curve to the side. If he can't lift his arms to feed himself, his wheelchair would have a large head rest. If he can't lift his arms, chances are his wheelchair would be driven by a tube that he sips and puffs to steer.

I did a lot of research beyond what my clinical experience has taught me. If I'm discussing what it's like to live with a spinal cord injury, I want it to be accurate, to do justice for people living with SCI. I can't say if JoJo Moyes did that in her novel because I haven't read it. I would guess she did. I only know that Hollywood has not done their homework. Not at all.

Sure Sam Claflin is easy on the eyes, but this is not right. Hollywood doesn't see it that way. This is as right as painting a white man's face black.

In other words, IT'S NOT OKAY.