Reasons & Remarks – Gratitude

PN editor, Tom Fjerstad, talks about the inconvenient impact “stay at home” has had on the normal way of life

By Tom Fjerstad

I was having trouble deciding on a subject to write about this month and honestly wanted to stay away from COVID-19. Then it dawned on me — we have all been dealing with the varied stay-at-home issues in one fashion or another.

I’m not discounting the difficulties associated with this, but if we think of the trials endured by the founders of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), I’m hopeful we’ll find very little reason to feel sorry for ourselves.

In my May column (Housing Grant, p. 10), I wrote about the creation of the housing grant by PVA’s founding members during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The grant did much more than provide financial assistance for these veterans. It provided the path to escape the otherwise inevitable future of being institutionalized.

Calling the Bronx VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Hospital, Cushing General or Birmingham Army Hospital home was far from ideal and something those veterans refused to accept as their new normal. The veterans at those facilities weren’t dealing with social distancing like we are now. No, the distancing they experienced was arguably much worse.

They did have the comfort and camaraderie of their fellow veterans with whom they shared close living quarters on the hospital ward. However, when the time came to visit family, friends and loved ones outside of the hospital, the challenges were often great.

These veterans returning from World War II with spinal-cord injuries (SCI) didn’t face a temporary stay-at-home order; they no longer had a home to which they could go. They weren’t temporarily denied access to what was once their favorite restaurant until “things returned to normal;” the steps at the front door to that restaurant made the denial of access permanent.

Issues of PN magazine at that time included lists sent in by the readers of hotels, motels, restaurants and other venues that had a then-rare level of accessibility for use by our membership.

During the years of PVA’s formation, many of the conditions faced by veterans and other survivors of SCI rivaled the issues faced by society today because of the coronavirus, both in health risks and in their ability to engage in society.

During this pandemic, I’ve found myself aggravated because I couldn’t go to my favorite restaurant or bar. I know some of you are anxiously waiting for the day you can return to the stadium for a ballgame. These closures are a temporary inconvenience for us. 

Let me be clear, I’m not discounting the health risks to our extremely vulnerable population or the devastating economic impact of this situation. I’m addressing what’s viewed by so many as the inconvenient impact “stay at home” has had on our “normal” way of life.

In light of this awakening, I’m now personally embarrassed to think of the number of times I’ve grumbled that a parking lot was not “up to code” as I exited my accessible van, rolled through the doors of a restaurant to be cheerfully greeted and seated at a table and used the completely accessible restroom and returned to my table.

I’ve also thought a lot about the time 25 years ago that I had the opportunity to meet PVA’s fourth National President Patterson Grissom. Pat was one of PVA’s founding members who rehabbed under the famed Ernest Bors, MD, at Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif., during World War II. I was a young new injury when I was introduced to him and always remember the way he gave me a stern look that unquestionably said, “You’re clueless.”

Because of nearly 75 years of great work by PVA, we’ve been blessed with a level of accessibility and social acceptance that was absolutely unimaginable in 1946. 

We should be thankful for the relentless efforts being made by PVA to ensure our path to quality health care remains as unobstructed as possible during these difficult times.

Has this been my way of saying, “Suck it up, buttercup?” Maybe, but what I really hope is for each of us to come through this safely and have a better appreciation for so many things we’ve taken for granted.

Thank God for PVA and its never-ending advocacy on our behalf. 

Stay safe and healthy.  

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